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Friday, February 11, 2011

Gilbert Achcar and Shlomo Sand: Peas in a pod

From Richard Millett's blog:
Gilbert Achcar asked me to leave last night’s talk at SOAS given by Shlomo Sand. If I didn’t he said he would call security.

The talk was called On the Nation and the ‘Jewish People’, although it was all taken from Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People.

For an hour I bit my lip while Sand tore into the idea that the Jews had any connection with Israel. He said there had never been an exile of the Jews under the Romans and so, as there was no exile, there could never be a return.

But all Israeli school textbooks spoke of this mythical “exile” he said.

He claimed the Jews were merely a religious phenomenon and as they came from all over the world, and so had no connection with each other, they could not be described as “a people”. Sand is an Israeli Jewish atheist.

Today’s Jews, he said, are just descendants of converts from African tribes i.e. the Khazars and the Berbers. These tribes had simply converted en masse to Judaism.

Zionists had only recently taken Jewish myths and cultured them into a nationalist ideology.

But Jews had never wanted to originally go to Palestine. Only after 1924, when America closed the gates, and eventually the British too, did they finally set sail for Palestine....

Then, after defining Nazi Germany as an ethnocentric state, he said he was against Israel being defined as a Jewish state because “I am sure it will finish with the massacre in the Galilee, because 20% are non-Jews in this state”.

What is the point of an unopposed two hour verbal attack on Israel and the Jewish people at a British university? No one learns a thing apart from more anti-Israel propaganda.

During the Q&A I asked Sand what is the problem with the Jews calling themselves “a people” if they wanted to. He might not like it but most Jews think of themselves as being part of “a people”. That is how nationalism works.

I challenged him on whether Jewish history really spoke of the Jews being “exiled” by the Romans. Instead, the Jews had lost sovereignty to the Romans and many Jews left the area to become the Jewish diaspora. Therefore, Jews have a historical right to return.

What about “Next Year in Jerusalem” and the ancient religious festivals when Jews look to return to Israel and Jerusalem one day? Was that all made up by Zionists?

Anita Shapira’s destruction of Sand’s book is good on this.

Sand answered that 93% of the Jews living under the Romans were peasants and so they couldn’t leave. And diaspora Jews had only ever thought of Israel as a “Holy Land”, not as a “Home land”. “Israel” is a theological notion, not a political one.

Jews felt that the land did not belong to them, but to G-d and Jews went to Palestine only to die, not to live, so they could be the first to be resurrected when the Messiah came.

I understood the religiousness of the “Holy Land” point he was making but Sand wasn’t answering my main question: What is wrong with Jewish nationalism?

I called him a coward for not answering that question, which eventually spurred him into action.

“The Jews only came to Palestine because the doors to America and Britain were closed,” he screamed at the audience.

Even if that were true it still doesn’t preclude Jews from recognising themselves as “a people” and calling for a Jewish state.

It is not too disimilar from what the Palestinians have done. Many of them are not indigenous to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories either, but came to the area when Jews started arriving from Europe. But they are also demanding a state.

I continued to try to question Sand but he just mocked me for being a Zionist who can’t speak Hebrew and who doesn’t even live in Israel like he does.

By then Achcar was out of his chair and bearing down on me insisting that I leave or he would call security.

I refused to leave but sat there, silent, like a good boy for the rest of the Q&A.

On the way out I was surrounded by people wanting to lecture me, including one woman who insisted that I apologise to Sand for calling him Shlomo, instead of Mr Sand, and a coward.
I already exposed Achcar as an academic fraud in his book.

As far as Sand goes....Saturday afternoon prayers ask G-d rhetorically, "Who is like the people of Israel, a unique nation in the world?" These are not Biblical words but words written during Rabbinic times - after the Diaspora began.

That's just one tiny example of how Jews always considered themselves a nation.

Their desire to return to Israel is not only mentioned in the annual recitations of "Next Year in Jerusalem" but also multiple times in daily prayers.

Not only that, but non-Jews universally recognized Jews as a nation, as I mentioned recently.

If a group of people call themselves a nation and the world agrees (and even admits where that nation's land is), its hard to argue that there's no nation there.

Sand's postulating the discredited Khazar theory shows he has no intellectual integrity at all. But since I cannot resist demolishing arguments, here are a couple:

Some Jews are descendants of Aaron (Kohanim) and Levi (Leviim.) Kohanim and Leviim have different roles in the religion and that status gets handed down from fathers to sons. If all Jews are converts from Khazaria, how did many of them turn into Kohanim and Leviim?

Moreover, there is a continual written record of Jewish legal issues from the Mishna through the rest of the Talmud through the Geonic period, Rishonim and later. If there was an influx of a huge number of converted Jews coming out of Khazaria, it would have engendered many new questions and legal rulings regarding their status as Jews. Where are they?

Not only that, but to get to the level of expert legal knowledge required by leading rabbis is a long educational process. How could a large group of new converts gain such expertise so thoroughly that they could be accepted by the existing Jewish communities without any record of them attending any existing institutions of Jewish study? Jewish law is nothing if not complex.

Finally, as to Sand's point that Jews did not go to Israel to live but to die, there are a host of prominent Jews who moved to Israel far before the First Aliyah. Speaking of, that event also predates Sand's bizarre claim that Jews didn't move to Israel until 1924. By 1924 there was already a nascent Jewish political  infrastructure in Palestine.

Two liars, pretending to be academics, sharing the platform at an anti-Israel event, where an idiotic audience eats it up. This is a sick world.