Gilbert Achcar asked me to leave last night’s talk at SOAS given by Shlomo Sand. If I didn’t he said he would call security.
The talk was called On the Nation and the ‘Jewish People’, although it was all taken from Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People.
For an hour I bit my lip while Sand tore into the idea that the Jews had any connection with Israel. He said there had never been an exile of the Jews under the Romans and so, as there was no exile, there could never be a return.
But all Israeli school textbooks spoke of this mythical “exile” he said.
He claimed the Jews were merely a religious phenomenon and as they came from all over the world, and so had no connection with each other, they could not be described as “a people”. Sand is an Israeli Jewish atheist.
Today’s Jews, he said, are just descendants of converts from African tribes i.e. the Khazars and the Berbers. These tribes had simply converted en masse to Judaism.
Zionists had only recently taken Jewish myths and cultured them into a nationalist ideology.
But Jews had never wanted to originally go to Palestine. Only after 1924, when America closed the gates, and eventually the British too, did they finally set sail for Palestine.
Most Jews don’t live in Israel, but outside it.
And Golda Meir had, apparently, said that when a Jew marries a non-Jew he or she “adds to the six million”.
Then, after defining Nazi Germany as an ethnocentric state, he said he was against Israel being defined as a Jewish state because “I am sure it will finish with the massacre in the Galilee, because 20% are non-Jews in this state”.
What is the point of an unopposed two hour verbal attack on Israel and the Jewish people at a British university? No one learns a thing apart from more anti-Israel propaganda.
During the Q&A I asked Sand what is the problem with the Jews calling themselves “a people” if they wanted to. He might not like it but most Jews think of themselves as being part of “a people”. That is how nationalism works.
I challenged him on whether Jewish history really spoke of the Jews being “exiled” by the Romans. Instead, the Jews had lost sovereignty to the Romans and many Jews left the area to become the Jewish diaspora. Therefore, Jews have a historical right to return.
What about “Next Year in Jerusalem” and the ancient religious festivals when Jews look to return to Israel and Jerusalem one day? Was that all made up by Zionists?
Anita Shapira’s destruction of Sand’s book is good on this.
Sand answered that 93% of the Jews living under the Romans were peasants and so they couldn’t leave. And diaspora Jews had only ever thought of Israel as a “Holy Land”, not as a “Home land”. “Israel” is a theological notion, not a political one.
Jews felt that the land did not belong to them, but to G-d and Jews went to Palestine only to die, not to live, so they could be the first to be resurrected when the Messiah came.
I understood the religiousness of the “Holy Land” point he was making but Sand wasn’t answering my main question: What is wrong with Jewish nationalism?
I called him a coward for not answering that question, which eventually spurred him into action.
“The Jews only came to Palestine because the doors to America and Britain were closed,” he screamed at the audience.
Even if that were true it still doesn’t preclude Jews from recognising themselves as “a people” and calling for a Jewish state.
It is not too disimilar from what the Palestinians have done. Many of them are not indigenous to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories either, but came to the area when Jews started arriving from Europe. But they are also demanding a state.
I continued to try to question Sand but he just mocked me for being a Zionist who can’t speak Hebrew and who doesn’t even live in Israel like he does.
By then Achcar was out of his chair and bearing down on me insisting that I leave or he would call security.
I refused to leave but sat there, silent, like a good boy for the rest of the Q&A.
On the way out I was surrounded by people wanting to lecture me, including one woman who insisted that I apologise to Sand for calling him Shlomo, instead of Mr Sand, and a coward.
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