In his much acclaimed book The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009), Israeli historian Shlomo Sand argued that the idea of ‘the Jewish people’ was a contradiction. Most Jews did not originate from ancestors who lived in Judea and Samaria. Rather, Judaism was a highly successful proselytising religion in the centuries shortly before the rise of Christianity and for some centuries after. Jews were united by religious belief rather than a common ethnicity; most of them always lived in ‘the diaspora’. There simply was no mass exile in 70 CE. The idea of ‘the Jewish people’ is no less problematic than that of ‘the Christian people’ or ‘the Buddhist people’.
But Zionists see the Jewish people not just as a nation, any old nation, but a chosen one, with a homeland given to it by a jealous God in far-off times. Even secular Zionists appeal, in some sense or other, to the bible and historical right as a legitimation for today’s Israel as ‘the Jewish state’. This is the subject of Sand’s second, equally iconoclastic volume of demystification, as he now dissects the invention not of the people as such but of its homeland.
The core of the Zionist dream as expressed today is for Jews to ‘return’ to Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel. Sand is unsparing in showing how the ambiguities of the term are exploited ideologically, for this term is found nowhere in the bible before the new testament and only emerged, hesitantly, in the rabbinical tradition after the final incorporation of Judea into the Roman Palestina. It developed as a theological concept, referring to a certain sacred space, never a geopolitical area.
Something like modern day Zionism was a Christian evangelical notion before it was a Jewish one, and the idea that real Jews should actually go to live in Palestine was condemned by rabbinical Jewry, even as a yearning for Zion featured as a centrepiece of the Jewish religion. How this was transformed, and how the war between nation-state Zionism and traditional Judaism was played out is told in great detail by Sand in this fitting complement to his first volume.
#233: Democracy on the Wing ● Thelma Walker on regional autonomy ● An interview with Clive Lewis ● The World Transformed ● Gender, sexuality and witchcraft ● The globalisation of ‘Asian horror’ ● A tribute to Dawn Foster ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
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Leah Cowan reviews two powerful contributions to the ongoing struggle for abolition and transformative justice
The legacy of colonialism is still very real along borders arbitrarily drawn by the British and brutally contested to this day, writes Suchitra Vijayan
Lesley Chow argues for a new kind of music criticism that re-evaluates women musicians and "meaningless" music, writes Rhian E Jones
Laura Pidcock, former MP for North West Durham, reviews the new book by Huw Beynon and Ray Hudson in the shadow of Brexit and deindustrialisation
Luke Charnley reports on the new publishing houses getting working-class writers onto the printed page.
In this timely book, Matthew Brown and Rhian E. Jones explore new forms of democratic collectivism across the UK, writes Hilary Wainwright.
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