VIDEO: Hollywoodization of WWII (west is the best nevermind the rest)

http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/25/Wqz4KRoExok

On this edition of Peter Lavelles CrossTalk, he asks his guests about memory and the damage Hollywood does to the historical record.

US ‘in need of rebellion’ (hard core brillant!)

Al Jazeera speaks to Howard Zinn, the author, American historian, social critic and activist, about how the Iraq war damaged attitudes towards the US and why the US “empire” is close to collapse.

 
Q: Where is the United States heading in terms of world power and influence?

HZ: America has been heading – for some time, and is heading right now – toward less and less world power, less and less influence.

Obviously, since the war in Iraq, the rest of the world has fallen away from the United States, and if American foreign policy continues in the way it has been – that is aggressive and violent and uncaring about the feelings and thoughts of other people – then the influence of the United States is going to decline more and more.

This is an empire which is on the one hand the most powerful empire that ever existed; on the other hand an empire that is crumbling – an empire that has no future … because the rest of the world is alienated and simply because this empire is top-heavy with military commitments, with bases around the world, with the exhaustion of its own resources at home.

[This is] leading to more and more discontent and home, so I think the American empire will go the way of other empires and I think it is on its way now.

Q: Is there any hope the US will change its approach to the rest of the world?

HZ: If there is any hope, the hope lies in the American people.
[It] lies in American people becoming resentful enough and indignant enough over what has happened to their country, over the loss of dignity in the world, over the starving of human resources in the United States, the starving of education and health, the takeover of the political mechanism by corporate power and the result this has on the everyday lives of the American people.

[There is also] the higher and higher food prices, the more and more insecurity, the sending of the young people to war.

I think all of this may very well build up into a movement of rebellion.

We have seen movements of rebellion in the past: The labour movement, the civil rights movement, the movement against the war in Vietnam.

I think we may well see, if the United States keeps heading in the same direction, a new popular movement. That is the only hope for the United States.

Q: How did the US get to this point?

HZ: Well, we got to this point because … I suppose the American people have allowed it to get it to this point because there were enough Americans who were satisfied with their lives, just enough.

Ofcourse, many Americans were not, that is why half of the population doesn’t vote, they’re alienated.

But there are just enough Americans who have been satisfied, you might say getting some of the “goodies” of the empire, just some of them, just enough people satisfied to support the system, so we got this way because of the ability of the system to maintain itself by satisfying just enough of the population to keep its legitimacy.

And I think that era is coming to an end.

Q: What should the world know about the United States?

HZ: What I find many people in the rest of the world don’t know is that there is an

Very often, people in the rest of the world think that Bush is popular, they think ‘oh, he was elected twice’, they don’t understand the corruption of the American political system which enabled Bush to win twice.

They don’t understand the basic undemocratic nature of the American political system in which all power is concentrated within two parties which are not very far from one another and people cannot easily tell the difference.

So I think we are in a situation where we are going to need some very fundamental changes in American society if the American people are going to be finally satisfied with the kind of society we have.

Q: Do you think the US can recover from its current position?

HZ: Well, I am hoping for a recovery process. I mean, so far we haven’t seen it.

You asked about what the people of the rest of the world don’t know about the United States, and as I said, they don’t know that there is an opposition.

“We have a long history in this country of violent expansion and I think not only do most people in other countries [not] know this, most Americans don’t.”

There always has been an opposition, but the opposition has always been either crushed or quieted, kept in the shadows, marginalised so their voices are not heard.

People in the rest of the world hear the voices of the American leaders.

 

They do not hear the voices of the people all over this country who do not like the American leaders who want different policies.

I think also, people in the rest of the world should know that what they see in Iraq now is really a continuation of a long, long term of American imperial expansion in the world.

I think … a lot of people in the world think that this war in Iraq is an aberration, that before this the United States was a benign power.

It has never been a benign power, from the very first, from the American Revolution, from the taking-over of Indian land, from the Mexican war, the Spanish-American war.

It is embarrassing to say, but we have a long history in this country of violent expansion and I think not only do most people in other countries [not] know this, most Americans don’t know this. 

 

Q: Is there a way for this to improve?

HZ: Well you know, whatever hope there is lies in that large number of Americans who are decent, who don’t want to go to war, who don’t want to kill other people.

It is hard to see that hope because these Americans who feel that way have been shut out of the communications system, so their voices are not heard, they are not seen on the television screen, but they exist.

