Israel can’t hide from its history forever

The Vancouver Courier
May 11, 1997

(Reprinted in the Jan/Feb 1998 Washington Report for Middle East Affairs.)

A country is part fact, part myth. The former is the province of economists, politicians and other practitioners of the mundane; the latter principally belongs to history, and is no less important to a healthy country. For a country to be healthy and united, its leaders must promote a unifying national ethos replete with heroes, traditions and celebrations of its past.

It’s all well and good to beat the drums of pragmatism, fiscal and otherwise, but a people needs to know that it belongs to a larger community and to have that membership reinforced through ritual and common celebration. Otherwise, there’d be nothing that could properly be called a country—just a community of communities.

However, myths and their attendant celebrations have a dark side. If used to prop up ideologies and false histories, their innate mendacity will sooner or later tear a country apart. This brings me to Israel, which celebrates its 49th birthday on Thursday. Given the events of the past year, one wonders how many it has left.

Israel is built on a lie, and that lie manifests itself from time to time, as in last year’s tunnel opening and the construction of the latest Jewish colony in Arab East Jerusalem. In good Zionist fashion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often declared that Israel is in the West Bank and Jerusalem to stay, and that all Jews have a historical right to settle there. From the Israeli view, the Palestinians must accept this before there can be peace. The Palestinians will have none of it, and for good reason. Although Netanyahu’s claim is familiar with Israeli history, it is entirely fallacious. It fails to mention the Khazars.

The Khazars were a nomadic Turko-Finnic people who migrated out of the Caucasus in the second century and came to settle, broadly speaking, in what is now southern Russia and Ukraine. In AD 740, Bulan, the khagan (ruler) of Khazaria, declared that paganism wasn’t good enough for his people and decided to adopt one of the “heavenly” religions: Judaism, Christianity or Islam. He sent for representatives of each faith, but found their arguments unconvincing. Bulan then asked each of them a question: if they had to give up their creed for one of the others, which would it be? When the Christian and Muslim both said Judaism, Bulan had his answer. From that moment, the Khazars lived according to Judaic law.

The Khazar Empire lasted until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century forced its Jewish population to flee northwest into Poland, Germany, Russia and elsewhere. They quickly outnumbered the established Semitic Jews who had come centuries earlier from the Middle East. We know these Khazari Jews today as the AshkeNazim, or European Jews.

The history of the Khazars and their Judaic conversion is a documented, undisputed part of Jewish history, but you see why it causes the Zionists fits. It proves that the European Jewry is largely Caucasian, not Semitic. This means that Israel’s Zionist founders—Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir and Golda Meir, for example—cannot claim affiliation with Israel’s biblical past. In fact, the region’s Semitic Jews, Christians and Muslims who have genealogies going back to biblical times do have a right to live in Israel. It is with good reason that author Alfred M. Lilienthal declared Judaism’s Khazar’s heritage to be Israel’s Achilles heel.

The false history of Israel as a homeland for victims of European persecution is tied up with fallacies of Israel’s “war” of independence. Zionist history says the victorious Jews won nationhood in a war against superior Arab numbers. We know this to be a fiction. On May 15, when Israel received formal U.S. recognition, well equipped Zionist forces included 30,000 fully mobilized regulars, 32,000 second-line troops, 15,000 settlement police, a home guard of 32,000, as well as 3000-5000 troops from the Irgun and 200-300 from the Stern Gang. Soldiers in the Arab forces comprised fewer than 20,000 poorly trained and armed troops, including volunteers of the Arab Liberation Army.

More than falsified history, though, European Jews exploited the suffering of their own people to further a policy of aggression and expropriation. As Professor Ilan Pappé of Haifa University wrote in the Journal of Palestine Studies (Winter 1997): “Generally speaking, the Zionists succeeded in persuading large segments of world public opinion to link the Zionist cause with the Holocaust. Against such a claim, even able Palestinian diplomats—and there were not many in those days—could hardly win the diplomatic game.”

(Ironically, the term anti-Semitic, so often used to label critics of Israel, is a misnomer; European Jews are the true anti-Semites in Israel.)

Within Israel today, Pappé said, Zionist versions of the truth are beginning to lose credibility. So-called “New Sociologists” and “New Historians” are openly criticizing traditional verities, such as Israel never provokes hostilities, and whole peoples can be displaced and marginalized in the name of “national security.” They’re even exposing the false history of 1948. While some Zionists are willing to criticize Israel’s post-1967 expansionism, Pappé says the period 1882-1967 is still off limits.

Now that Israel’s expansionism in the West Bank is open to general debate, perhaps one day so, too, will be the period 1947-48 and maybe even Zionism itself.

1. Khalidi, Walid. From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948. Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, DC, 1987.
2. Koestler, Arthur. The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage. Random House, New York, 1967.
3. Lilienthal, Alfred M. What Price Israel? Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, DC, 1953.