For more than three months, the Libyan town of Misrata has been under siege, and
its citizens are being bombarded by Muammar Gaddafi’s well-equipped army and air
force. Nobody knows the number of civilian casualties, but over a month ago, the
Guardian reported that there were over 1,000 dead and 3,000
Misrata is only a short distance from the Tunisian border, where
a popular revolution installed a non-tyrant government. And yet, Tunis does not
extend any help to its beleaguered Arab brethren in Misrata, except for
accepting the Libyan refugees fleeing the war.
The fate of Benghazi,
located closer to the Egyptian border, could have been much worse: Were it not
for a last-minute rescue by the NATO air-force, the people would have been
slaughtered en masse when the armed columns of Gaddafi began their avenging
march to the city. A few days before that intervention, the Guardian reported
the frustration of a local engineer, who waved his clenched fist at the sky and
shouted: “Where is [an] aerial counter-blow? Where is the West? They must stop
Qaddafi before we all die.” He did not address his outcry to neighboring Egypt,
which, with its huge army and air force, could have saved the people of
The only Arab states rendering any help to the Libyan people
are Qatar, Jordan and the Emirates, and they confine themselves to aerial
humanitarian assistance. Nothing is being done by any Arab organization to save
the rebels from annihilation.
Now, let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario
in which two Jewish communities face similar dangers, and right across the
border, there exist two Jewish states. Can anyone even imagine a situation in
which these Jewish states would turn a blind eye to their menaced brethren? Is
it at all conceivable that these states would not mobilize their armies to save
the lives of the besieged Jews?
Even without a state of their own, Jews in the
Diaspora have always mobilized to help endangered Jewish communities. Indeed,
Jewish solidarity – from the Joint to Col. Marcus’s volunteers in the War
of Independence – has become legendary. But where is the Arab Col. Marcus? Where
is the financial assistance from oil-rich governments that could help the people
If solidarity and loyalty are the hallmark of a people, then the
Jews are certainly a people. And yet, anti-Israeli university professors
in Israel, who thrive on Jewish donations, deny the existence of such a people.
This is the edict of the latest academic fashion, and Prof. Shlomo Sand of Tel
Aviv University is its main trendsetter. In his book The Invention of the Jewish
People, Sand claims that the Jews were not expelled from ancient Palestine, that
those who remained there were the ancestors of today’s Palestinians, that the
Ashkenazi Jews are the descendents of the mass conversion of Khazars – a
seminomadic Turkic people – to Judaism over 1,000 years ago and, needless to
say, have no historical claim over Palestine.
Naturally the book drew
worldwide attention, won an important French prize and was widely covered by the
international media. Here was the ultimate attack on Israel: If there is no
Jewish people, there should be no Jewish state, and strictly speaking, there
should be no Jewish history (although Sand is ready, so it seems, to grant
recognition to the Israeli-Jewish community).
IS THERE any scientific
basis to Sand’s allegations? And if there is, what are its political
ramifications? The answer is twofold: There is no evidence whatsoever for these
statements, and even if they are true, they have no significance.
take his claim that Ashkenazi Jews are descendents of Khazar converts. There is
no evidence for this (although it is quite possible that a minority stems from
such alleged conversions).
A wide range of reliable genetic tests have
negated this tale, there are no Khazar words in Yiddish, and if we assume that
the Ashkenazi community is of Khazar extraction, we must also assume that many
of them decided, by acquiring names such as Cohen and Levy, to retroactively
serve the Jewish God as holy men in a Jewish Temple destroyed almost 1,000 years
before their conversion.
But let us assume that there was mass conversion
and that most or all Ashkenazi Jews are of non-Jewish extraction. Since when are
converts not considered Jewish? According to both Halacha and liberal
principles, a convert to Judaism is a Jew for every purpose, including his
yearning for Zion. According to the book’s argument, King David himself, whose
grandmother was a convert, is not Jewish and has no claim to Zion.
truth is that Sand’s compilation of rubbish serves an important purpose. It is a
further erosion of the line between academic writing and its parody. Thus, Sand
makes fun of all the genetic studies, undertaken by firstrate scientists, that
prove two astounding conclusions: Ashkenazi Jews are genetically closer to
oriental Jews and oriental non-Jews than to the non-Jewish European host
societies, and Jews managed to keep their separate genetic identity throughout
this long and eventful time.
Needless to say, no nation is, or should be,
racially pure. Jews did intermarry, and conversions took place. Evelyn Waugh, in
a letter to Nancy Mitford, notedices the diversity of ethnicities among Jews
when he visited Palestine in the ’30s. Herzl was aware of this diversity and
remarked that “no people are homogenous racially.” Meanwhile, all French
children, including African-French, learn in school about “our ancestors, the
Gauls”; are they different from the alleged descendants of a convert who prays,
“Next year in Jerusalem?”
What Jews posses that is conspicuously absent among
their Arab cousins is solidarity in time of need.
And it is this Jewish
solidarity, among other things, that has enabled Israel and its universities to
The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center
Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member, and the recipient
of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law (www.amnonrubinstein.org).