OK

If you've ever been up nights agonizing about whether or not Jews are really Jews, this is your lucky day. Maybe.

Yesterday somebody brought up (and then redacted away mention of) Shlomo Sand's recent book, "The Invention of the Jewish People." Sand's version of history says that Ashkenazi Jews (but not Sephardic ones) are just foolin' themselves; they're not really descendants of the Israelites after all, but actually represent the single largest bait-and-switch in history.

Well, since this meme comes up every now and again, even here, I thought I'd give it a more extended look. Join me over the jump for a Jew gene jamboree!

Incidentally, this isn't intended as an I/P diary and I've intentionally left "Israel" and "Palestine" out of the tags. There are plenty of places for arguing I/P, but that's not what this diary is intended for.

The Nutbar Version

First, a quote from a deeeep thinker about Jewish history[emphases added].

HAHAHAHAHAA ………Remember now , these are GODS CHOSEN PEOPLE. what a joke. The hebrews at one point in biblical history were favored by god ON CONDITION OF KEEPING HIS COVENENT WITH THEM …….THEY DID NOT. So one must come to the obvious conclusion that even the true descendants of the hebrew nation can no longer be reffered to as GODS CHOSEN. Now lets look at the fact that the modern so called jews are actually khazars that adopted judaism somewhere around the sixth century a.d. because they saw a good angle, percentage and profit in it. And have no linage to the original hebrews. They are all frauds, claiming a false inheritance that really didnt exist to start with. I have been researching these obvious liars for some years now, to the point that i can pretty much guess what they will pull next. We (goyim) need to stop listening to khazar propaganda and take a good honest look at these liars and scoundrels.

That's a comment from earlier this year from an antisemitic (yet ostensibly pro-Palestinian) website webmastered, by coincidence, by someone who was banned from posting on DailyKos in the Great De-Shergaldification.

Who does that poster speak for? Obviously neither for the Palestinian people nor the supporters of Palestine. Racist nutbars of the world, perhaps. I don't need to point out the comment's antisemitism. I did however want to point out one of the ways that antisemitism expresses itself, something that may have left you scratching your head in the above quote if this was the first time you saw it. It's that stuff about "khazars."

Who?

Khazar Story One: The Wayback Machine

There are two different versions of the Khazar story. One is based in history, and the other - as described by the bozo above - is an antisemitic distortion of that history.

The real version is this: between, say, 600 and maybe 1000 AD, there was a tribe in the Caucuses named the Khazars. And at some point in that period, at least the nobility and possibly the bulk of the tribe converted to Judaism, in what might be the largest single case of mass conversion to Judaism in history.

That's in no way controversial or new, and is certainly not a buried fact only recently rediscovered by Shlomo Sand. In fact, the best-known Jewish literary work of the medieval period takes its title ("Ha-Kuzari" by Yehuda haLevi) and plot from the historical episode. It's a theological polemic in the form of a dialogue between the Khazar prince considering conversion and the rabbi he is discussing Judaism with.

So let's be clear on this - that there were Khazars who converted to Judaism a millenium ago: not controversial, not news. That they are part of the genetic mix of Ashkenazi Jews: not controversial, not news. Not suppressed, not secret, not "hidden history." Maybe it was just the nobles who converted; maybe the whole tribe; either way, not a deep family secret.

A very good web resource on the Khazars, incidentally, is Kevin Brook's Khazaria. We'll get back to Brook later.

Khazar Story Two: Hatin' on Hymie the Holy Way

A basic problem among Christian antisemites is this: how can they worship a Jew, and honor the Jews of the Old Testament, while still being able to hate on Hymie down the street without feeling any contradiction? For a large racist cult called Christian Identity, in the last half of the 20th century, it was simple: hearing the Khazar story, they decided that today's Jews aren't really Jews at all, but impostors, and the members of the Christian Identity movement are the true descendants of the Israelites. The Khazars didn't join the Ashkenazi Jews; they are the Ashkenazi Jews. (Look up "Christian Identity" in Wikipedia to learn more about these dingbats and their many ties to other hate groups.)

The key difference between version one and version two: version one acknowledges that there's likely some Khazar influence on the Ashkenazi genome; the other version says that the Ashkenazi genome itself is Khazar and has little to do with the Israelites. It's a replacement theology: it says the Jews are really only "so-called Jews" and therefore it's okay to hate them without dissing the Israelites. The "so-called Jews" are impostors, intentionally lying to the world and (by the way) very evil too.

