To coerce the Jews to immigrate to Palestine, Zionist leaders followed Theodor Herzl’s recommendation where he stated: “It is essential that the sufferings of Jews become worse.
This will assist in realization of our plans.
I have an excellent idea … I shall induce anti-Semites to liquidate Jewish wealth … the anti-Semites will assist us thereby in that they will strengthen the persecution and oppression of Jews.
The (invention of) anti-Semites shall be our best friends.”
Zionist leaders launched a covert anti-Jewish and propaganda campaigns claiming that Jews were persecuted and massacred in Eastern Europe.
By the 19th century, those who wanted Jews to “return” to the Holy Land were more likely to be Christian Zionists than Jews.
Lord Shaftesbury, a compassionate Tory who contributed to improving the conditions of lunatics in asylums and children in factories (The Ten Hours Act, 1833), agitated endlessly for promoting a Jewish presence in Palestine.
Sand describes him as an Anglican Theodor Herzl before Herzl; and with reason, since Shaftesbury appears to have even coined the famous line: “A country without a nation for a nation without a country.”
He hoped, of course, the Jews would also convert to Christianity. Lord Palmerston, on the Liberal side, warmed to the idea, not because he cared in the slightest about Jews (or Christians), but because he thought that British Jews colonising a part of the Ottoman Empire would increase British influence.
At the time, few Jews were Zionists.
When persecuted, as they were in the tsarist empire, they much preferred to flee to the new lands of immigration such as Argentina and the United States, than to the Promised Land.
What made the “State of Israel” possible was not God’s promise of a return to a long-lost land, but the Holocaust and the western reluctance to provide a refuge for its survivors.
Much of what Shlomo Sand reveals is known to specialists.
His achievement consists in debunking a nationalist mythology which holds sway in large sections of popular opinion.
It also normalizes Jews, since it challenges the belief in exceptionalism.
The Holocaust was a unique event, but the basic nationalist litany is similar across nations – almost a literary genre in itself – for it is poised between a lachrymose sense of self-pitying victimhood and a vainglorious account of heroic deeds.
“We”, so goes the story, have been around for centuries (1066, famously, in Britain; 966 in Poland; since antiquity in Italy and in Greece).
Eventually, after centuries, we achieved our freedom, our independence, our happiness, and we, who are unlike everyone else, can finally be like everyone else: members and possessors of a country and a nation.
Demystifying what the French call le roman national seems to be today one of the major tasks of historians (once they used to write it).
This can be an uphill struggle, yet it is to the credit of the Israeli book-reading public that Sand’s previous book, The Invention of the Jewish People became a bestseller. Truth-telling may be painful but necessary.