The Sixty Million
The Roots of Zionism, Part 1
Part 1 of 4
Dara Halley-James is the pseudonym of an author who has published well-received “mainstream” books under her real name. The following continues an extended series of excerpts from the penultimate draft of the forthcoming book The Sixty Million: How Leading Jewish Communists, Zionists, and Neocons Brought on a Dozen Holocausts.
This book is all about the working-out in the 20th century of perhaps the two worst ideas of the 19th century: Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat, and Herzl’s return of the Jews to Zion. These often-intersecting concepts would completely transform the world, lead to a loss of life in excess of 60 million, and come close to bringing Western civilization to an end (and we aren’t out of that woods yet). Along the way, we will show how this larger perspective should render the Jewish Tragedy much less central, certainly for non-Jews.
Napoleon’s freeing of the Jews from their suffocating rabbi-imposed ghettos was a momentous step for humankind. The more advanced Gentile world was not always an inviting place for Jews, but Jewry had a secret weapon. It had been deploying two tools in the service of eugenics. The tools were usury-based finance and the Talmud, the latter largely-worthless as a contribution to world civilization but of great use in honing the intellectual skill of rationalizing the applications of Torah religion to everyday problems. Jewish culture prioritized marriages between members of the families of the financially astute and members of families of the Talmudic ‘scholar’, the mating of the numerate with the literate, who would pass on something of a joint proclivity toward both to their offspring. Over a number of generations, IQs escalated in the population (as the less numerate or literate were less encouraged to marry and breed).
High IQ and stifled opportunity were a bad enough combination in the ghetto, but were especially galling in the outside world of lesser people not one’s own. When the Gentile world erected barriers to Jewish advancement, three different Jewish counter-strategies arose 1. outplaying one’s Gentile competitors at their own game (capitalism). 2. changing the rules of the game for everyone such that Jews would control and derive the most from the game (Communism). 3. Going back to the ghetto in the form of a Jews-only ethno-chauvinist state (Zionism). Many Jews thrived following strategy number one, but most could not and fell back upon the two solutions with potentially much-larger appeal.
Zionism long preceded Nazism. The conventional wisdom is that Hitler’s ethno-fascism cum Lebensraum (quest for greater living space) led to war, to the Jewish Tragedy and to the fruition of Zionism with the birth of Israel. But it was Zionism that preceded Mein Kampf by more than a generation, and which initiated and even legitimated the acquisition of ethno-chauvinistic ‘Lebensraum’. By the time Hitler became Chancellor, this was already a work-in-progress in Jewish Palestine.
As one would expect for a myriad of reasons, the integration of the Jewish community was anything but a smooth process, even in Western as opposed to Eastern Europe. A major bump along that road was the infamous Dreyfus Affair in France in 1894. German-Jewish dramatist Theodore Herzl was so upset by the seeming anti-Semitism that the affair exposed that he resolved to launch a movement that would short-circuit ongoing assimilation in favor of Jews flocking to some territory they could call their own, preferably but not necessarily Palestine, where they could be masters of their own house.
The great irony was that the Dreyfus crisis was resolved in Dreyfus’s favor, and acted to dramatically improve Jew/Gentile relations in France. If Herzl had had the Zionist idea in mind at the trial’s outset, the trial’s outcome should have dashed it. Ethnic groups, especially ethno-religious groups with conflicting perspectives, inevitably come into conflict, especially when one group has to drastically change its behavior to gain even marginal social acceptance.
Even so, how much conflict of real significance could have transpired through the second half of the 1800s given how spectacularly well Jews in general did economically during that period? In fact, the danger became that the Jews were doing too well, often at the expense of their Gentile neighbors, and that their coming to ‘run the show’ in many spheres was bound to breed resentment amongst the majority.
The surprise was not so much that a contretemps like the Dreyfus affair might arise; it was that it could ultimately defuse tensions and improve mutual understanding. In fact, it was something of an insult to both Gentiles and assimilating/succeeding Jews that, defying common sense, the affair could be deployed to make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. All parties supportive of the Jews rose to the challenge, but then Herzl and Co. pretended that no one did and no one would. Instead, Jews were obliged to herd themselves back to the ghetto, this time a nation serving as the ghetto wherein Jews could once again become ‘a people that shall dwell alone’ amongst other nations. The Rabbinate had always hated emancipation because it deprived rabbis of the dictatorial powers they’d had in the shtetl. Herzl may have been non-religious, but a deflected religious impulse is surely what propelled him toward Zion.
