Shlomo Sand is not an interesting researcher. Neither is he a fascinating political theorist. His new book, covering an area beyond his expertise, should raise ridicule among educated readers in general, and by experts in particular. But even if Sand’s book is uninteresting for academic research, it can certainly be marked as an important political symptom.
The claim that Sand is a pioneer in his field is belied by the small number of publications for someone who matriculated for PhD studies precisely 30 years ago. Moreover, Sand‘s theories have not been written as academic articles but as books mostly published by unknown publishing houses, without peer review. It is a well known fact that research obtains its status by successfully standing up to a serious review of experts in that particular field. But here precisely lies the catch. Who would dare to scrutinize the work of someone who crowns himself “historian of ideas”, reviews mainly French films, but attempts to present himself as an authority in a field that requires tremendous historiographic expertise and multi-lingual skills in ancient languages like Aramaic, Greek and Latin? Sand, who is fluent in Hebrew, English and French, does not need these ancient languages — mainly because facts do not matter for him, but rather the political ideologies published in his books.
Sand’s past as an activist in the radical leftist organization, the Marxist and anti – Zionist “Mazpen” (“Compass“ in Hebrew), should not in itself devalue his scientific work. However, it is known that the failure of “Mazpen” to market its ideology in Israel has made its members to try and market it abroad. Sand apparently remembered the successful strategy that managed to bring the scandalous Resolution 3379 -”Zionism is racism“- to the UN General Assembly. Consequently, Sand’s arguments were not directed primarily to an Israeli audience whose majority knows the basic historical facts, but to foreign ears, that at least for some of them, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion“ are authentic historical documents, accurately reflecting the nature of the Jewish people.
Here is a precise example of the research method adopted by Sand, as reflected in his previous book The Invention of the Jewish people where he attempted to revoke the nationality of the Jewish people. By claiming that there is no accepted modern definition of the term “nation”, Sand arbitrarily defines a
Sand also contradicts himself. In at least one place in his book, he doubts the credibility of the number of fatalities following the Great Rebellion in the 1st Century AD as noted by Josephus. And yet, only one page later in his book, Sand relies indirectly on the very same data (pp 131-130). While historians often use unreliable sources and have to make value judgments about which parts of the source is the truth and which is a lie, they must do so by objective criteria. Indeed, that is a major part of the historian’s job. For Sand, however, when the data contradicted the conclusions he sought to reach, he underestimates or totally ignored them (for example, on p. 316); but when some data were consistent with his political views, he adopted them without proper investigation (see, e.g., p 133-132).
This sort of circular reasoning – declaring that the evidence is true if it supports the conclusion one wants to reach and false otherwise, and then declaring that one’s conclusion was proven because all “true evidence” supports it – is typical of pseudo-scientists in general, and pseudo-historians in particular. David Irving’s reputation as an historian, for example, was destroyed by Prof. Richard Evans, who (in the famousIrving – Lipstadt trial) showed that this is precisely his method of “research”: he “proved” the holocaust never happened by simply declaring all evidence to the contrary as “unreliable”. But why was it “unreliable?” Simply because it went againstIrving’s holocaust-denial obsession. Sand‘s method, alas, had received some uncritical sympathy in postmodern circles, where the „narrative” (i.e. ideology) overpowers historical facts.
In his new book The Invention of the Land of Israel, Sand is exploiting a similar method which guided him in his previous book, The Invention of the Jewish people: “I was wondering what is common to a Jew fromKiev and a Jew fromCasablanca. It is neither language, nor culture, nor music or food. The fact that Jews observed Kosher food did not make their kitchen traditions uniform. They shared solely the Jewish holidays, religious belief and religious texts. It was a strong religious identity.” This sounds like mere historical speculation, but it is in fact a thinly-disguised political position; it is the PLO’s old “Judaism is a religion, not a nation” claim, aimed at delegitimizingIsrael.
In this book, Sand has created (or rather re-stated) an unsupporterd theory, which in effect substitutes his political views, for current objective findings. In the service of his personal political goals, he uses secondary sources that are selective and outdated, and adopts anachronistic assumptions. Sand‘s method starts with the theory, and then makes up the facts to influence opinion in its favor.
But there are many bad books, where the author supports a pet theory in the face of the evidence using circular reasoning. Why does Sand’s book deserve attention instead of obscurity, the deserved faith of most such books? The reason is that Sand’s book is politically significant. World public opinion shows great sympathy for the political ideas expressed in Sand’s book, and in particular that there was no continuity of the Jewish people (the thesis of his previous book), and that there is no real connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel (the thesis of his most recent book). The book is meretricious, using Sand’s own Judaism and academic credentials (he is a professor in Tel Aviv university) to give credit to a pseudo-historical view which lies at the heart of the “moderate” PLO’s attempt to negate and de-legitimize Israel, with the final goal of eradicating it.
Sand’s and the PLO’s views are all the more dangerous because their pseudo-historical arguments find a more sympathetic ear in the West than Hamas’ more extreme – or perhaps merely more honest – Islamist justifications. But the goal, namely, the eradication of the Jewish state, is the same in both cases – and Sand, knowingly, is helping the process.
It seems unnecessary to reply to Sand with serious scientific research. (There is no real academic disagreement about the relationship of the Jewish nation to the landof Israel– whatever one thinks about Zionism. But to those who refuse to recognize the essential characteristics of the Jewish people make them a “real” people, one can look at an external sign: Quite apart from all other qualities the Jews share with each other, such as a common history, religion, and so on, Jewish Peoplehood and the link to the Land of Israel has already been provided by something else that links together the Jews of Casablanca, Kiev, Eden, Berlin and Jerusalem – the one Sand forgets to mention: Jewish destiny. Heinrich Heine called it Juden Schmerz, “Jewish pain“. There is no other way to explain the pogroms, hatred, slaughter, burning and humiliation of Jews almost anywhere where they set foot apart from the fact that they were always seen as an alien nation. This phenomenon of murderous hatred is unprecedented in the history of mankind and nations – except that of Jewish fate. If nothing else proves the Jews are a nation, anti-Semitism, including Sand’s auto-anti-Semitism, does.