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For 2,000 years, philosophers and historians have tried to understand the Jewish problem, others have tried to solve it by eliminating the Jews. No Jews, no problem! Sometimes it requires a non-expert to find a solution. Shlomo Zand, an Israeli professor of French history and cinema, is the latest contender to offer a final solution to the Jewish problem. His solution has French elegance: Prove that there are no Jews, get everyone to believe it, and then there will be no more Jewish problem. His book, "Matai ve'eych humtza ha'am hayehudi?" ("When and How was the Jewish People Invented?") was just published in Israel and is a best seller. By September, it will be published in French. By that time, Zand should be well on his way to solving the Jewish problem.

Zand is to be commended for a solution that at first glance, seems to have no mess, no fuss and no bother, a great improvement over previous models. No auto da fe is required, no charging Cossacks are needed, no gas chambers, no smelly crematoria. It is not even necessary to be baptized. Nothing! A coterie of non-Jewish Jewish sycophants have already written laudatory reviews of the book and interviews with the budding genius, in which he explains the workings of his ingenious invention for annihilation of the Jews.

Zand's major contention is that the Romans never exiled any Jews. All European Jews are therefore descendants of converts. That includes the Jews of Spain, whom he claims were converted "Berbers," (the racist epithet used by Arabs to describe Amazigh and other native peoples of North Africa suppressed by the Arabs). The Ashkenazy Jews are descendants of the central European Khazar tribe according to him, following Koestler and others, and the Yemenites are Arab converts. Josephus Flavius, he asserts, never mentions exile, and there is no mention of exile in any other ancient source, for either the revolt of 73 AD or the revolt of Bar Kochba. There was no exile, because Romans had peculiar logistical problems transporting Jews. Josephus Flavius, he asserts, never mentions exile, and there is no mention of exile in any other ancient source, for either the revolt of 73 AD or the revolt of Bar Kochba. They could bring myriads of Greek slaves from Asia minor, Egyptians, Syrians, Africans. Gauls, Illyrians, Goths, Britons and all other races that we know were in Rome. Jews, for some reason, spoiled during transport or were not movable according to Zand. Moreover, Zand cannot imagine why after the capital city, Jerusalem was laid waste, and hundreds of thousand of people were killed by all accounts, it might have been just possible that some Jews would, of their own volition, seek their fortune outside the ideal conditions of near starvation prevailing in Roman Palestine.

Zand has a final solution for every Jew! A true communist and citizen of the world, Zand considers that only people who speak Yiddish are really Jews, of a sort that has no historic connection with Israel. If you don't speak Yiddish, forget about being Jewish according to Rabbi Zand and the Zandinistas. Here is an anti-Zionist Mapainik Ashkenazi elitst, more racist than the worst stereotypes of Mapainiks. The real "Jews" or ex-Jews of the land are the Palestinian Arabs he claims. Presumably that includes all the Palestinian Arabs who came here from Africa as slaves, and the Husseini and Dajani and Nashashibi families who came here as conquerers at different times. Presumably, they must've been Jews who temporarily wandered off into Arabia and then returned home a thousand years later. That includes Izzedin al Qassam, born in Syria, and Fawzi el Qaukji the Lebanese.

And why does Zand wish to complete the annihilation of the Jewish people that was begun by the previous racist theorist? For the most progressive reasons of health, justice, social improvement, and public welfare, in the best traditions of all Jew eliminators. Israeli democracy is imperfect and unfair to Arabs, claim the Zandinistas. The way to improve it and make the world a better place, they believe, is to deny Jewish people the right to self-determination, by simply wishing them away. Zand does not want to abolish Israel. There will be one Palestinian Arab state, for who could deny self-determination to the Palestinian Arabs, descendants of the ancient Jews or Phillistines or whatever? Only a Mapainik like Golda Meir would be so insensitive and racist as to say "there are no Palestinians." That is an entirely reprehensible and morally repugnant idea, as opposed to the noble declaration, "There are no Jews." Alongside this Palestinian Arab state, reserved only for lineal descendants of King David presumably, there will be a state of undetermined national character called Israel.