Zionist Jews very much sympathized with Gentiles alarmed at the spectacularly disproportionate influence exerted by Jews within the higher reaches of their culture and nation states. The Zionists conceded that they would feel the same way were their positions reversed. Thus the desirability of a Jewish exodus from Europe to all concerned.
Herzl conceded, “We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution.” He insisted that trying to blend Jews into the national mainstream was an historic clunker of an idea. No wonder it generated a backlash from Christians. He declared that “Jewish persecution is not an aberrant facet of a bigoted society, but a natural reaction to the appearance of a foreign group — the Jews.” Thus was Zionism a recoiling from anti-Semitism and an alliance with it, since both wanted to pull the two groups apart again. Zionism was as much a threat to comfortable Western Jews because of the possibility that western peoples or governments might decide that Herzl was right.
In the early 20th century Britain offered Zionists an alternative homeland in what later became Uganda, and Herzl was in favor of accepting. However, he was overruled by the rest of the Zionist leadership in favor of the infinitely more problematic site of Palestine. The rejection of the Uganda plan in favor of an exclusive focus on Palestine was a tragedy for Jews. It meant that no attractive Jewish homeland would be ready to accept great numbers Jewish refugees come the 1930s. (It also meant that Zionism, with the vast majority of Zionists being atheists at the outset, would nonetheless develop religious overtones, especially ‘Greater Israel of Biblical times’ overtones that would imply expansion as a manifest destiny.) Had a Jewish/Ugandan state already come into being long before the 1930s, German Jews would have at least had the option of fleeing earlier, on their own terms, and with most of their capital intact, to an already established Jewish homeland. And Hitler would have been all too happy to see them off. After all, Hitler’s intent prior to late 1941 was not kill them but to so immiserate them that they would emigrate, precisely Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis West Bank and Gaza Palestinians for the past half-century. Hence the absence of an unproblematic homeland for Jews come the 1930s was the result of the Zionist leadership’s own misjudgment.
Have Jews Always Been Conscious of Constituting a Nation?
Once upon a time in Europe, to argue that Jews constituted a national entity transcending their citizenship within the countries they inhabited would have been construed as an anti-Semitic sentiment. Today, to assert that Jews have no legitimate basis for making such a claim is denounced as anti-Semitic; Jews are a nation, united by a common religion, genetic make-up, and history. But it’s a curious sort of ‘slacker’ nation wherein none of its intellectuals even attempt to write a national history. There was Flavius Josephus in the late first century A.D., and then nothing for a millennium and a half. Zero. Meanwhile, Christianity and Islam chronicled their histories with great care.
After King Cyrus of Persia declared circa 538 BC that Babylonian Jews were free to re-establish themselves in Biblical lands, most preferred to stay in Babylon. And there they created the Babylonian Talmud, more highly regarded than the version that would later emerge from Jerusalem, presumably because Gentile Babylon was a far more culturally-sophisticated milieu. In Persia (later Iran) the Jews became more civilized, and more scientific. (Ironically, Mossad agents have been assassinating Iranian scientists in recent years.) The re-established Israel of 1948 would parallel that phenomenon. The vast majority of Jews had become so comfortable in the sophisticated cities of the diaspora that they declined the opportunity to ‘return’ to an undeveloped Israel. In the ancient world, all kinds of large Jewish communities arose all over the map long before any fall and exile from Jerusalem. You cannot return to a place where you have never set foot.
Did the Jews of Biblical Times Maintain Ethnic Purity?
Ethnic purity isn’t just infringed in the Bible; in several places it is discarded altogether. Good heavens, even the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon all choose Gentile wives, none of whom even bothered to convert; in fact, the only mention of conversion to Judaism is in Esther. Such accounts were written during the Persian or Hellenistic period, when Jewish religious and communal identity was not yet mother-based.