I have gone through, in my life, a number of social movements and I have seen how at the very beginning of these social movements or just before these social movements develop, there didn’t seem to be any hope

I lived in the [US] south for seven years, in the years of the civil rights movements, and it didn’t seem that there was any hope, but there was hope under the surface.

And when people organised, and when people began to act, when people began to work together, people began to take risks, people began to oppose the establishment, people began to commit civil disobedience.

Well, then that hope became manifest … it actually turned into change.

Q: Do you think there is a way out of this and for the future influence of the US on the world to be a positive one?

 
HZ: Well, you know for the United States to begin to be a positive influence in the world we are going to have to have a new political leadership that is sensitive to the needs of the American people, and those needs do not include war and aggression.

[It must also be] sensitive to the needs of people in other parts of the world, sensitive enough to know that American resources, instead of being devoted to war, should be devoted to helping people who are suffering.

You’ve got earthquakes and natural disasters all over the world, but the people in the United States have been in the same position as people in other countries.

The natural disasters here [also] brought little positive reaction – look at [Hurricane] Katrina.

The people in this country, the poor people especially and the people of colour especially, have been as much victims of American power as people in other countries.

 
Q: Can you give us an overall scope of everything we talked about – the power and influence of the United States?

HZ: The power and influence of the United States has declined rapidly since the war in Iraq because American power, as it has been exercised in the world historically, has been exposed more to the rest of the world in this situation and in other situations.

So the US influence is declining, its power is declining.

However strong a military machine it is, power does not ultimately depend on a military machine. So power is declining.

Ultimately power rests on the moral legitimacy of a system and the United States has been losing moral legitimacy.

My hope is that the American people will rouse themselves and change this situation, for the benefit of themselves and for the benefit of the rest of the world.

Ref: Al Jazeera

Israel deliberately forgets its history – A MUST READ!!!

An Israeli historian suggests the diaspora was the consequence, not of the expulsion of the Hebrews from Palestine, but of proselytising across north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East

Every Israeli knows that he or she is the direct and exclusive descendant of a Jewish people which has existed since it received the Torah (1) in Sinai. According to this myth, the Jews escaped from Egypt and settled in the Promised Land, where they built the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon, which subsequently split into the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They experienced two exiles: after the destruction of the first temple, in the 6th century BC, and of the second temple, in 70 AD.

Two thousand years of wandering brought the Jews to Yemen, Morocco, Spain, Germany, Poland and deep into Russia. But, the story goes, they always managed to preserve blood links between their scattered communities. Their uniqueness was never compromised.

At the end of the 19th century conditions began to favour their return to their ancient homeland. If it had not been for the Nazi genocide, millions of Jews would have fulfilled the dream of 20 centuries and repopulated Eretz Israel, the biblical land of Israel. Palestine, a virgin land, had been waiting for its original inhabitants to return and awaken it. It belonged to the Jews, rather than to an Arab minority that had no history and had arrived there by chance. The wars in which the wandering people reconquered their land were just; the violent opposition of the local population was criminal.

This interpretation of Jewish history was developed as talented, imaginative historians built on surviving fragments of Jewish and Christian religious memory to construct a continuous genealogy for the Jewish people. Judaism’s abundant historiography encompasses many different approaches.

But none have ever questioned the basic concepts developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Discoveries that might threaten this picture of a linear past were marginalised. The national imperative rejected any contradiction of or deviation from the dominant story. University departments exclusively devoted to “the history of the Jewish people”, as distinct from those teaching what is known in Israel as general history, made a significant contribution to this selective vision. The debate on what constitutes Jewishness has obvious legal implications, but historians ignored it: as far as they are concerned, any descendant of the people forced into exile 2,000 years ago is a Jew.

Nor did these official investigators of the past join the controversy provoked by the “new historians” from the late 1980s. Most of the limited number of participants in this public debate were from other disciplines or non-academic circles: sociologists, orientalists, linguists, geographers, political scientists, literary academics and archaeologists developed new perspectives on the Jewish and Zionist past. Departments of Jewish history remained defensive and conservative, basing themselves on received ideas. While there have been few significant developments in national history over the past 60 years (a situation unlikely to change in the short term), the facts that have emerged face any honest historian with fundamental questions.

