Issuing refunds?

Shlomo Sand has been discussed on these pages before. However, his book still garnered immense attention, at least one very prestigious prize, a place on some bestseller lists, translation into numerous languages and the authority which comes with such success. There is one particularly telling Youtube video of a talk that he gave where he is challenged by a Jewish member of the audience and takes him apart by commenting that the gentleman doesn’t actually belong to the Jewish people since there is no such thing.

When challenged regarding DNA results that suggest that his thesis that the Jews are really descended from the Khazars and other groups, Sand was quick to dismiss those claims, suggesting that the studies point to other conclusions or are flawed. Yet now another study has been published that also refutes his thesis.

Now, what I’ve found particularly pernicious with Sand is that when challenged about the DNA surveys, he will usually attack the person who asked by suggesting that there is something inherently wrong with seeking identification along biological lines in this day and age. Of course, what he fails to mention is that it is he who is bringing up biology and trying to discredit the possibility of such a connection even though the science proves him wrong. This was not what drove the Zionists to establish Israel and it did not drive them in creating that society.

Now, really, after having to read him, view him and watch people who hate Jews and even those who don’t hate Jews but wish to undermine Israel, use his book and claims to disparage Israel and the Jewish people in general, is it too much to ask of Dr. Sand to apologize and send a refund to buyers of his, um, science fiction?

Here’s an article about the study:

To better understand the ways in which current Jewish groups are related, Dr. Burns and his colleagues, including principal investigator Harry Ostrer, M.D., professor of pediatrics, pathology and medicine at NYU, performed a genome-wide analysis of the three major groups formed by the Diasporas (the scattering of Jews into Europe, and throughout the Middle East): Eastern European Ashkenazim; Italian, Greek, and Turkish Sephardim; and Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian Mizrahim Jews.

A total of 237 participants were recruited from Jewish communities in the metropolitan New York region, Seattle, Athens, Rome and Israel. Subjects were included only if all four grandparents came from the same Jewish community. The results were compared with a genetic analysis of 418 people from non-Jewish groups around the world.

The researchers found that Jews from the major Diaspora groups formed a distinct population cluster, albeit one that is closely related to European and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations. Each of the Diaspora groups also formed its own cluster within the larger Jewish cluster. Further, each group demonstrated Middle-Eastern ancestry and varying degrees of mixing with surrounding populations. The genetic analysis showed that the two major groups, Middle Eastern Jews and European Jews, diverged from each other approximately 2,500 years ago.

“The study supports the idea of a Jewish people linked by a shared genetic history,” said Dr. Ostrer of NYU. “Yet the admixture with European people explains why so many European and Syrian Jews have blue eyes and blond hair.”


The New York Times also claims this study refutes Sand’s book.


I think I know what Sand can do! I know how to save his retirement!

About the author



  • We must fight against those whose deny the uniqueness of Jewish blood. When people deny this uniqueness, they also can deny the connection to the soil of Eretz Yisrael. Blood and soil are the foundations of the Zionist soul.

  • “themiddle”, you are correct to assert that modern Israel was founded by secular Zionists. But being “Jewish” rests on three (or more) criteria: Bloodline, Religion and Culture. To these I would add: self-identification and identification of others as oneself as “Jew”.
    Sounds complex? I’ll clarify below.
    Meanwhile, today the ‘secular’ Medinat Yisrael regards people born of a Jewish mother as candidates for citizenship. Clearly, bloodline does matter when it comes to applying for citizenship of the nation established as a haven for world Jewry. [Controversially, so does “not being a convert to Christianity”, by the way, as any Messianic Jew will tell you.] But clearly, bloodline matters – religious practices matter.
    Furthermore to the bloodline argument; the Zionists who made modern Israel were very conscious of the Nazis’ criteria for what constituted a “Jew” worth exterminating: someone of Jewish ancestry – whether they practised the religion or culture, or not. Bloodline thinking underpinned the Holocaust. In light of this, the Zionists of WWII’s aftermath championed Jewish blood as something unique and precious and worth preserving – preserving in a world that had turned its back on Jewry and a (Nazi) regime hell-bent on exterminating it from the face of the planet.
    The Haredim of Israel today regard the state as illegitimate because it was founded by secular Jews, not by the hand of the Messiah – yet they readily claim citizenship of Israel on grounds of their bloodlines and religious practices.
    Those who seek to de-legitimize Israel readily assert that the European Zionists who founded the state were racially Turkic/Mongol/Khazars… not “Jews” at all. This is, as the more recent and refined DNA studies show, NOT true – they WERE Jews, racially, by self-identification and by hostile identifications.
    It is these last 2 criteria that ought to be the ones most asserted for citizenship by modern day Israel: (1) Israel should readily offer citizenship to all those who sincerely self-identify as Jewish – whether by blood or religion or both, and (2) Israel should stand as a haven for all those who are or would be persecuted because they are identified as Jews by others.
    Currently the criteria are: Jewish by maternal blood & “isn’t what the religious authorities call a Christian”. 2nd criterion… crazy, huh? But that’s another Gordian Knot of a problem entirely.