Sand notes that the Second Isaiah, the book of Ruth, the Book of Jonah and the apocryphal Book of Judith are as one in their clarion call to bring the Gentiles on board. Yes, the stern Deuteronomy forbade intermarriage, particularly with Moabites and Ammonites, in order to preserve specialness. But Ruth the Moabite was a great-grandmother of King David. Judith converts an Ammonite. These were slaps in the face to isolationists such as Ezra, the Jewish leader of the return from Babylon to Jerusalem. We know that the Old Testament was written by scores of authors. Being edited and re-edited over a span of not just decades but centuries guaranteed it would be rife with inconsistencies. A chorus of voices calling upon Gentiles to worship Yahweh rings out in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Zechariah and the Book of Psalms.
Incredibly, it wasn’t until 1965 that Jewish historian Uriel Rappaport threw in the towel and acknowledged the truth of what Gentile historians Ernest Renan, Julius Wellhausen, Eduard Meyer, Emil Schurer, and Theodor Mommsen had long since discerned. In Mommsen’s words, writes Sand, exclusivism was not intrinsic to ancient Judaism, not at all. As Christianity and Islam would do in the future, Judaism sought to propagate itself. Indeed, Judaism had conducted mass conversions galore, often like the Hasmoneans by the sword. There were at least three centuries-worth of seeking converts, one way or another, which entailed a lot of inter-mixing antithetical to concerns for ethnic purity.
Are the Stories of the Bible Historically Accurate?
The admittedly Jewish-chauvinist historian Norman Cantor concedes, “The first millennium of Jewish history as presented in the Bible has no empirical foundation whatsoever. It was made up later as a work of the imagination and shaped by doctrinal and political needs.” David and Solomon? They were “small-time” rulers of no historical significance. In fact, excavations in and around Jerusalem have found no trace of 9th century BC kingdom of David and Solomon, despite finds from even-earlier non-Biblical periods. Partially-verifiable Jewish history begins only with the split into two kingdoms. Apart from the Ezra era and the early Maccabeans, it’s all rather inglorious, Cantor cautions reluctantly.
How about Exodus, the basis of the most sacred Jewish holiday of Passover? The historical fact is that during the era assigned to that account, Canaan was still ruled by the Pharaohs. Thus three million Jewish warriors plus their families would have been escaping from Egypt — to Egypt! Even if the numbers were exaggerated by a factor of ten, this was a substantial exodus for ancient times with much lower populations than today. Yet it left no trace on the Egyptian side. This nullifies the truth of the whole account. The ancient Egyptians were absolutely meticulous in recording even the most mundane events, such as what group of nomads strayed into the realm in what year. In those records there is, writes Cantor, not even a passing reference to any ‘Children of Israel’. These people lived in Egypt? They revolted against it? They mass-emigrated from it? Nothing. A complete blank.
One of the more exciting accounts in the Jewish bible is the conquest of Jericho. Except that archeologists and historians have determined that Jericho suffered no sudden collapse. The conquest likely required a century, and it was doubtless the Philistines who took over the city, not the Hebrews at all.
Then of course, there’s ‘the camels problem’. Biblical chronology in the millennium before 1,000 B.C. is full of camels. But we know that camels weren’t domesticated until after 1,000 BC. Oops! Cantor concedes again that the Torah had to have been written after 700 BCE and that it’s almost entirely fiction. Indeed, the Bible was written and revised over the course of three centuries. It’s not like its multiple authors were getting closer and closer to the truth the further away in time they got from the events depicted.
Was the Greater Israel Sought by Most Zionists Ever a Reality?
Neumann notes that the borders of the supposed united kingdom of Judah/Israel never even distantly approximated those of the ‘Greater Israel’ that today’s Jewish fundamentalists invoke. In any case, it is the alleged history of Judah, not Israel, that the Bible relates. But Judah was a rinky-dink undeveloped kingdom compared to Israel in north. The likely Canaanite Israel was well-established prior to Judah, probably at the end of 13th century BC. The two political entities were rivals, though each spoke a variant of Hebrew. In the Bible, continues Neumann, none of the great buildings supposedly erected by Solomon existed during his reign. The kingdom of Israel was responsible for them, in a later era. The grand united monarchy? It never was. Solomon’s palaces to accommodate his several hundred wives and concubines? Pure invention.