Founding myths shaken

Is the Bible a historical text? Writing during the early half of the 19th century, the first modern Jewish historians, such as Isaak Markus Jost (1793-1860) and Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), did not think so. They regarded the Old Testament as a theological work reflecting the beliefs of Jewish religious communities after the destruction of the first temple. It was not until the second half of the century that Heinrich Graetz (1817-91) and others developed a “national” vision of the Bible and transformed Abraham’s journey to Canaan, the flight from Egypt and the united kingdom of David and Solomon into an authentic national past. By constant repetition, Zionist historians have subsequently turned these Biblical “truths” into the basis of national education.

But during the 1980s an earthquake shook these founding myths. The discoveries made by the “new archaeology” discredited a great exodus in the 13th century BC. Moses could not have led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land, for the good reason that the latter was Egyptian territory at the time. And there is no trace of either a slave revolt against the pharaonic empire or of a sudden conquest of Canaan by outsiders.

Nor is there any trace or memory of the magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon. Recent discoveries point to the existence, at the time, of two small kingdoms: Israel, the more powerful, and Judah, the future Judea. The general population of Judah did not go into 6th century BC exile: only its political and intellectual elite were forced to settle in Babylon. This decisive encounter with Persian religion gave birth to Jewish monotheism.

Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquest.

Most Zionist thinkers were aware of this: Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, accepted it as late as 1929, the year of the great Palestinian revolt. Both stated on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Judea (2).

Proselytising zeal

But if there was no exile after 70 AD, where did all the Jews who have populated the Mediterranean since antiquity come from? The smokescreen of national historiography hides an astonishing reality. From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion. The Judeo-Hellenic Hasmoneans forcibly converted the Idumeans of southern Judea and the Itureans of Galilee and incorporated them into the people of Israel. Judaism spread across the Middle East and round the Mediterranean. The 1st century AD saw the emergence in modern Kurdistan of the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene, just one of many that converted.

The writings of Flavius Josephus are not the only evidence of the proselytising zeal of the Jews. Horace, Seneca, Juvenal and Tacitus were among the Roman writers who feared it. The Mishnah and the Talmud (3) authorised conversion, even if the wise men of the Talmudic tradition expressed reservations in the face of the mounting pressure from Christianity.

Although the early 4th century triumph of Christianity did not mark the end of Jewish expansion, it relegated Jewish proselytism to the margins of the Christian cultural world. During the 5th century, in modern Yemen, a vigorous Jewish kingdom emerged in Himyar, whose descendants preserved their faith through the Islamic conquest and down to the present day. Arab chronicles tell of the existence, during the 7th century, of Judaised Berber tribes; and at the end of the century the legendary Jewish queen Dihya contested the Arab advance into northwest Africa. Jewish Berbers participated in the conquest of the Iberian peninsula and helped establish the unique symbiosis between Jews and Muslims that characterised Hispano-Arabic culture.

The most significant mass conversion occurred in the 8th century, in the massive Khazar kingdom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expansion of Judaism from the Caucasus into modern Ukraine created a multiplicity of communities, many of which retreated from the 13th century Mongol invasions into eastern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now modern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture (4).

Prism of Zionism

Until about 1960 the complex origins of the Jewish people were more or less reluctantly acknowledged by Zionist historiography. But thereafter they were marginalised and finally erased from Israeli public memory. The Israeli forces who seized Jerusalem in 1967 believed themselves to be the direct descendents of the mythic kingdom of David rather than – God forbid – of Berber warriors or Khazar horsemen. The Jews claimed to constitute a specific ethnic group that had returned to Jerusalem, its capital, from 2,000 years of exile and wandering.

This monolithic, linear edifice is supposed to be supported by biology as well as history. Since the 1970s supposedly scientific research, carried out in Israel, has desperately striven to demonstrate that Jews throughout the world are closely genetically related.

Research into the origins of populations now constitutes a legitimate and popular field in molecular biology and the male Y chromosome has been accorded honoured status in the frenzied search for the unique origin of the “chosen people”. The problem is that this historical fantasy has come to underpin the politics of identity of the state 
of Israel. By validating an essentialist, 
ethnocentric definition of Judaism it encourages a segregation that separates Jews from non-Jews – whether Arabs, Russian immigrants or foreign workers.

Sixty years after its foundation, Israel refuses to accept that it should exist for the sake of its citizens. For almost a quarter of the population, who are not regarded as Jews, this is not their state legally. At the same time, Israel presents itself as the homeland of Jews throughout the world, even if these are no longer persecuted refugees, but the full and equal citizens of other countries.