One flaw in Zand's thesis is that nobody sane, including Zionists, ever claimed that a nation or a people consists only of genetically related individuals. Only Adolf Hitler and the Nazis made that claim. The Zandinistas attribute that claim to Zionists, but it was not made by Zionists.

A second problem that Zand does not deal with, is that Josephus Flavius hardly needed to mention exiles, because he was one, and in any case, Josephus enumerated 97,000 captives from the siege of Jerusalem, including 700 specially picked choice grade A captives who were, logistical problems notwithstanding, brought to Rome to march in the triumph and probably fed to the lions. Most of the rest were presumably sold to slave jobbers who followed the Roman armies, and were the main source of revenue for Roman generals. For slaves, as a good Marxist like Zand should know, were both the means of production and the renewable and sustainable energy source of the ancient world. They supplied the motive power of the ancient ships, provided the manufacturing capacity and the entertainment too. Slaves of all kinds were always in great demand, including and especially those who were literate, and the ancient Jews had a relatively high literacy rate. The Romans did not have the logistic problems that plagued the medieval French armies with which Zand is more familiar. They had excellent roads of course, and their ships plied the Mediterranean, always hugging the coast, from Egypt to Gaul, and even across the channel to Britain and down the Atlantic coast to Africa occasionally. They had very efficiently run slave auctions, and private enterprise always found a way. Moreover, it was inevitable that in a land that was massively depopulated and laid waste and taxed, many farmers who were not taken captive or killed, would eventually fall into debt, and sell first their land, and then themselves as slaves, in order to redeem the debt. This problem must've become especially acute when climactic changes in subsequent centuries made Palestine increasingly more arid, along with North Africa. The ancient global warming problem apparently produced the ancient sub-prime meltdown, on a scale that can only be imagined today.

A third aspect of Zand's thesis that is problematic, is that numerous genetic studies show that Jews from all over the world are related to each other, and that Ashkenazi Jews are genetically closer to Kurds and other fertile crescent peoples than they are to Khazars. There is also strong genetic evidence of links between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Thanks to analysis of the distribution of genetic mutations and variant genes, it is now possible to follow the migrations of human populations and subgroups without relying on folktales about Khazars and "Berber" queens. Amazingly, though the Zand's whole argument would appear to turn on genetics, neither he nor his interviewers ever discuss the subject.

It would be a mistake however, to base the major contentions against Zand and the Zandinistas on genetics. In claiming that Zionism is based on a genetic relation of the supposed descendants of Abraham,they have set up a straw man. No nation is genetically "pure" and Zionism did not make that claim. The law of return is based on ancestry as a matter of convenience, because lawmakers could not find a better criterion. Claims that Jews are all descended from Khazars and "Berbers" are fatuous and are easy to disprove. But surely some Jews are descended from Khazars, or Turks or Germans or Russians or Arabs or "Berbers," at least in part. Will we institute criteria for the minimum number of "Jewish" alleles needed in order to claim right of return? Scientific findings and their interpretation are always subject to change. If we allow the Zandinistas and their allies to tie our rights in Israel to genetic findings, we can find ourselves dispossessed by someone's gel electrophoresis results.

Finally, Zand's notion of the Jewish people is racist and exclusivist. He insists that the only true Judaism is the Yiddish culture of central Europe. When the revolution comes, we will all eat Gefilte fish, whether we like it or not. Yemenite Jews, descended from an Arab tribe, Ethiopian Jews and the "Berbers" that we all think are Sephardic Jews, all have no place in Israel and no part in the inheritance of Jacob according to Zand. Only Yiddish speakers in the image of Zand, Yossi Gurevitch and Tom Segev can enter the covenant of Abraham.

Zand's thesis is flawed, to say the least. The political implications of the thesis may be disastrous. He is announcing that the Jews are not the "real" owners of the land of Israel, which, according to him, belongs to the Arabs of Palestine, who are the real Jews. Our Arab neighbors have been looking to root us out of the land for a hundred years. Zand's thesis gives them an excuse. At the same time, Arabs may not take kindly to the idea of being accused of being "al Yahud." Zand tells Yosi Gurevitch, in one of the interviews, that he hopes his thesis is not mistranslated when it is published in Arabic, as it could be "misunderstood." The danger, rather, is that it will be understood.

