A Race &/or a People?

[To catch up with the discussion so far, see Are Jews a Race?, & comments on this that appear on the Ongoing page & the Her Parents’ Families post.]I need to define how I mean the terms I’m using here, otherwise they can tend to flow into all kinds of ambiguities, as words do.I want to say: A ‘race’ is not identical with an ‘ethnicity’: there can be numerous ‘peoples’ of the same ‘race’ (especially if we think in the largest race categories, such as ‘Caucasian’, etc.) − and there can be ‘peoples’ that are composed of members of several races, like the Americans, the Australians, the peoples of most Western European countries today (how different from only a few decades ago!)

Nor do we have clear agreed definitions of either of these terms. Yet, as I wrote in my reply to a comment by Jenny, Jews definitely seem to constitute a unique (& puzzling because so unique) kind of entity, one that is ethnic &/or racial & at the same time cultural (which includes that indefinable something that causes most Jews to identify with their Jewhood & some of us to even embark on “the passionate search for what this means”). We can admit that for many centuries the dominant element in the cultural superstructure that has been the “glue” for this entity was the Jewish religion, but this has changed radically since the late 18th century (see Wikipedia, “Jewish emancipation” and “Haskalah” for an intro).

That sense of identification with Jewhood, with Jews who-&-wherever they are or were or will be, together with some sense of Jewish culture & history &  the Jewish metacultural heritage with its multiplicity of Jewish subcultures with their interwoven languages, all always connected to Hebrew, is more characteristic of a ‘people’ than of a ‘race’, while the DNA links that are being discovered are more characteristic of a race than of a people.

In a book that is illuminating & fascinating reading, The Invention of the Jewish People, the ‘radical’ Israeli historian Shlomo Sand has brilliantly deconstructed the 19th-century Jewish historiography that laid the basis for the nationalistic perception of Jewish ethnicity that underlay the founding myth of Zionism……

It now seems to me that Sand’s actual argument was that the Jews are not a ‘people’ (& therefore not entitled to an ‘ancestral right’ to the ‘Land of Israel’) because they are not a ‘race’: most of his ‘proofs’ are based on his ‘findings’ that the number of mass conversions to Judaism, from Roman times through to the Khazars, was far greater than posited by nationalistic or Zionist Jewish historians. But a ‘people’ is a historically constructed entity (and can be multi-racial), while a ‘race’ is a biological category. Sand’s estimate of the proportion of descendants of converts among Jews is often disputed, but I think it really makes little difference to the essence of the unique kind of race/people that the Jews are: the race part of this fusion may be more or less ‘impure’ than we think (let the DNA research try to show) & the people part may be more or less multi-racial…

— and i think there is nothing in this perception that justifies any ‘ancestral claim’ by this race/people entity to territories some of their progenitors may have inhabited two millennia ago. Zionists may have begun colonizing ‘the Land’ believing in the rightness of such a claim,  The story of the Jewish people’s ceaseless praying & yearning, during all these centuries of dispersion, to return to “its land” & establish a sovereign state there, informs the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel that David Ben-Gurion read out to the Knesset on May 14, 1948. I don’t know how many Israelis still believe that (certainly the religious settlers who proclaim that God gave them this land & that it is their religious duty to occupy it & not to leave it seem to) or how many already realize (even if they don’t actually say it, to themselves or to others) that the main & only justification (&/or explanation) for their being there today is the same justification that anyone anywhere has for living where they live: simply that they are there: Israel is their home, they were either born there or brought there by their parents, & this process has already been going on for several generations & for over a century by now.

Within this racial/ethnic group, there are sub-ethnicities too: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Yemenite, as well as sub-sub ethnicities within those groups…

2 thoughts on “A Race &/or a People?

