10 April 2008

History (n.), historians (n.)

It should be accepted by now as a given that people schooled in precise sciences tend to laugh at their colleagues that have chosen art, literature, philosophy, history... as their lifelong occupation. Most of the jokes - and responses to these jokes - are good natured and, at the worst, end with salt replacing sugar in someone's tea or some such thing.

It's a bit different when a specific science is being made a butt of a cruel joke by a non-scientist. Like the incomparable Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary:

A broad-gauge gossip.

An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

Of Roman history, great Niebuhr's shown
'Tis nine-tenths lying. Faith, I wish 'twere known,
Ere we accept great Niebuhr as a guide,
Wherein he blundered and how much he lied.
Not a kindly view of that science and its scientists. But, being a joke, the definition above carries only a smidgen of truth. Being concerned with rulers and soldiers, this science (notice how manfully I have avoided the use of quotation marks) breeds scandals naturally. Just like fish breathes water. Specifically in Israel, the rise and fall of the so called "new historians" who enjoyed their moment of fame is a good illustration of unscrupulous use of the profession as a springboard to recognition - of sorts. Of this revisionist breed, the outstanding examples would be Ilan Pappe who by now doesn't even conceal the fact that he is rewriting history to suit what he calls "the Palestinian narrative" and Benny Morris who eventually repented and now does his best to be a good Zionist.

The fame (or, rather, notoriety) of these two had a serious impact on the minds of some of their colleagues who, apparently, wish to get their own place at the trough. And here comes one Shlomo Zand, an Israeli professor of French history and cinema (emphasis mine, of course) and decides to have some of that too. This dude has found the shortcut to fame and will not be deterred - but here I pass the microphone to Ami Isseroff:
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.
See how simple the way to the top really is? Ami does an excellent job debunking Zand in his article Are the Jews a people? The Zand controversy. Effectively, this would be enough to consider the whole shindig finished. However it is clear that it wouldn't be finished - too many "activists" want more of the same and too many political forces want to use this "scientific" discovery for their own nefarious purposes.

And this is where I would like to ask a question: what is this all about? Aside of the fact that these and similar examples of bad science and sloppy, politically motivated logic will be eventually swept aside by the clear unequivocal conclusions of genetic research and we all will eventually know quite clearly what specific monkey contributed most to our character, looks and other traits - why should we, the Jooz, care about incessant attempts by the anti-Israeli crowd to prove that we are not who are we saying we are?

And more important: should we be saying anything on the subject, and what does the whole subject has to do with where we reside and what are our relationships with our neighbors - to take one of the aspects of this thorny issue?

My dear reader: I say that the whole issue of real origins of our tribe should be considered (and this is precisely how I consider it) as important as the proverbial number of angels that could gather on the tip of a needle.

First of all - recognition of a Jew. I remember vaguely two or three cases when somebody told me "you know, you don't look Jewish". I am not going into details, but experience is the best proof of this simple concept. Neither our friends, nor (especially) our enemies have ever had trouble recognizing a Jew. Never had and never will. There is no need of historic research (especially not as pointless and stupid as the one mentioned here) nor of test tubes, microscopes and whatnot to help an anti-Semite to detect a Jew in a crowd, using his/her finely tuned antennae.

Second, and much more important aspect of the issue is why? Why bother? Even assuming that Jews as a people do not stem from King David, but were formed as a tribe later - is there a difference between 4000 years or so and 1.5 thousand years (which is still more than many modern nations can claim)? Should it really matter to me whether there is a cubic cc of King Solomon's blood in my 5 or so liters or that, maybe, this cubic cc belongs in reality to Chenghiz Khan? Why, in short, should I care whether I descend from Khazars or Aztecs or survivors of Atlantis, when I look, walk and quack like a Jew and everybody recognizes me as such?

Ladies and gentlemen: I don't give a flying donut about some half-baked "scientific" scoop proving that I am a descendant of Khazars or of a passer-by alien from a neighborhood galaxy. Nor about the genetic research mentioned above. I am a Jew, I live here in Israel and will do so until I decide otherwise or die. And anyone who is not happy about this fact is welcome to make peace with this fact and with us - or to make war. And we all should better focus our minds on trying to get the former - if we don't want to get the latter.

And let's leave the pointless drivel of the expert in French history and cinema to his publisher and to French TV. I assure you we'll be all much healthier and better of as a result.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com.


Rob Miller said...

My favorite comment on the above, from the reknowned painter Marc Chagall: "A Jew is anyone the world treats as one."

SnoopyTheGoon said...