I examine Zand's ideas at greater length in Are the Jews a people? The Zand Controversy, a work in progress.

Ami Isseroff


Original content is Copyright by the author 2008. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000524.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 8 Comments

Micha,
Shlomo Zand's book is not proper history. It is based in large part on the fraudulent ideas of Arthur Koestler and Paul Wexler. But it does not mean everything he says is wrong. Most of it, but not all of it.

Genetic evidence shows that the Berbers are only a small part of the ancestry of Sephardic Jews from Spain. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just not to the extent Zand attributes it.

There is considerable documentary evidence that many Khazars converted to Judaism, and there are Khazar coins that show Jewish influence.

There are a small number of Turkic words in Yiddish but we can't connect them to the Khazar language.

There is evidence that Slavic-speaking Jews lived in eastern Europe before the Yiddish-speaking Jews got there. Yes, they did intermarry and get swallowed up by the German Jews, simply because the German Jews were larger in numbers. There are credible suggestions that the Slavic-speaking Jews were remnants of the Khazars (merged with Byzantine Jews).

You can find all the details in Chapters 6, 9, and 10 of my book "The Jews of Khazaria", Second Edition (2006).

The book also has an appendix discussing the ideas about conversions to Judaism in other lands, like Yemen.

It is startling to hear that Zand's book does not address genetic evidence at all. The first edition of my book was written in 1998, before most of the genetic studies were released, but the second edition discusses the studies published up to the start of 2006. Zand does not have the intellectual honesty that I do if he wants to deny that the genetic studies are valid in interviews, when he has no idea what he is talking about, and when his biases blind him. Has he even read the genetic studies? As historians, we have to evaluate all new evidence that comes in. Zand and Wexler prove that having a professorship and a Ph.D. is no guarantee of the ability to do correct and objective historical research.

Kevin Brook, Wednesday, April 16th


Zand is also the worst enemy of equality or integration of non-Jews in Israel.

1. Arabs and Druze and any other non-Jews should be entitled to equal rights while retaining their own collective identity. They should not be required to replace it with some artificial Israeli identity because it suits Zand more.

2. It is possible that over time, if peace is acheived and a Palestinian state in equality in Israel, an inclusive Israeli identity might develop that we will share with the Arabs and Druze. That identity is developing even as we speak.

But Zand threatens that because for him the only way for there to be Israelis, for there to be equality is by erasing other identities, by casting away the history, and culture other than the new one he wishes to instill with his revolutionary fervor. Making the Israeli identity a tool to bludgeon to Jewish identity he despises is a sure way of destroying it.

Micha, Monday, April 14th


"4- He would say they are all converts or he would ignore the evidence."

It doesn't seem to make much sense to assume that ethnic Jews showed a complete inability to retain their identity while other groups became Jewish en masse and retained that identity at a time when being Jewish was not exactly the best proposition out there. And I really find the idea of more than a handful of medieval Christians converting to Judaism. People would have noticed. It is more reasonable to assume that in the twilight of paganism and the emergence of monotheistic universal religions some people flirted with the idea of Judaism. It is more reasonable to assume, without other evidence, that they were mostly swept away by the growing power of Christianity and Islam. Some of them might have joined the Jewish communities.

"6- All valid points BUT the counter argument is that a demand for a modern state has to be based on a modern concept of the nation, and not one tied to religion. Presumably, this requirement is waived for Muslims."