A global ethnocracy invokes the myth of the eternal nation, reconstituted on the land of its ancestors, to justify internal discrimination against its own citizens. It will remain difficult to imagine a new Jewish history while the prism of Zionism continues to fragment everything into an ethnocentric spectrum. But Jews worldwide have always tended to form religious communities, usually by conversion; they cannot be said to share an ethnicity derived from a unique origin and displaced over 20 centuries of wandering.

The development of historiography and the evolution of modernity were consequences of the invention of the nation state, which preoccupied millions during the 19th and 20th centuries. The new millennium has seen these dreams begin to shatter.

And more and more academics are analysing, dissecting and deconstructing the great national stories, especially the myths of common origin so dear to chroniclers of the past.

Ref: Le Monde
Shlomo Sand is professor of history at Tel Aviv university and the author of Comment le people juif fut inventé (Fayard, Paris, 2008)

Also read “are-the-jews-an-invented-people” by Shlomo Sand

(1) The Torah, from the Hebrew root yara (to teach) is the founding text of Judaism. It consists of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

(2) See David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Eretz Israel in the past and present, 1918 (in Yiddish), and Jerusalem, 1980 (in Hebrew); Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Our population in the country, Executive Committee of the Union for Youth and the Jewish National Fund, Warsaw, 1929 (in Hebrew).

(3) The Mishnah, regarded as the first work of rabbinic literature, was drawn up around 200 AD. The Talmud is a synthesis of rabbinic discussions on the law, customs and history of the Jews. The Palestinian Talmud was written between the 3rd and 5th centuries; the Babylonian Talmud was compiled at the end of the 5th century.

(4) Yiddish, spoken by the Jews of eastern Europe, was a Germano-Slavic language incorporating Hebrew words.

Shattering a ‘national mythology’

Of all the national heroes who have arisen from among the Jewish people over the generations, fate has not been kind to Dahia al-Kahina, a leader of the Berbers in the Aures Mountains. Although she was a proud Jewess, few Israelis have ever heard the name of this warrior-queen who, in the seventh century C.E., united a number of Berber tribes and pushed back the Muslim army that invaded North Africa. It is possible that the reason for this is that al-Kahina was the daughter of a Berber tribe that had converted to Judaism, apparently several generations before she was born, sometime around the 6th century C.E.

According to the Tel Aviv University historian, Prof. Shlomo Sand, author of “Matai ve’ech humtza ha’am hayehudi?” (“When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?”; Resling, in Hebrew), the queen’s tribe and other local tribes that converted to Judaism are the main sources from which Spanish Jewry sprang. This claim that the Jews of North Africa originated in indigenous tribes that became Jewish – and not in communities exiled from Jerusalem – is just one element of the far- reaching argument set forth in Sand’s new book.

In this work, the author attempts to prove that the Jews now living in Israel and other places in the world are not at all descendants of the ancient people who inhabited the Kingdom of Judea during the First and Second Temple period. Their origins, according to him, are in varied peoples that converted to Judaism during the course of history, in different corners of the Mediterranean Basin and the adjacent regions. Not only are the North African Jews for the most part descendants of pagans who converted to Judaism, but so are the Jews of Yemen (remnants of the Himyar Kingdom in the Arab Peninsula, who converted to Judaism in the fourth century) and the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe (refugees from the Kingdom of the Khazars, who converted in the eighth century).

Unlike other “new historians” who have tried to undermine the assumptions of Zionist historiography, Sand does not content himself with going back to 1948 or to the beginnings of Zionism, but rather goes back thousands of years. He tries to prove that the Jewish people never existed as a “nation-race” with a common origin, but rather is a colorful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion. He argues that for a number of Zionist ideologues, the mythical perception of the Jews as an ancient people led to truly racist thinking: “There were times when if anyone argued that the Jews belong to a people that has gentile origins, he would be classified as an anti-Semite on the spot. Today, if anyone dares to suggest that those who are considered Jews in the world … have never constituted and still do not constitute a people or a nation – he is immediately condemned as a hater of Israel.

According to Sand, the description of the Jews as a wandering and self-isolating nation of exiles, “who wandered across seas and continents, reached the ends of the earth and finally, with the advent of Zionism, made a U-turn and returned en masse to their orphaned homeland,” is nothing but “national mythology.” Like other national movements in Europe, which sought out a splendid Golden Age, through which they invented a heroic past – for example, classical Greece or the Teutonic tribes – to prove they have existed since the beginnings of history, “so, too, the first buds of Jewish nationalism blossomed in the direction of the strong light that has its source in the mythical Kingdom of David.”

