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Tel Aviv University
[TAU, History] Shlomo Sand in London 10-11.02.11 "On the Nation and the 'Jewish People'" with Palestine Solidarity Campaign


Event Details Day: 10/02/2011 to 11/02/2011

Shlomo Sand: On the Nation and the 'Jewish People'



Thursday 10 February

1pm    RSA Lunchtime lecture. Booking for this free event will open soon! More details here:http://www.versobooks.com/events/91-shlomo-sand-what-is-a-nation

7pm    Talk with Gilbert Achcar at SOAS. More details here: http://www.versobooks.com/events/87-shlomo-sand-at-soas-on-the-nation-and-the-'jewish-people' 

Friday 11 February

12pm  Talk with Omar Al-Qattan at The Mosaic Rooms to complement the powerful Kai Wiedenhofer exhibition. Booking and more details here: http://www.versobooks.com/events/89-shlomo-sand-at-the-mosaic-rooms-what-is-a-nation

7pm    Talk with Brian Klug at the LRB Bookshop. Fully booked but more details here: http://www.versobooks.com/events/78-shlomo-sand-at-the-lrb-bookshop-on-the-nation-and-the-'jewish-people'




“Shlomo Sand has written a remarkable book.  In cool, scholarly prose he has, quite simply, normalised Jewish history…Anyone interested in understanding the contemporary Middle East should read this book.” Tony Judt

“The Invention of the Jewish People is both a welcome and, in the case of Israel, much needed exercise in the dismantling of nationalist historical myth and a plea for an Israel that belongs equally to all its inhabitants... A landmark.” Eric Hobshawm, Observer, Books of the year

“A formidable polemic.” Max Hastings, Sunday Times


Shlomo Sand sparked a furious controversy across the world with his bestseller The Invention of the Jewish People in which he claimed that the Jewish people are not a biologically defined race with a shared common origin. Most recently, Nature and the American Journal of Human Genetics published ‘new’ genetic findings, which The New York Times, Newsweek and UPI reported as refuting Sand’s thesis. In the new afterword to the paperback edition, Sand responds:

“This attempt to justify Zionism through genetics is reminiscent of the procedures of late nineteenth-century anthropologists who very scientifically set out to discover the specific characteristics of Europeans... It is a bitter irony to see the descendants of Holocaust survivors set out to find a biological Jewish identity: Hitler would certainly have been very pleased!”

The controversial historian now presents two classic lectures by a major influence on his thought, Ernest Renan (1823-92), theorist of the nation, historian, critic, and intellectual giant of late 19th century France, emphasising the contemporary relevance of Renan’s understanding of nationalism as Israel now moves to consolidate its use of nationalist narratives – as well as exonerating him from long-standing accusations of anti-Semitism that have tainted his legacy.

Sand’s essay ‘The Unclassifiable Renan’ provides an illuminating introduction to Renan’s life, times and ideas. He engages with the criticisms made by Edward Said, the celebrated Palestinian-American author of Orientalism, in which Renan “holds pride of place in the villains’ gallery of historical figures,” agreeing with Said that Renan’s first major work, Histoire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques (1855), formed the ideological foundations of Eurocentric Orientalism, and moreover, that it conferred a “scientific dimension” on racism at this early time.

However, Sand historicises Renan’s thought against a rapidly-developing backdrop of Europe’s industrial take-off and its increasing economic distance from the rest of the world – as well as nascent Darwinism. Sand traces the evolution of ‘the unclassifiable Renan’ from the Renan of his youthful early work, written at the age of 24 to his suspension as chair of Hebrew at the Collége de for portraying Jesus as an ordinary human being in Life of Jesus. He explicates the mature Renan’s “significant retreat from the racialist conceptions that had haunted some of his writings” and shows how his work influenced important thinkers such as Raymond Aron and Ernest Gellner.

Two classic lectures by Renan are included in the book: ‘What is a Nation?’ argues that the foundation of nationhood lies outside of race, religion, and language. The second, ‘Judaism as Race and Religion,’ examines the concept of the Jewish ‘people,’ showing through historical evidence that the Jews cannot be considered “pure ethnos.”

Renan became an early “media celebrity”; in his new fame, he unsuccessfully stood for election to the Chambre des Députés as a liberal. Sand tracks Renan’s movement from initially liberal-conservative politics towards “the logic of democracy” that led to him becoming “one of the icons of the Third Republic.”

Sand’s thesis on the origins of the Jewish people and the narrativization of nationalism in Israel to obscure and mystify the real history of the Middle East and its people started an international debate: it was branded “baseless” by its critics and hailed as unequivocal evidence for a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine by its champions. Sand, who describes himself as ‘post-Zionist’, believes that the state of Israel needs to reform itself to become the state of all its citizens, both Jew and Arab, directly challenging the proposed amendment to the Law of Citizenship requiring all non-Jews to pledge loyalty to "the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Sand is defiant in the face of Netanyahu’s accusation that "there are many today who tried to blur not only the unique connection of the Jewish people to its homeland, but also the connection of the Jewish people to its state." He writes for Ha'aretz that “Benjamin Netanyahu is unsure of his identity: His insecurity is behind his pointless demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as uniquely Jewish.”




