One of the common myths that people have about the Jewish people is that they are descended from the Khazars. Certain people try to bolster this claim because it supports their claim that the Israeli people are not entitled to their land. But this is debunked here. Helen Thomas repeated this myth when she said in her Playboy interview that the Jews were not a Semitic people.
There was, in fact, a Khazar kingdom on the Russian stepps north of the Byzantine and Islamic empires. Their rulers and many of their people converted to Judaism as a counterweight against both of these kingdoms. But when the Khazar Khanite died out, most of the Jews scattered and were assimilated into other populations. Mainstream scholarship, however, has debunked the notion that most of today's Jews were descended from the Khazar Khanite:
A number of more serious books about Khazars are now on the market, including The Jews of Khazaria by Kevin Alan Brook. Rabbi Bernard Rosensweig was one of the leading figures in debunking the Khazar theory of Ashkenazi Jewish origins. Writing in Tradition (16:5, Fall 1977, pages 139-162), he dismissed it as "wobbly scholarly foundations without historical support."
Likewise, the Swedish archaeologist Bozena Werbart, an expert on the Khazars, wrote: "In the Khazar kingdom, Koestler wanted to see the origin of the eastern European Jewry. Nevertheless, all the historical and linguistic facts contradicted his theories."
As The Encyclopedia of Judaism (1989) emphatically states, "The notion that Ashkenazi Jewry is descended from the Khazars has absolutely no basis in fact."
And the fact of the matter is that Judaism has never been defined along racial lines -- in the Bible, the Ethiopian who rescued Jeremiah from death in the King's dungeon was Jewish. People from all over the world came to the Passover Feast while the Temple was still in existence. Judaism has never been defined on racial grounds -- people from all races are welcome as converts.
Jews already lived in Europe a thousand years before the Khazar kingdom was formed. There are no genetic markers or indicators at all showing that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Turkic tribes. In fact, there exists considerable genetic evidence showing that European Jews are closer to Levantine and Syrian Arabs than to Central Asians.
After the Mongol invasion most Khazars probably assimilated into the Jewish communities of Iran and Iraq, which of course eventually emerged as important Sephardic centers, formed mainly of Jews with Semitic racial characteristics, descended from migrants and exiled Jews from the Land of Israel. In any case, there are more "Semitic" Sephardic Jews in Israel today than there are European Ashkenazi Jews. And if the Khazars looked Turkic, how on earth could they give Ashkenazi Jews a European complexion?
There are other problems. If all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from converted Khazars, why are there Cohens and Levis among them? One inherits the status of a Cohen (priest) or Levite from one's father. Descendants of converts through the male line can never be a Cohen or a Levite.
And why are there no Khazar surnames among Ashkenazim, or Khazar names for towns in Europe where Jews lived? And why did most Ashkenazi communities speak variations of Yiddish rather than Turkic?
Although it is used by certain white supremacist groups to justify their hateful theories, these theories are simply not true.
What all this means is that historically, every people has a right to self-determination. Even if we claim based on the fact that Herodotus didn't mention any Jews in present-day Israel that there were no Jews there, we do know they were there in the first century AD. And older archeological discoveries point to the existence of the House of David. There have been other remains which date back to the time of David as well.
The other claim is that the Temple was actually rebuilt by the Muslims. But that ignores the fact that for 2000 years, the Jews have had no physical Temple to worship at since the Romans destroyed the last one.
Since the Jewish people have the right to self-determination under international law and since Israel has been the historic homeland of the Jewish people, we cannot, as Helen Thomas naively assumes, just expect them to go back to wherever they came from before they emigrated to Israel. That is why we have to have a two-state solution -- since we are dealing with the historic homeland of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, we have to find some way to share the land and figure out a way to deal with the refugees from the 1948 war as well as their descendants.
What Helen Thomas did was fail to live up to her own profession's standards for accuracy and fairness:
I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.
Helen Thomas had a professional responsibility to state the facts regardless of whether or not they upheld her personal beliefs. In this instance, she failed to do so.