In other words, the grandeur of Biblical Judah, in both its geographic extent and its royal splendour, are bogus. Of course, neither would legitimate the Zionist project even were they true, but their falsity deprives that project of even a superficial glamor.
Did Jews Have a Distinct Identity Apart from the Canaanites They Displaced?
The inhabitants of Biblical Judah and Israel mostly practiced Canaanite religion or cults, because that’s what they were—multi-ethnic Canaanites, who emerged as the Egyptians withdrew between 1200-1000 BC. They were definitely polytheists, despite the evolving centrality of Jehovah, if only because the few copies of the Torah were spread pretty thin amongst what Neumann characterizes as “an illiterate peasant society without an educational system or a standard common language.”
What of the great structures of the Biblical era? They are all now attributed to Canaanite cultures. When the ‘returned-from-Babylon’ crew hijacked the name Israel, they perhaps did so because their rivals the Samaritans were vying to do likewise. Poor Judah had been a tiny of-no-account kingdom intent on annexing the more sophisticated land to the north, deploying the propaganda of fanciful Biblical tales in the attempt.
As for Judaism’s eventual ‘exclusive monotheism’, it derives in all likelihood, writes Cantor, from what happened when Judea’s intelligentsia, either while in exile or upon returning from it, felt obliged to factor in the more abstract Persian beliefs. The resulting incipient monotheism would later refine itself in reaction the polytheism of Hellenism. In other words, not only were Jews not ethnically distinct, the very beliefs for which they are renowned were an evolving product of absorbing or rejecting the cultural traditions wherever they lived.
Jews a Non-Nationalistic Convert-Seeking Religious Diaspora
Jews had so little sense of constituting a national entity with a history that it was a Huguenot in early 1700s who wrote first post-Josephus history of the Jews, partly as ammunition against Rome. When the first Jewish-written multi-volume history of the Jews appeared, its perspective was that no supra-Jewish political entity existed, that Jews and non-Jews were alike in having no loyalties beyond loyalty to the nation-state where they resided, and that accordingly they deserved the same civil rights as everyone else.
Nothing special happened after the destruction of the Second Temple in 66 CE. Even in that era most Jews already lived outside the Holy Land. Large Jewish communities had been long-since established outside Judea. Mass conversion to Judaism, writes Sand, “had produced great Jewish communities around the Mediterranean [but] left almost no trace in the national historiography,” mainly because converts preferred to erase their Gentile origins.
Yes, they set themselves apart for the sake of maintaining religious purity as much as possible, but in most respects, insists Sand, they became very much integrated with whatever majority surrounded them. And their proselytizing only stopped when Christianity became the state religion. Only then did Judaism throw in the towel on seeking out converts. Only then did it revive a self-isolating tradition in order to survive, restricting residual proselytizing to the fringe. It was a resurgence of the apartness mentality.
Common to all strands of Judaism were reliance upon Talmudic law, the notion of deliverance from exile one day by a messiah, and a longing for the holy city of Jerusalem. However, Sand remarks upon the absence of any notion that Jews had to all ‘pack their bags’ for Jerusalem if ‘living a full Jewish life’ was to be possible. Nor could the educated Gentiles of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment in Central and Western Europe imagine such a thing. For them, Judaism was a religious community. The Jews as a ‘wandering people’ was a discarded Christian notion. That notion rendered them an alien nation, a characterization incompatible with their hoped-for emancipation from the ghettoes as individuals and their subsequent integration into the European mainstream.
Today’s Palestinians are Descendants of the Jews (Whose Exile was a Myth)
Contrary to widespread belief, the Jews of the Roman province of Judea were never expelled. The Romans never deported entire peoples (nor had the Assyrians or Babylonians). Moreover, like the ancient Egyptians, the Romans meticulously recorded their history and no Roman documentation mentions any deportation from Judea. Barbaric mass deportations would be reserved mainly for the 20th century. The population in and around Jerusalem may have diminished in wake of the Jewish Zealots’ defeat in 66 CE, but it wasn’t expelled. Archeological discoveries have proven that Jewish-Roman historian Josephus greatly exaggerated the devastation. By the end of the first century CE, several cities had fully rebuilt their economies and their population. A Roman historian notes the brutal suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-35 CE, but once again: no deportations. And not only was agricultural output back to normal by 200 CE, just 20 years later a milestone in Jewish identity and culture, the Mishnah, was completed.