“Shlomo Sand has written a remarkable book.  In cool, scholarly prose he has, quite simply, normalised Jewish history.  In place of the implausible myth of a unique nation with a special destiny – expelled, isolated, wandering and finally restored to its rightful home – he has reconstructed the history of the Jews and convincingly reintegrated that history into the general history of humankind.  The self-serving and mostly imaginary Jewish past that has done so much to provoke conflict in the present is revealed, like the past of so many other nations, to be largely an invention.  Anyone interested in understanding the contemporary Middle East should read this book.” Tony Judt

“Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People is both a welcome and, in the case of Israel, much needed exercise in the dismantling of nationalist historical myth and a plea for an Israel that belongs equally to all its inhabitants. Perhaps books combining passion and erudition don’t change political situations, but if they did, this one would count as a landmark” Eric Hobshawm, Observer, Books of the year

“A formidable polemic against claims that Israel has a moral right to define itself as an explicitly and exclusively Jewish society in which non-Jews, such as Palestino-Israelis, are culturally and politically marginalised.” Max Hastings, Sunday Times

“[Sand's] quiet earthquake of a book is shaking historical faith in the link between Judaism and Israel.” Rafael Behr, Observer 

“Sand takes on a formidable tradition in claiming that moral validity in the Middle East needs good history, and no discussion of the region any longer seems complete without acknowledgement of his book.” Independent on Sunday, Best History Books of 2009

“[O]ne of the bravest [books of the year].” Terry Eagleton, Times Literary Supplement

“I am one of many Jews who would agree with Sand that a decisive factor in the future of Israel will be its capacity to be far more attentive to the narratives and rights of its Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens.” Jonathan Wittenberg, Guardian

“A string of firecrackers.” Stephen Howe, Independent, Book of the Week

“His book is a trip through a landscape of illusions which Sand aims to explode, leaving the scenery freer for a Middle East built … from the hard bricks of truth.” Simon Schama, Financial Times

“One of the most fascinating and challenging books published here in a long time” Tom Segev, Haaretz
“Shlomo Sand, historian and author of The Invention of the Jewish People—much reviewed and rebutted, and recently translated into English—is provoking the international community by arguing that Jews have never been genetically or otherwise ‘a people’ … Sand’s larger point, that Israel needs to become more like other Western democracies and less obsessed with ethnic purity, is welcome.” Newsweek

“The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates … The book has been extravagantly denounced and praised.” Patricia Cohen, New York Times

 “Zionism’s quest for a historical homeland is brilliantly excavated by Shlomo Sand in his recent The Invention of the Jewish People.” Alexander Cockburn, The Nation

“Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand, in his remarkable book The Invention of the Jewish People, marshals past and present academic work to refute the Zionist historiography underlying this myth, and tells instead a story of a religious minority and its creed, waxing and waning through proselytizing and conversion, subject to the same social forces as any other religious minority.” Harry Clark, Counterpunch

“No serious reader who is interested in Zionism or Israel—whatever their personal views—can avoid being shaken up … by Sand’s impressive redrawing of the major religious and ‘racial’ boundaries that are usually taken for granted in most discussions of these subjects.” Bertell Ollman, MR Zine

“[Sand’s] conclusion is that Israel has to become a democratic state of all its citizens, including the 20 per cent who are Muslims and Christians, not a state of all the Jews. This book must be as seen as a milestone on that road.” The National

“His latest academic work has spent 19 weeks on Israel’s bestseller list and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel’s biggest taboo.” Jonathan Cook, Al Jazeera

“Shlomo Sand may well be remembered – and very possibly within our lifetime – for knocking down the idol of “the Jewish people” as did Spinoza to classical rabbinic orthodoxy.” Mondoweiss

“Sand makes a very strong case against the neo-biblical story of the Jews that has been used by both Christians and modern Jews, and forms the religious underpinning of Zionism.” Colorlines

“An important book one that hammers another nail into Zionism's ideological coffin.” Tony Greenstein, Weekly Worker


SHLOMO SAND is a Jewish scholar and historian based at the University of Tel Aviv. His book, The Invention of the Jewish People, has been translated into more than a dozen languages and won a number of awards, including France’s coveted Aujourd’hui Award.


ISBN: 978 1 84467 462 6 /£9.99 / $16.95 / Paperback Original / 128 pages

ON THE NATION AND THE ‘JEWISH PEOPLE’ is available from all good bookshops and:







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    1.  ..and Sand, this undermining,
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