Zand proves himself a bad historian when he tries to retroactively apply a category -- namely the separation of religion and nationality -- to a people and a time where they do not fit. Becoming Jewish in the past was not perceived as taking a religion while retaining a citizenship -- that's a modern concept. Joining judaism was perceived as joining a people.
That's part of the silliness of his argument. Everybody knows that modern nationalism is a modern phenomena which also involved looking back at the past and casting it in nationalistic terms as if the modern concepts always existed. I have no problem agreeing that Zionism is an example of this (just as Arabism, Germanic identity etc.). But what people like Zand do is replace one myth with another, as if prior to the evil zionists Jews always thought of themselves according to the category that's convenient to him, i.e. nationalism separate from religion. But this category is as modern as modern nationalism, and the Jews in pre-modern times thought of themselves according to a different category which was neither modern nationalism nor Zand's myth, but which was certainly closer to the former than the latter. In any case, nationalism, modern or otherwise, is not mathematics, it has no objective criteria and it's relation to religion varies depending on specific circumstances. In some places religion was a major aspect of the formation of a national identity, in others it was a divisive factor that needed to be sidestepped to achieve unity. In any case, whether you build your nationalism around religion, language, ethnicity or something else, some people are going to belong while other wont, and prejudices will all too often result. Complete rejection of nationalism worldwide will not solve that either, but of course Zand does not propose that. He is not against nationalism, he just doesn't like Jewish identity.

"7-Zand and others will argue that it is not so. "

This reveals the non-humanistic bolshevik aspect of people like Zand -- i.e. the belief that they can determine identity to other people based on 'objective' criteria instead of what's in the minds of the people. For me that's to most disgusting aspect his ideology. He is just a reincarnation of the same oppressive attitudes that treated people like clay to be cataloged shaped in the way best convenient for some ideology.

"8- I don't understand the point you are making. Zand doesn't discuss genetics at all. Most genetic studies support common ancestry for most Jews (not all) and nobody is surprised by diversity."

Zand referred in a TV interview to the fact that Yemenite Jews look like Yemenites. He also scoffed at the genetic research claiming that Jews are genetically related. Arguments that Ashkenazim don't look 'middle eastern' are a recurring theme in this kind of discussion, although I have not heard him use it. I don't have the tools to determine if the genetic research about the Jews is reliable. I found it surprising, because I assumed that Jews mingled more with other ethnic groups. That, like you've said, is not what makes us Jewish. But the point I wanted to make is that the phenomenon, i.e. Jews not looking 'middle eastern' does not really require us to assume that the majority of them are khazars since a. we don't know how middle easterners looked 2000 years ago, b. the diverse aspects of Jewish appearance can be the result of 2-3 thousand yeas of Jes coming in contact with non Jews rather than a mass conversion of non-Jews in one time and place in history.

The annoying thing about Zand is the appeal that it has not only to Arab propaganda, but to Jews who find the Jewish identity a burden, and think, as they have in the past, that if only they say the magic words: "Marx, Engles" or "Bismarc, Frederich" or "a state of all its people" than all the messy identities and problems will vanish as they have so successfully in Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Iraq, Sri-Lanka, the USSR and Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Micha, Monday, April 14th


"4- He would say they are all converts or he would ignore the evidence."

It doesn't seem to make much sense to assume that ethnic Jews showed a complete inability to retain their identity while other groups became Jewish en masse and retained that identity at a time when being Jewish was not exactly the best proposition out there. And I really find the idea of more than a handful of medieval Christians converting to Judaism. People would have noticed. It is more reasonable to assume that in the twilight of paganism and the emergence of monotheistic universal religions some people flirted with the idea of Judaism. It is more reasonable to assume, without other evidence, that they were mostly swept away by the growing power of Christianity and Islam. Some of them might have joined the Jewish communities.

"6- All valid points BUT the counter argument is that a demand for a modern state has to be based on a modern concept of the nation, and not one tied to religion. Presumably, this requirement is waived for Muslims."