So as Sand relates, contrary to the myth promulgated by Christianity, whether or not the Jews were somehow collectively responsible for the death of Christ, they were never consequently expelled from the Holy Land and obliged to wander abroad seeking refuge in national communities that really didn’t want them. The “myth of uprooting and exile” was a Christian theme, but oddly enough it was adopted many centuries later by Jewish tradition for the sake of forging a nationalist saga.
Since the Jews were never uprooted from the Holy Land, the astounding but inevitable implication is that today’s Palestinians are their descendants. Genetically and by right of occupying the land for millennia, if not by religion, no one has a more legitimate claim to the territory of Israel than this group. In the 20th century its people, ironically, were ousted as aliens to Jordan. Or put under seemingly-permanent Israeli military occupation on the West Bank or in Gaza. Or extended second-class citizenship within Israel itself. Doubtless their ancestors were converted by force to Christianity by 500 CE. With Islam on the march by 700 CE, to avoid taxation and to stay loyal to the soil they’d tilled for so many centuries, they subsequently converted again and became Muslims.
In fact, lots of traces of their Hebraic lineage remain. Palestinians don’t view themselves as Arabs but as Muslims and farmers. The local Arab dialect has Hebrew and Aramaic words. There are joint burial grounds. More than 200 villages have or had Hebrew names, likewise for thousands of landmarks, such as streams. The genetic differences between Palestinians and Jews are less than between Sephardic and Ashkenazi. One would expect there to have been some mixing in of Arab blood, but the Arabs rarely intermarried with their conquered peoples. Thus while not all Palestinians are pure descendants of Holy Land Jews, the great majority likely are.
Future Israeli P.M. Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zvi co-wrote a book outlining the above, in the expectation that Jewish immigrants from Europe could embrace the local population in an ethnocentric bear-hug. The authors had been thinking that Palestinians, on the basis of ethnic commonality, might be re-converted to Judaism and then re-integrated into the Jewish community. But obviously the Palestinians, having spent more than a millennium as Muslims, had long long since lost any sentimental attachment to Judaism. Their revolt of late 1920s nixed Ben-Gurion’s and Ben-Zvi’s enthusiasm for the notion. Instead the myth that ‘the Jews’ had been exiled after being quashed by Rome in 70 CE was cultivated. Hence the origins of the hazy ‘land without a people’ nonsense.
Are Today’s Jews Mostly European (non-Middle-Eastern) Descendants of the Khazars?
Ethnically the Khazars were Turkic/Hunnic-Bulgar/Scythian. Geographically they inhabited the vast expanse from Kiev to the Crimea, and from the upper Volga to Georgia, certainly far larger than any historical Judah. Militarily, they ruled over Magyars and Slavs. Their timeline? The 4th to the 13th century. Not only did the Khazars convert to Judaism, their descendants may very well constitute the bulk of Ashkenazi Jewry. The jury is still out on that claim. The genetic evidence seems inconclusive and confusing so far (although Dr. Kevin MacDonald believes it conclusive enough to rule out any but a weak version of the Khazar hypothesis). But the history is much more solid than most Jews suspect.
There’s lots of writing about the Khazar kingdom from seven sources. All agree, writes Sand, that this was one powerful kingdom, and most agree that an out of-the-blue conversion to Judaism, at some level, did in fact occur. Its inhabitants were fishermen, winemakers, rice-growers, taxers of tribes, traders of furs and of slaves, as well as collectors of tolls on its portion of the Silk Road. Why would the kingdom convert to Judaism? Doubtless the aim was to remain independent of empires on either side. Become Muslim and fall under rule of the caliphate. Stay pagan, and mark yourself for annihilation by Muslims. Turn Christian and be subordinate to the Orthodox Church. Only Judaism promised a unifying, respectable, and unoppressive religious framework.