So when, in fact, was the Jewish people invented, in Sand’s view? At a certain stage in the 19th century, intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people “retrospectively,” out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people. From historian Heinrich Graetz on, Jewish historians began to draw the history of Judaism as the history of a nation that had been a kingdom, became a wandering people and ultimately turned around and went back to its birthplace.

Actually, most of your book does not deal with the invention of the Jewish people by modern Jewish nationalism, but rather with the question of where the Jews come from.

Sand: “My initial intention was to take certain kinds of modern historiographic materials and examine how they invented the ‘figment’ of the Jewish people. But when I began to confront the historiographic sources, I suddenly found contradictions. And then that urged me on: I started to work, without knowing where I would end up. I took primary sources and I tried to examine authors’ references in the ancient period – what they wrote about conversion.”

Sand, an expert on 20th-century history, has until now researched the intellectual history of modern France (in “Ha’intelektual, ha’emet vehakoah: miparashat dreyfus ve’ad milhemet hamifrats” – “Intellectuals, Truth and Power, From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War”; Am Oved, in Hebrew). Unusually, for a professional historian, in his new book he deals with periods that he had never researched before, usually relying on studies that present unorthodox views of the origins of the Jews.

Experts on the history of the Jewish people say you are dealing with subjects about which you have no understanding and are basing yourself on works that you can’t read in the original.

“It is true that I am an historian of France and Europe, and not of the ancient period. I knew that the moment I would start dealing with early periods like these, I would be exposed to scathing criticism by historians who specialize in those areas. But I said to myself that I can’t stay just with modern historiographic material without examining the facts it describes. Had I not done this myself, it would have been necessary to have waited for an entire generation. Had I continued to deal with France, perhaps I would have been given chairs at the university and provincial glory. But I decided to relinquish the glory.”

Inventing the Diaspora

“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people remained faithful to it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom” – thus states the preamble to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. This is also the quotation that opens the third chapter of Sand’s book, entitled “The Invention of the Diaspora.” Sand argues that the Jewish people’s exile from its land never happened.

“The supreme paradigm of exile was needed in order to construct a long-range memory in which an imagined and exiled nation-race was posited as the direct continuation of ‘the people of the Bible’ that preceded it,” Sand explains. Under the influence of other historians who have dealt with the same issue in recent years, he argues that the exile of the Jewish people is originally a Christian myth that depicted that event as divine punishment imposed on the Jews for having rejected the Christian gospel.

“I started looking in research studies about the exile from the land – a constitutive event in Jewish history, almost like the Holocaust. But to my astonishment I discovered that it has no literature. The reason is that no one exiled the people of the country. The Romans did not exile peoples and they could not have done so even if they had wanted to. They did not have trains and trucks to deport entire populations. That kind of logistics did not exist until the 20th century. From this, in effect, the whole book was born: in the realization that Judaic society was not dispersed and was not exiled.”

If the people was not exiled, are you saying that in fact the real descendants of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah are the Palestinians?

“No population remains pure over a period of thousands of years. But the chances that the Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Judaic people are much greater than the chances that you or I are its descendents. The first Zionists, up until the Arab Revolt [1936-9], knew that there had been no exiling, and that the Palestinians were descended from the inhabitants of the land. They knew that farmers don’t leave until they are expelled. Even Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel, wrote in 1929 that, ‘the vast majority of the peasant farmers do not have their origins in the Arab conquerors, but rather, before then, in the Jewish farmers who were numerous and a majority in the building of the land.'”

And how did millions of Jews appear around the Mediterranean Sea?

“The people did not spread, but the Jewish religion spread. Judaism was a converting religion. Contrary to popular opinion, in early Judaism there was a great thirst to convert others. The Hasmoneans were the first to begin to produce large numbers of Jews through mass conversion, under the influence of Hellenism. The conversions between the Hasmonean Revolt and Bar Kochba’s rebellion are what prepared the ground for the subsequent, wide-spread dissemination of Christianity. After the victory of Christianity in the fourth century, the momentum of conversion was stopped in the Christian world, and there was a steep drop in the number of Jews. Presumably many of the Jews who appeared around the Mediterranean became Christians. But then Judaism started to permeate other regions – pagan regions, for example, such as Yemen and North Africa. Had Judaism not continued to advance at that stage and had it not continued to convert people in the pagan world, we would have remained a completely marginal religion, if we survived at all.”

