The Invention of the Jewish People

Author: Shlomo Sand
Verso Books, 2009
ISBN: 1844674223

This is a somewhat paradoxical book: undoubtedly important – yet it contains little that is new. Written by a professional academic historian, it is about history and historiography – but not in his established field of expertise. Shlomo Sand is professor at Tel-Aviv University, specializing in modern European, particularly French, history. He is not even in the ‘right’ academic department to concern himself with the subject of this book: in Israeli universities, Jewish History and ‘General’(!) History are taught in two quite separate departments. In this book, Sand sets out to debunk widespread Zionist myths about the origin of the Jews, and who they are. Zionism modelled itself on 19th century eastern- and central-European nationalisms: it regarded itself as the nationalism of the Jews. The ideological project of any nationalism is to invent, as it were, the nation for which it claims to speak: to provide it with a narrative of common origin, homeland and destiny. This is then used to claim possession of, and sovereignty over, the homeland.
Shlomo Sand’s book is a highly readable account – more readable in the excellent English translation by the late Yael Lotan than in the original inelegant Hebrew of the author – of the historical facts outlined above and of the attempts of Zionist historiography to wriggle its way around or out of them.

(Moshé Machover, Race & Class, January 2011)