That's what leads to things like the paragraph I quoted above, or this comment from Stormfront:

As I've stated before; if the Jews don't clean their own house (expose the khazar fraud) the rest of the civilized world will ban together and do it for them. It will be ugly.

In case you think I'm cherry-picking, incidentally, try this experiment yourself. If your browser has a Google field that does partial matching, type in "khazars" to see what suggested phrases come back. The first one you'll see is "khazars jews"; the second one you'll see is "khazars fake jews". I am so not making this up.

(In the interest of completeness, I'll note that there were some Jews who embraced the replacement theology; one of them was a guy named Arthur Koestler, who wrote a book about it in 1976, just in time for the science of molecular biology to come along and disprove him.)

Then Came Shlomo

And that's why you'll see Jews reacting very strongly when the same claim comes up in the guise of a scholastic book, even if that scholar is an Israeli professor like Shlomo Sand. (Granted, neither a professor of ethnology, nor history, nor genetics -- but, if I remember right, modern French literature, and he's an Israeli and that's enough.)

Which version does Sand support? Obviously, that's going to make a serious difference in judging the relative merit of the book.

Sand goes for Version Two.

The reviews of Sand's book tend to fall into two categories: those who address the book scientifically or historically, and those who address it politically. The ones who address it scientifically or historically come down very hard on it, because its central scientific claim -- the replacement theory -- is simply unsustainable in the light of genomic evidence. Yes, there is probably a Khazar contribution to the Ashkenazi genome, and that's not controversial. But to claim that it is the main component, as Sand does (and David Duke does as well), is whack and gets stomped down pretty damn hard by reviewers all around the world.

Some example stompage: The Financial Times | Haaretz | Journal of Israeli History

And the New York Times:

Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms. Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past. ...

Since Professor Sand’s mission is to discredit Jews’ historical claims to the territory, he is keen to show that their ancestry lines do not lead back to ancient Palestine. He resurrects a theory first raised by 19th-century historians, that the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, to whom 90 percent of American Jews trace their roots, are descended from the Khazars, a Turkic people who apparently converted to Judaism and created an empire in the Caucasus in the eighth century. ...

By now, experts who specialize in the subject have repeatedly rejected the theory, concluding that the shards of evidence are inconclusive or misleading, said Michael Terry, the chief librarian of the Jewish division of the New York Public Library. Dr. Ostrer said the genetics also did not support the Khazar theory.

Kevin Brook, an expert in the historiography of the Khazars whom Sand sites as a source, is no less unequivocal:

The evidence I collected in my book disproves Sand's book's ideas about the origins of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, showing that the real story is that Ashkenazim and Sephardim have preserved a large amount of ancestry from ancient Israel to the present day.

Ashkenazim do have potential Khazar genetics, though. And many West Bank Palestinians do have Israelite genetics. But Sand exaggerates these two facts. My book "The Jews of Khazaria" presents the middle ground between the extreme views of this debate.

Well, if the book is getting beaten to death on the science front and the historiography front, who actually likes it? The book's supporters fall into two groups: those looking for a stick to hit Israel with, and those looking for a stick to hit Jews with. It's no surprise that anti-Zionists find the book to be catnip: "why, if the 'Jewish people' were really an invention, then, why, Israel must be based on lies! Look, even Israelis like that there Israeli professor say so!" It's also no surprise that antisemites find the book to be catnip: "why, if the 'Jewish people' really were an invention, why, then the Jews must all be liars! Look, even Jews like that there Jew professor say so!"

Reiteration

Just to make sure you catch the point, let me repeat it. Khazar impact on Ashkenazi genome: proven, documented, known, not controversial, not new. Khazar replacement of Ashkenazi genome: whack, David Duke, Christian Identity, Jon the Antizionist Rocket Scientist. History and molecular biology is on one side, polemic on the other. (Kinda like the intelligent design "debate.")

I should also mention the last little irony. I've been referring to the "Ashkenazi = Khazar" bit as "replacement theology." In the case of Christian Identity, that's directly true: they not only think Jews are Khazars, but that the real descendants of the Israelites is -- no surprise -- the Christian Identity movement. That argument is echoed surprisingly frequently by those anti-Zionists who took the "Khazar" bait; but take a look at what Google pulls up when you search the phrase "the true descendants of the Jews." It's just another replacement theology.

And, ya know, the Israel/Palestine thing is complicated enough already without people like Sand coming in and spewing that kind of easily disproven crap, in an act of unintentional but undeniable synergy with white-powerniks, in hopes of exploiting the ignorance of his readers.

Originally posted to zemblan on Fri Dec 04, 2009 at 01:57 PM PST.

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