  • Israel’s law of return and its amendments can be found here:

    The law is based on the Nuremberg Laws which are not based on Jewish law. They amended it a couple of times, with the second amendment relevant to this discussion:

    Here are the two key modifications in 1970:

    “The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law, 5712-1952***, as well as the rights of an oleh under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew…”


    “For the purposes of this Law, “Jew” means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.”

    The first clause dismisses the idea that “Jewish blood” is what one needs in order to qualify for the right to enter Israel under the auspices of being a Jew and is fairly close to your demand to do it on the basis of a self-identification as a Jew.

    The second clause attempts to define a Jew on the basis of Jewish law, but this is not based on blood exclusively but on religion, just as you would have it.

  • In defense of Sand (and others) I will point out three things.

    I haven’t (nor have most) read the actual Nature article, nor have I (nor have most) read any qualified criticism of it. It’s ‘science’ and so has an aura of absolute truth, but we don’t even know precisely what the study establishes or precisely how certain its results are.

    Second, as Sand points out, there are some rather good historical arguments against the claim that the Jewish population spread and grew simply by natural increase. One report on the genetic research referred to the ‘demographic miracle’ that the Ashkenazi population grew one-hundred fold from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth.

    ‘Miracle,’ indeed. Maybe one happened, but…

    Finally, there’s what I see as simple common sense. Look at a Moroccan Jew. Look at a Polish Jew. You may detect some resemblance — but you’ll detect an even stronger resemblance to their gentile neighbors. That alone makes me disinclined to accept this study until I’ve read it and either understood it or been convinced by those who do understand it.

    Then finally, and leaving Sand behind, there remains the question of what significance this study has. The last such study I read established that Jews are indeed related to the inhabitants of ancient Judea — but not as closely related as one other group.

    That group would be the Palestinians. It won’t do Jews any good to establish that they’re second in line.

    • Colin, just one point of your comment I’d like to address from a well-read point-of-view: how come that neither the Christian accounts of the Crusades nor the Arabic / Muslim documents thereof and the reports by Arabic / Muslim mayors, if you so will, during the phases of Arabic / Muslim reign over Jerusalem (or “occupation” if you wish to draw the analogy), all of which well-preserved in libraries of the Oriental and Occidental world in their original editions, mention any Palestinian people? Could there be a factual basis to the Palestinian folklore / popular history that they descend from a seaborne pirate community that settled in now-Israel a couple of centuries ago and adopted Arabic alongside Islam? Why does no geneticist care to research this? I think it would be a starting point for many an interesting study, particularly considering that, as it appears to me, Palestinians on average have got slightly more European facial features than their Arabic alleged brethren. If that could be proved, then there’d be the possibility to determine through what routes Palestinians and Jews share European ancestry.
      Not that it would change anything about political realities, mind you, but I’m not particularly fond of studies being conducted only to prove what one wishes to prove and that leave many important factors out of consideration. Again, whatever findings there might be won’t change anything about politics and the urgent need for a solution to be found and, more importantly, accepted by both sides with both sides being willing to compromise. It would just be interesting to see what really the case is.

  • Colin, Sand’s work was bullshit to begin with. He’s not a historian, but he tackled history and he openly did so because of political motives. He sought to bring in the notion of biology into what was a historical and religious/spiritual connection to the Land of Israel and then complained to those who argued that there were biological connections that it is shameful to bring up biology in this day and age. He ignores the importance of the spiritual connection of the Jewish people to Israel, a connection that brings together that Moroccan Jew and that Polish Jew and DID SO THROUGHOUT MANY CENTURIES WHILE THEY WERE ON DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE WORLD in order to make the absurd claim that the Arabs, who also look different than Moroccan and Polish Jews, are the real descendants of the Israelites. The problem isn’t that he’s wrong, the problem is that he is read and his information is disseminated widely. One of the key arguments against his book was his inability to deal with DNA studies that showed a connection among the Jewish people that belies his Khazarian origin thesis. He tended to avoid or dismiss those studies. This one, however, is much more difficult to dismiss. You can read it here:

  • I’ll grant I have an axe to grind here with regards to genetic studies whose conclusions I don’t like, but I don’t think the science can be considered certain enough to ‘prove’ much of anything.

    In support of this, I offer a recent genetic study which produced the following astonishing conclusions. First, that the Tibetans only separated from the Han Chinese three thousand years ago — although there is ample evidence that the Tibetans settled in Tibet at least seven thousand years ago.

