Ooooh, the man is really angry. Shlomo Sand (also known as Shlomo Zand) is angry that historians like Simon Schama have critiqued his work unfavorably. Does he bother to refute their claims? No, he has a different response: “I live there and you don’t, therefore I can speak and you should not criticize me.”
Here is how he put it to The Guardian:
“The book fails to sever the remembered Âconnection between the ancestral land and Jewish experience,” Schama wrote. “What chutzpah coming from Simon Schama, speaking about his ancestral land!” Sand says, eyes widening. “He doesn’t want to come to his ‘ancestral land’ to live!”
Sand is scathing about accusations made by Jews living elsewhere that his book is anti-Israel. From the comfort of the diaspora they charge him with sedition. Some say his thesis fuels antisemitism. Overseas donors to Tel Aviv University have called for him to be sacked.
But Sand has voted for Israel with his feet. He is not anti-Zionist, he says, but post-Zionist: accepting modern Israel as a fait accompli. Besides, his interest in the country’s survival as a democracy is not theoretical. His family lives there.
Diaspora Zionists can nurture the Jewish myth of biblical nationhood as dual citizenship alongside their passports from safer states. When they refer to “Israel” and “Jerusalem” in their prayers, they do not have to distinguish between scriptural metaphor and political reality. It is a distinction on which Israel’s survival depends.
“A lot of pro-Zionists in London and New York don’t really understand what their great-grandparents felt about Zion,” says Sand. “It was the most important place in the world in their imagination, as a religious, sacred land, not a place to emigrate.” That “Israel” was a metaphysical destination to be reached at the End of Days. The modern Israeli state is a political enterprise, conceived in the late 19th century, made necessary by the Holocaust, founded in 1948.”
Methinks Mr. Sand doesn’t get it. First of all, he is forgetting that well-regarded Israeli historians such as Anita Shapira have criticized his work for shoddy scholarship and they also live in Israel.
He also forgets that a person who lives outside of Israel, Jewish or not, has the right to find flaws with his work and point them out. They don’t need to live in Israel in order to do that and their arguments and claims are no less valid just because they live elsewhere. His resources for the research of history are no greater than the resources available to Simon Schama. The same goes for the discussion of a link between Jews and their ancestral homeland. A Tibetan monk could discuss this link and if his resources or knowledge are good and the argument is historically sound, his views are just as valid as those of Israeli scholars.
Why does Mr. Sand think that he gets a pass on doing good research and coming to correct conclusions simply because he lives in Israel? He doesn’t.
What is particularly galling is that he actually admits that his thesis is wrong!
“”A lot of pro-Zionists in London and New York don’t really understand what their great-grandparents felt about Zion,” says Sand. “It was the most important place in the world in their imagination, as a religious, sacred land, not a place to emigrate.” That “Israel” was a metaphysical destination to be reached at the End of Days.”
Precisely, Mr. Sand. Except for the part about it not being a place to emigrate. This is exactly what your critics have been telling you. For almost two millenia this particular idea has been at the center of Jewish life and Jewish imagination. Whether a person was genetically connected to our ancestors in Judea or Israel is not what defines our connection as Jews to the Land of Israel. It is exactly what you say it is: “the most important place in the world in their imagination, as a religious, sacred land.” After all, you’re the one who talks about the Jewish people being the result of mass conversions. Yet, you know well that the idea of Israel that you mention in the interview was a bond that Jews shared throughout the world, whether in Yemen, Morocco, Germany or anywhere else. It is this link that made them a nation and a people. It is this link that connected them and connects us to modern Israel.
The claim that the Jews did not envision Israel as a place to which they could emigrate is a red herring. They did not have the option. Not only was there no economic infrastructure in the area, but there were often hostile forces, Christian and Muslim, who controlled the place and who would have made it difficult to travel there or live there. Sand knows the story of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi who traveled to visit the Western Wall and was then, according to legend, run over by a horse and killed. Why would such a legend crop up? Because Jews did not believe they could safely return to their homeland.
It took a political movement and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire facilitating this movement’s activities (not the Holocaust, as Sand mistakenly claims) to bring Jews to the belief that they could return to their homeland. While many opposed the idea, many accepted it as real and possible.
The bottom line is that Shlomo Sand’s claim about the supposedly invented nationhood of the Jewish people is the real invention here. He decided that his political views could be justified and perhaps even brought into being if he could reconfigure the meaning of the link between the Jewish people and Israel. While his book is like manna from heaven to many Israel haters and anti-Israel activists and will now become part of the debate about Israel, the simple fact is that his ideas are wrong and based on a false understanding and odd recording of history. The saddest part of all is that under it all he is seeking peace, but his book will only serve those who seek war. Wittingly or unwittingly, he has become a weapon in their arsenal.
Our other articles about Shlomo Sand:
And our original,
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