How did you come to the conclusion that the Jews of North Africa were originally Berbers who converted?

“I asked myself how such large Jewish communities appeared in Spain. And then I saw that Tariq ibn Ziyad, the supreme commander of the Muslims who conquered Spain, was a Berber, and most of his soldiers were Berbers. Dahia al-Kahina’s Jewish Berber kingdom had been defeated only 15 years earlier. And the truth is there are a number of Christian sources that say many of the conquerors of Spain were Jewish converts. The deep-rooted source of the large Jewish community in Spain was those Berber soldiers who converted to Judaism.”

Sand argues that the most crucial demographic addition to the Jewish population of the world came in the wake of the conversion of the kingdom of Khazaria – a huge empire that arose in the Middle Ages on the steppes along the Volga River, which at its height ruled over an area that stretched from the Georgia of today to Kiev. In the eighth century, the kings of the Khazars adopted the Jewish religion and made Hebrew the written language of the kingdom. From the 10th century the kingdom weakened; in the 13th century is was utterly defeated by Mongol invaders, and the fate of its Jewish inhabitants remains unclear.

Sand revives the hypothesis, which was already suggested by historians in the 19th and 20th centuries, according to which the Judaized Khazars constituted the main origins of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

“At the beginning of the 20th century there is a tremendous concentration of Jews in Eastern Europe – three million Jews in Poland alone,” he says. “The Zionist historiography claims that their origins are in the earlier Jewish community in Germany, but they do not succeed in explaining how a small number of Jews who came from Mainz and Worms could have founded the Yiddish people of Eastern Europe. The Jews of Eastern Europe are a mixture of Khazars and Slavs who were pushed eastward.”

‘Degree of perversion’

If the Jews of Eastern Europe did not come from Germany, why did they speak Yiddish, which is a Germanic language?

“The Jews were a class of people dependent on the German bourgeoisie in the East, and thus they adopted German words. Here I base myself on the research of linguist Paul Wechsler of Tel Aviv University, who has demonstrated that there is no etymological connection between the German Jewish language of the Middle Ages and Yiddish. As far back as 1828, the Ribal (Rabbi Isaac Ber Levinson) said that the ancient language of the Jews was not Yiddish. Even Ben Zion Dinur, the father of Israeli historiography, was not hesitant about describing the Khazars as the origin of the Jews in Eastern Europe, and describes Khazaria as ‘the mother of the diasporas’ in Eastern Europe. But more or less since 1967, anyone who talks about the Khazars as the ancestors of the Jews of Eastern Europe is considered naive and moonstruck.”

Why do you think the idea of the Khazar origins is so threatening?

“It is clear that the fear is of an undermining of the historic right to the land. The revelation that the Jews are not from Judea would ostensibly knock the legitimacy for our being here out from under us. Since the beginning of the period of decolonization, settlers have no longer been able to say simply: ‘We came, we won and now we are here’ the way the Americans, the whites in South Africa and the Australians said. There is a very deep fear that doubt will be cast on our right to exist.”

Is there no justification for this fear?

“No. I don’t think that the historical myth of the exile and the wanderings is the source of the legitimization for me being here, and therefore I don’t mind believing that I am Khazar in my origins. I am not afraid of the undermining of our existence, because I think that the character of the State of Israel undermines it in a much more serious way. What would constitute the basis for our existence here is not mythological historical right, but rather would be for us to start to establish an open society here of all Israeli citizens.”

In effect you are saying that there is no such thing as a Jewish people.

“I don’t recognize an international people. I recognize ‘the Yiddish people’ that existed in Eastern Europe, which though it is not a nation can be seen as a Yiddishist civilization with a modern popular culture. I think that Jewish nationalism grew up in the context of this ‘Yiddish people.’ I also recognize the existence of an Israeli people, and do not deny its right to sovereignty. But Zionism and also Arab nationalism over the years are not prepared to recognize it.

“From the perspective of Zionism, this country does not belong to its citizens, but rather to the Jewish people. I recognize one definition of a nation: a group of people that wants to live in sovereignty over itself. But most of the Jews in the world have no desire to live in the State of Israel, even though nothing is preventing them from doing so. Therefore, they cannot be seen as a nation.”

What is so dangerous about Jews imagining that they belong to one people? Why is this bad?

