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The Invention Of The Jewish People

The Invention Of The Jewish People
The Invention Of The Jewish People

By Shlomo Sand
Translated by Yael Lotan

Preface to the English-Language Edition

This book was originally written in Hebrew. My mother tongue is actually Yiddish, but Hebrew has remained the language of my imagination, probably of my dreams and certainly of my writing. I chose to publish the book in Israel because initially my intended readers were Israelis, both those who see themselves as Jews and those who are defined as Arabs. My reason was simple enough: I live in Tel Aviv, where I teach history.

When the book first appeared in early 2008, its reception was somewhat odd. The electronic media were intensely curious, and I was invited to take part in many television and radio programs. Journalists, too, turned their attention to my study, mostly in a favorable way. By contrast, representatives of the “authorized” body of historians fell on the book with academic fury, and excitable bloggers depicted me as an enemy of the people. Perhaps it was this contrast that prompted the readers to indulge me—the book stayed on the bestseller list for nineteen weeks.

To understand this development, you have to take a clear-eyed look at Israel and forgo any bias for or against. I live in a rather strange society. As the closing chapter of the book shows—to the annoyance of many book reviewers—Israel cannot be described as a democratic state while it sees itself as the state of the “Jewish people,” rather than as a body representing all the citizens within its recognized boundaries (not including the occupied territories). The spirit of Israel’s laws indicates that, at the start of the twentyfirst century, the state’s objective is to serve Jews rather than Israelis, and to provide the best conditions for the supposed descendants of this ethnos rather than for all the citizens who live in it and speak its language. In fact, anyone born to a Jewish mother may have the best of both worlds—being free to live in London or in New York, confident that the State of Israel is theirs, even if they do not wish to live under its sovereignty. Yet anyone who did not emerge from Jewish loins and who lives in Jaffa or in Nazareth will feel that the state in which they were born will never be theirs.

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