M. Shahid Alam shares with us an excerpt from his recent book, Israeli Exceptionalism
excerpted from the author’s Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave, 2009)
“We do not fit the general pattern of humanity…”
“…only God could have created a people so special as the Jewish people.”
The Zionists confronted two handicaps that Irish nationalists did not face. The diverse and scattered Jewish communities of Europe – and even more so, the world – did not constitute a single people. Instead, the Jews of the world were loosely united by their religious heritage, but they shared their languages, cultures and genes with their neighboring communities. Moreover, no Jewish community had its own country, a substantial and contiguous territory where it formed a majority of the population. Despite these twin Jewish deficits – the absence of a nation and a national territory – the Zionists were determined to ‘liberate’ the Jews of Europe and endow them with their own state.
A racial identity offered the best hope of inculcating nationalism in culturally diverse Jewish communities. Only an identity, based on the myth of a common descent, could unite peoples who were as different ethnically and culturally as the Jews of Portugal, Britain, Germany, Greece and Russia. Only the myth of racial unity, only the conviction that they are a single family, descended from Abraham and Jacob, could unite orthodox, conservative and reform Jews into a nation. Once the Jews were convinced of their racial identity, preserved over hundreds of generations in exile, this would also endow them with pride in their ancient pedigree and their unique ability to survive and preserve their racial purity through difficult conditions. This was sure to engender a strong sense of their distinctiveness, superiority and destiny, rooted in Jewish traditions and the Jewish Bible. With confidence, the Jews could see themselves as a unique nation, both ancient and divinely blessed.
The Zionists were more candid about their ‘land deficit;’ this was not something they could fudge. Indeed, their land deficit defined the ‘abnormal’ condition of Jews; they were an abnormal people because they did not have a country they could call their own. Conceptually, the land deficit was easier to fix. The Jews only had to stake a claim to Palestine as their country: there were two ways of doing this. Jews of secular persuasion could claim that they had a historical right to Palestine, since they were descended from the ancient Israelites. In addition, it would be easy to reclaim this land because – according to early Zionist rhetoric – ‘this was a land without a people.’ No one had claimed Palestine during their absence. The religious Jews had a simpler and – for them – more irrefutable claim. Their God had promised the land to their ancestors for keeps. All they had to do was invoke their divine right to this Promised Land.
It turns out, after all, that the Jews are a people with their own land. Once the Zionists had made their case, there would be nothing abnormal about their national project. This was the official rhetoric of the Zionist project of national liberation for the Jewish people. On the back of this rhetoric, the Zionists would succeed in convincing the Western world to support their exclusionary colonial project in the Middle East.
M. Shahid Alam is a professor of economics at Northeastern University. Israeli Exceptionalism can be ordered from Amazon.com
The “DNA of the Chosen People”
Meanwhile, sowing hate through their “unique” and “exceptional” humour continues:
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