Zand proves himself a bad historian when he tries to retroactively apply a category -- namely the separation of religion and nationality -- to a people and a time where they do not fit. Becoming Jewish in the past was not perceived as taking a religion while retaining a citizenship -- that's a modern concept. Joining judaism was perceived as joining a people.
That's part of the silliness of his argument. Everybody knows that modern nationalism is a modern phenomena which also involved looking back at the past and casting it in nationalistic terms as if the modern concepts always existed. I have no problem agreeing that Zionism is an example of this (just as Arabism, Germanic identity etc.). But what people like Zand do is replace one myth with another, as if prior to the evil zionists Jews always thought of themselves according to the category that's convenient to him, i.e. nationalism separate from religion. But this category is as modern as modern nationalism, and the Jews in pre-modern times thought of themselves according to a different category which was neither modern nationalism nor Zand's myth, but which was certainly closer to the former than the latter. In any case, nationalism, modern or otherwise, is not mathematics, it has no objective criteria and it's relation to religion varies depending on specific circumstances. In some places religion was a major aspect of the formation of a national identity, in others it was a divisive factor that needed to be sidestepped to achieve unity. In any case, whether you build your nationalism around religion, language, ethnicity or something else, some people are going to belong while other wont, and prejudices will all too often result. Complete rejection of nationalism worldwide will not solve that either, but of course Zand does not propose that. He is not against nationalism, he just doesn't like Jewish identity.

"7-Zand and others will argue that it is not so. "

This reveals the non-humanistic bolshevik aspect of people like Zand -- i.e. the belief that they can determine identity to other people based on 'objective' criteria instead of what's in the minds of the people. For me that's to most disgusting aspect his ideology. He is just a reincarnation of the same oppressive attitudes that treated people like clay to be cataloged shaped in the way best convenient for some ideology.

"8- I don't understand the point you are making. Zand doesn't discuss genetics at all. Most genetic studies support common ancestry for most Jews (not all) and nobody is surprised by diversity."

Zand referred in a TV interview to the fact that Yemenite Jews look like Yemenites. He also scoffed at the genetic research claiming that Jews are genetically related. Arguments that Ashkenazim don't look 'middle eastern' are a recurring theme in this kind of discussion, although I have not heard him use it. I don't have the tools to determine if the genetic research about the Jews is reliable. I found it surprising, because I assumed that Jews mingled more with other ethnic groups. That, like you've said, is not what makes us Jewish. But the point I wanted to make is that the phenomenon, i.e. Jews not looking 'middle eastern' does not really require us to assume that the majority of them are khazars since a. we don't know how middle easterners looked 2000 years ago, b. the diverse aspects of Jewish appearance can be the result of 2-3 thousand yeas of Jes coming in contact with non Jews rather than a mass conversion of non-Jews in one time and place in history.

The annoying thing about Zand is the appeal that it has not only to Arab propaganda, but to Jews who find the Jewish identity a burden, and think, as they have in the past, that if only they say the magic words: "Marx, Engles" or "Bismarc, Frederich" or "a state of all its people" than all the messy identities and problems will vanish as they have so successfully in Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Iraq, Sri-Lanka, the USSR and Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Micha, Monday, April 14th


Hi,
Thanks for all your comments. A detailed comment on Micha's post
1 & 2 - Yes, Zand sets up straw men and then knocks them down.
3 - For Khazars, read Koestler's book, which is on the Web. That's most of the "evidence."
4- He would say they are all converts or he would ignore the evidence. The big question is why Ha'aretz and others allowed the publication of reviews and interviews that did not ask a single one of the questions we have asked.

5. Yes, Jews were expelled from parts of Spain before the coming of the Moors - see Cambridge Medieval History.

6- All valid points BUT the counter argument is that a demand for a modern state has to be based on a modern concept of the nation, and not one tied to religion. Presumably, this requirement is waived for Muslims.

7-Zand and others will argue that it is not so.

8- I don't understand the point you are making. Zand doesn't discuss genetics at all. Most genetic studies support common ancestry for most Jews (not all) and nobody is surprised by diversity.

9- Yes, Yermiahu Yovel claims Spinoza was almost, in a way, the first Zionist. He wasn't really, but his Jewishness was obviously not related to religion, and therefore he became a forerunner of many Zionists - consciously or unconsciously.

Micha - if you do not leave an email address, I can't notify you of a reply, can I?

Ami Isseroff, Saturday, April 12th


I could go on about the foolishness of the idea of a bi-national state, or about the bolshevick idea that the myths that the myths that create a nationhood can simply be erased because they do not suit Zand. I also agree the the basic premise that the Jews all must belong to one gene pool to be a people is absurd. But I have some questions concerning the historical claims.