“In the Israeli discourse about roots there is a degree of perversion. This is an ethnocentric, biological, genetic discourse. But Israel has no existence as a Jewish state: If Israel does not develop and become an open, multicultural society we will have a Kosovo in the Galilee. The consciousness concerning the right to this place must be more flexible and varied, and if I have contributed with my book to the likelihood that I and my children will be able to live with the others here in this country in a more egalitarian situation – I will have done my bit.

“We must begin to work hard to transform our place into an Israeli republic where ethnic origin, as well as faith, will not be relevant in the eyes of the law. Anyone who is acquainted with the young elites of the Israeli Arab community can see that they will not agree to live in a country that declares it is not theirs. If I were a Palestinian I would rebel against a state like that, but even as an Israeli I am rebelling against it.”

The question is whether for those conclusions you had to go as far as the Kingdom of the Khazars.

“I am not hiding the fact that it is very distressing for me to live in a society in which the nationalist principles that guide it are dangerous, and that this distress has served as a motive in my work. I am a citizen of this country, but I am also a historian and as a historian it is my duty to write history and examine texts. This is what I have done.”

If the myth of Zionism is one of the Jewish people that returned to its land from exile, what will be the myth of the country you envision?

“To my mind, a myth about the future is better than introverted mythologies of the past. For the Americans, and today for the Europeans as well, what justifies the existence of the nation is a future promise of an open, progressive and prosperous society. The Israeli materials do exist, but it is necessary to add, for example, pan-Israeli holidays. To decrease the number of memorial days a bit and to add days that are dedicated to the future. But also, for example, to add an hour in memory of the Nakba [literally, the “catastrophe” – the Palestinian term for what happened when Israel was established], between Memorial Day and Independence Day.”

Ref: haaretz

U.S. teens stumped by history survey

ewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic questions about history and literature during a recent telephone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one-quarter thought that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World sometime after 1750, not in 1492.

The results of the survey, released Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of American teenagers live in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature, according to the group that commissioned it. Known as Common Core, the organization describes itself as a new, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in American public schools.

The group argues that President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law has impoverished America’s public school curriculum by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and math but in no other subjects.

Politically, the group’s leaders are strange bedfellows. Its founding board includes Antonia Cortese, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that is a powerful force in the Democratic Party, and Diane Ravitch, an education professor at New York University who was assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush. Its executive director is Lynne Munson, a former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former special assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne.

“We’re a truly diverse group,” Munson said. “We almost certainly vote differently, and we have varying opinions about different aspects of educational reform. But when it comes to concern that all of America’s children receive a comprehensive liberal arts and science education, we all agree.”

In the survey, 1,200 17-year-olds were reached by telephone in January and asked to answer 33 multiple choice questions about history and literature, which were read aloud to them. The questions were drawn from a test administered by the U.S. government in 1986.

About a quarter of the teenagers surveyed were unable to correctly identify Adolf Hitler as Germany’s chancellor during World War II, instead identifying him variously as a munitions maker, an Austrian premier and the German Kaiser.

On literature, the teenagers fared even worse. Only four in 10 could pick the name of Ralph Ellison’s novel about a young man’s growing up in the south and moving to Harlem, “Invisible Man,” from a list of titles, and only about half knew that in the Bible, Job is known for his patience in suffering. About as many said he was known for his skill as a builder, or his prowess in battle, or his prophetic abilities.

The history question that proved easiest asked the respondents to identify the man who declared, “I have a dream.” Ninety-seven percent of teenagers correctly picked Martin Luther King Jr.

About eight in ten teenagers, a higher percentage than on any other literature question, knew that Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is about two children affected by the conflict in their community when their father defends a black man in court.

In a joint introduction to their report, Cortese and Ravitch did not directly blame the No Child law for the dismal survey results, but argued that the law has led schools to focus too narrowly on reading and math, thereby crowding time out of the school day for history, literature and other subjects.

“The nation’s education system has become obsessed with testing and basic skills because of the requirements of U.S. law, and that is not healthy,” Cortese and Ravitch said.

A string of studies have documented the narrowing of the American public school curriculum since Bush signed the U.S. law in January 2002. Last week, the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research group that has closely studied the law’s implementation, estimated, based on its own extensive survey, that 62 percent of school systems nationwide had added an average of three hours of math or reading instruction each week, at the expense of time spent on social studies, art and other subjects.

But the Bush administration and some business and civil rights groups warn against weakening the law, arguing that students need reading and math skills to succeed in other subjects.

Ref: Herald Tribune