  1. Bon Matin RIchard’

    I gave a quick “perusal reading” to your “Ongoing” page and made a mental to give it the proper attentive reading it deserves when I can spare the hours it will take to commit to your enticing & entertaining writing style. Meanwhile I just wanted to point out the latest DNA research that found Ashkenazim women are 80% European, mainly Mediterranean from Southern Italy and to a lesser extent Greece. Here’s the link:
    They made the study on mitochondrial DNA since, culturally at least, Jewishness seem to be matrilineal. ,,, In my (uneducated I admit) opionion It leaves us with a different read on the “zionist nationhood” (sorry I’m emotionally unable to capiitalize the “Z” 😉 as first and foremost an Ashkenazim i.e. European project from the 1850’s to the 1950’s …

    So the people / race concept is direct product of zionism who took disparate races and ethnic group and conceptualilzed a “Jewish Race/People” … I’ll make gross assumptions to illustrate what I mean and would divided the pre-zionist Jewry is 4 big “ethnic classes” (for lack of a better term): European Ashkenazim, North African Sephardim (heavily mixed with Moors) , Mizrahim or as there were referred then Arab Jews and the Central and Eastern Russia “Khazarian” Jews who heavily mixed with the Ashkenazim …

    If we except the “idealist Zionists” of the “Lovers of Zion” and look at the core zionist immigration of 1910-1948 we have European / Khazarian Ashkenazim Jews building their “Nation-Sate” to European standards and values. At this point the ethnic Arab Jews where opposed to zionism and were culturally Arabs who practised Judaism (since “secularity” was almost inexisting the Near East.) Then came the violence heralded and glorified by the Jabotinsky Revisionists such as Betar, Irgun & LEHI who wanted the “rebirth of the Macchabees” reminiscing to the 1907 Bar-Giora motto “”In fire and blood did Judea fall; in blood and fire Judea shall rise.” . This violent approach, much later revived by Kahane “Ethics of Violence”, created resentment in the Arab world that directed it (much tragically and WRONGLY) towards Mizrahim of Iraq and Yemen. So they started pouring in the early 50’s …

    It is only then that the mainstream tenet of ” ancestry ” has been established by the zionist State in order to coalesce the Ashkenazim, the Mizrahim Refugees ( a pure by-product of zionist violence, especially for the Iraqi ones and the “Baghdad bombings”) and the North African Sephardim who were at that point mostly ideological zionist Settlers seduced by a very active Jewish Agency … And further down the road came to coalescce Ethiopian & Asian Jews into ts fabricated “people of an ethnic Nation-State” …

    Without zionism all we have is a collection of cultural “ethnic groups” linked by a Judaic Cultural Heritage … To my knowledge, no one ever proved the “Palestinian ancestry” and longing for Palestine of Russian,German, Lithuanian, Polish, French, Morroccan, Tunisian Jews prior to 1850 .. BTW 1850 is also the start of Evangelical Dispensationalism we nowadays call “christian zionism” (see John Nelson Darby), I do think zionism was not “inspired by a People” but “inspired to Create a People” hence the Myth of the 70 AD Exodus after the Bar-Kochba Revolt needed to justify a “return after forced exile” …

    Ii think that zionist historians use the cultural trait of self-ghettoization of Diaspora Jewry from the Middle-Age to Modern Times as sign of “racial purity” is a convoluted ploy to justify zionism and “ownership of Palestine via Blood RIght” while the rightful owners, the native Palestinians Arabs (Muslims, Christians and Atheists) amongst whom where a small numbers of Palestinian Jews, a majority of whom seemed to have enjoyed the passage from equal to “Master of the Land by Divine Right” …

    Of course Jews are at least an ethno-cultural group, a “people” in a very loose sense of the word but my poient is they became a “People” and truly seeing themselves as a “race” very recently and through extensive efforts of the zionist organizations … And the Cement that made most Jews see themselves as a “Nation” was fighting together under the same Flag to “defend” a land that was settled by force (with the complicity of the British) … It is also my opinion that the “veneration of the Holocaust” serves as an emotional cover to transform 1948 in a Redemption story rather than the COloniallist War it really was since the yishuv prepared 1948 since the repression of the 1936-39 Palestinian Arab Revolt.

    Sorry I digressed a lot and expanded much further than DNA but I think you’ll take my musings for what meant, simple opinions on that matter… Lastly, I find ironic that the zionism who wanted to free Jews from the “shtelt” ended up creating a Wall-in “shtetl” of their own with #APARTHEID #israel that some now call the “Masada Nation” … Hopefully the World can stop political zionism and, if zionism is a necessity for Jewish people, replace it by some form of non-statist zionism concepts that existed prior to Revisionist #APARTHEID #israel.

    Take care my friend and I look forward to an attentive reading of your entire blog (poetry excluded because I simply don’t get oniric writings, sadly I lack that sensitivity)

    P.S. Not that you need it, but my “novella” comment will at least give you the perpective of an outside observer of zioniosm … (:^)


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