And so it was. According to Sand, the most reliable source for the period relates that the Khazar king and his subjects became Jews. The Khazars as a Jewish kingdom endured for about three centuries, six decades longer than the history of the U.S. to date. How could Judaism not have trickled down to the kingdom’s masses over such a long stretch? It was certainly passed on to slaves. The Kagan was the title of the ruler, ‘Kagan’ becoming a common name amongst Ashkenazi Jews. Surviving tombstones, asserts Sand, indicate widely-spread Judaism. In 1016, a Byzantine-Russian force defeated the Jewish kingdom. Nonetheless, its religion still persisted in many parts. Later a Mongol invasion wiped it out. Genghis Khan in the early 13th century demolished irrigation systems and caused populations to flee. The Jewish Khazars went to western Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania.
But didn’t Yiddish arise in Germany and accompany the German Jews on their migration eastward? Probably not, says Sand. Yiddish may have come not from living in Germany but from having been exposed to four million Germans who migrated to Poland and became Poland’s first modernizing bourgeoisie, interacting considerably with Jews. And there was an additional later immigration of German Jews into that area. Recent research indicates that Yiddish is in fact quite different from the German Jewish dialect in western Germany. Yiddish is more like Sorb, a Slavic/German combination that disappeared. In fact, Jews in western Germany in the 11th to 13th centuries were really sparse—a thousand maybe. If there was no population explosion there, why would there have been a big population explosion after settling in poor Poland, coincidentally enough, right after the disintegration of Khazar kingdom?
What’s Khazar-ish about the Eastern Europe of later centuries? For one thing, there are lots of family and place names in Poland that are Khazar in origin. Moreover, the townlets of Eastern Europe have no parallel in Western Europe. The synagogue centered the Jewish townlet. Its two domes doubtless derived from the Eastern pagoda. Jewish attire in Eastern Europe? It was not at all what French or German Jews wore. The Yarmulke? (It’s even a Turkish-derived word.) And the fur hat worn atop it? Look to residents of the Caucasus. Look to the steppes and the horsemen who rode them. Don’t imagine them as fashions originated by Talmudic scholars or merchants of Eastern Europe. Yiddish culture was the only widespread Jewish culture, and it drew copiously upon the cultures of its Gentile neighbors, far less so upon Jewish traditions within Western Europe or North Africa, just as you might expect from a longstanding Khazar Kingdom without any roots elsewhere. Bear in mind that Jews are to be found in diverse locations—Asia, Africa, Europe—not because they wandered there from the Middle East, but because Judaism had long been a major convert-seeking religion. So there is no ethnographic common denominator. The ‘Jewification’ of the Khazars is merely the most spectacular instance of that phenomenon.
The Khazar hypothesis had been largely accepted by both Jewish and non-Jewish scholars in the past century and a half, starting with Abraham Harkavy in 1867. Yitzhak Schipper asserted that the Khazars accounted for the massive demographic presence of Jews in Eastern Europe. Israeli Abraham Polak’s 1951 book was the first comprehensive work on subject: he was the first to dispense entirely with the notion of some huge great influx of Mid-Eastern Jews into Khazaria. Polak concludes that the great preponderance of Eastern Jewry came forth from the great expanses of the Khazar empire.
However, this thesis was incompatible with Zionist ideology. So that was the end of interest in the subject in Israel. Almost. Ben-Zion Dinur, who became Israel’s education minister in the 1950s, insisted that this kingdom was mother to perhaps the greatest diaspora: that of Russia, Lithuania, and Poland. And this was a perfectly acceptable hypothesis until Israeli politics made it too inconvenient. If the Jewish state was based on lineage to biblical Israel, then the Khazars were a big fat fly in the ointment. All of Israeli officialdom soon became violently against the Khazar hypothesis. The subject would be taken up by Jewish novelist/essayist Arthur Koestler in his The Thirteenth Tribe (1976), but it marked him as a traitor to the Jewish state. (Koestler had been a Communist in the 1930s and never abandoned its univeralism, so he reflexively shunned the most tribalistic account of Jewish history, then poplar in the new Israel.)
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This is great stuff. If what she says is true, then the implications for Christianity and Isam are enormous, both being Abrahamic religions. I must say that idea did not hit me until a while after I read this. Eagerly awaiting more.
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