This is off the top of my head, based on general knowledge.
1) Isn't it common knowledge that aside from the Jews living in Judea at Roman times, there were many Jewish communities living in the diaspora who (at the time) considered themselves as members of the Jewish nation just as Greeks considered themselves greek even if they lived in a different corner of the Empire. Couldn't some of the Jews today be the decendants of these Jews, instead of coming from other converted people's

2) I saw Zand mock on TV the myth of a Jews exiled completely by Titus. But that's a false claim. Even I, who know little of this, know that there was a Jewish presence in Judea/Palestine for many years afterwards, all the way to the crusades. Why should we assume that all these Jews stayed put and Palestine and converted completely to Islam, and assimilated complietely in Arabic culture, while the 'fake' Jews in the diaspora held on to their identity in the face of Chritian and Islamic persecution?

3) It seems fun to speculate about conveted Kazars, but where is the historical evidence? What do we know of the Kazars? What was the extent of their connversion? Where are the documents of this influx of Jews moving west into Poland? How about anthrolpological evidence -- strange Kazari customs? Words that come from a central Asian language?

4) Zand claims that the Jews of Spain are Berbers and the Jews of Ashkenaz are kazars. But what about the Jews who are documented to have lived in France, Germany, Italy and Byzantium during the Middle ages? Does Zand not count them, or can he provide any proof that they were in fact swallowed by the Kazars? After all we do know that other Jewish communities were swallowed by the influx of Spanish Jews.

5) About the Berbers. I'm not certain, but wasn't there extensive anti-Jewish legislation in visigothic Spain prior to the Muslim invasion? This seems to suggest a presence of Jews, doesn't it? Furthermore, didn't the anthropologist Cliffor Girtz write about Jews who lived inside Berber society and who had some kind of bond with the Berber tribes? If they were Berber themselves, what happened to their tribes? Why were they living as foreigners inside Berber society? and how come, while all other Berbers converted to Islam, these guys not only stayed Jewish, but, unlike the other Berbers, lost any sign of their Berber origin?

6) Why is it so easy for people to view modern jewish nationalism as an "imagined" identity, but consider the idea of Judaism as a religion seperate from nationhood as a 'real' identity. Afgter all, this seperation of religion and nationhood is a pretty modern idea in western culture to begin with, coming up in reaction to the reformation, and it was adopted by some Jews as a solution to their identity problem only in the late 18th century, shortly before the idea of Judaism as a modern nationhood (i.e. zionism) was proposed as another solution to the same problem.

7) Shouldn't the fact that the Jews perceived themselves as a nation, and were perceived as a nation in most of recorded history be enough to accept them as a people even if people of other ethnicities joined the Jewish people over the years (which is quite likely)? After all, it is not unheard of for nations or tribes to swallow and assimilate completely other tribes. Not all arabs are actually from Arabia, many are from local groups who were assimilated by the dominant Arab culture. The English and the French are the result of the merging of tribes too.

8) Why should we be surprised that Jews are genetically diverse considering that Israel/Palestine was a) inhabited by several peoples at any given historical time going back to biblical times b) a major passageway, c) a part of many multi-national empires going back to biblical times to the 20th century, d) the Jews traveled around many other peoples over the years. We certainly had enough time to pick up diverse D.N.A over the years without having to assume a sudden influx of Kazars. I could owe my blue eyes to a greek merchant, a roman soldier, a celtic slave, a German knight, a Polish peasant and so on.

9) Intersting thing. Spinoza writes in his Thelogico-political treatise that the Jews would probably return to their own land if they were not adverse to manly persuits (namely fighting).

Micha, Saturday, April 12th


I see Professor Zand's fields are French history and cinema. Impressive qualifications indeed to determine the provenance of the various Jewish communities around the world.

Lynne T, Monday, April 7th


I can imagine this kind of material in the hands of
western antizionists and extreme leftits in general. Pity, we're supposed to
be intelligent people, in general...but sometimes I come to think that what
describes us best of all is messianic cravers and simple meshuga.

Simi, Monday, April 7th


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