An invention called ‘the Jewish people’

From the Israeli News paper Haaretz

By Tom Segev

Tags: Israel

Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that the Jewish people arose in the Land of Israel and was exiled from its homeland. Every Israeli schoolchild is taught that this happened during the period of Roman rule, in 70 CE. The nation remained loyal to its land, to which it began to return after two millennia of exile. Wrong, says the historian Shlomo Zand, in one of the most fascinating and challenging books published here in a long time. There never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened – hence there was no return. Zand rejects most of the stories of national-identity formation in the Bible, including the exodus from Egypt and, most satisfactorily, the horrors of the conquest under Joshua. It’s all fiction and myth that served as an excuse for the establishment of the State of Israel, he asserts.

According to Zand, the Romans did not generally exile whole nations, and most of the Jews were permitted to remain in the country. The number of those exiled was at most tens of thousands. When the country was conquered by the Arabs, many of the Jews converted to Islam and were assimilated among the conquerors. It follows that the progenitors of the Palestinian Arabs were Jews. Zand did not invent this thesis; 30 years before the Declaration of Independence, it was espoused by David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others.

If the majority of the Jews were not exiled, how is it that so many of them reached almost every country on earth? Zand says they emigrated of their own volition or, if they were among those exiled to Babylon, remained there because they chose to. Contrary to conventional belief, the Jewish religion tried to induce members of other faiths to become Jews, which explains how there came to be millions of Jews in the world. As the Book of Esther, for example, notes, “And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.”

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