    Second, that at the time of the separation, there were only 228 Han Chinese. There really were more than 228 Han Chinese in 1000 BC.

    I promise.

    The point is that while genetic studies can certainly be taken to offer support for one view or another, at least at the current time they don’t necessarily ‘prove’ anything. Certainly one can’t say they do or don’t unless one is intimately acquainted with the science involved. I don’t think any of us can make such a claim.

    • Colin, what we’re debating here is whether Shlomo Sand’s “science” is more accurate than a number of different genetic studies by different scholars. You will agree that it’s easy enough to invent history to suit one’s ideology (hello, Shlomo Sand, Nadja abu el Haj and Ilan Pappe) and definitely more challenging to establish study results that are published in serious medical journals, right? I mean, all Sand has to do is guess and make up a bunch of conclusions that nobody can negate with full confidence since the evidence available is partial at best. On the other hand, these genetic studies are confronted with peers who have to evaluate the research, may have to replicate it and analyze real hard data that is available for all to see. On that basis, won’t you agree that even if you don’t trust genetic studies, the fact that a number of studies came to similar conclusions that defy Sand’s conclusions – which he admittedly sought out for political reasons – places the arrow on the scale of whom to believe heavily on the side of the genetic studies?

  • Schlomo Sand makes no claims to be writing ‘science’ — with quotes or otherwise.

    He is a historian — and while I happen to think he doesn’t spend enough time discussing the evidence of genetic studies — his presentation of the historical evidence is another matter.

    As noted, genetic studies don’t appear to have reached the point where they can be said to ‘prove’ anything. So we are left with a choice between dubious science and history.

    It seems to me that the genetic study doesn’t ‘disprove’ Sand’s work. It’s another bit of grist for the mill, but that’s all.

    Now on the whole, I think Sand’s work leaves something to be desired in a number of respects. However, I think the essential argument is valid — and he presents quite a lot of perfectly good evidence to support it. Others I am sure feel differently. However, they shouldn’t think that the dubious assertions of a study in a field that seems incapable of delivering certain results end the argument.

    I think people see ‘science’ as trumping ‘history.’ They assume the word ‘science’ connotes certainty. It doesn’t. Not necessarily. No one ever said it did.

  • Shoulda finished reading the post…

    ‘the fact that a number of studies came to similar conclusions that defy Sand’s conclusions which he admittedly sought out for political reasons, the arrow !
    on the scale of whom to believe now resides heavily on the side of the genetic studies?’

    There have been a number of studies — but it’s not my impression they invariably support conclusions contrary to Sand’s.

    I don’t claim to follow developments closely, but here are a couple of impressions I have. The first is that some of the earlier studies suggested that indeed, the Ashkenazi were largely descended from the Kazars, that the descendants of Biblical Jews are today’s Palestinians, etc.

    These seem to have been followed by a second wave proving just the reverse. Now, one could argue that now we have improved science. One could also argue that now we have people needing to find and managing to find what they wanted to find in an uncertain science.

    The second impression is that generally, the popularization of these studies considerably distorts them. I recall one in particular that supposedly came to the rather astonishing conclusion that 20% of all modern Spaniards were of Jewish stock.

    As I recall, the actual conclusion was that 20% of modern Spaniards were descendants of Semites in general. Such a Arabs and Phoenicians, for example. Perhaps mildly distressing to some Spaniards, but not nearly as exciting.

    So now we have studies seeking to ‘prove’ that all Jews are related and that Jews came from ancient Israel. Not surprisingly, they manage to find evidence to support their claims — in a science that seems amenable to producing evidence for all sorts of claims.

    I’m promising myself I’m going to make myself read that Nature article and any commentaries. However, I will also bear the considerable body of historical evidence in mind. Much of this — both what Sand noticed and what he didn’t — supports the opposite conclusion.

    I’ll leave everyone with one final thought. A Polish Jew doesn’t look at all like a Yemeni Jew. They look, respectively, a lot more like other Poles and other Yemenis. Of course, that’s not ‘science.’

  • Colin, the studies do point away from Sand’s claims. That is irrefutable now. And besides, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that peer reviewed science is less than acceptable or rather that it “proves” nothing, while accepting the “new-found” history of a politically motivated academic because it has “lots of perfectly good evidence.” What evidence of things that may or may not have happened to the Jewish people in the past does Sand offer that stands up to the scrutiny of a study held in the present day and where the results are transparently open for others to evaluate? It is all conjecture on his part since our resources for knowing exactly what happened are limited, at best.

    As for the Polish Jew and Yemeni Jew argument, the last genetic study addresses this point. But moreover, this is the greatest weakness of Sand’s claims. He is attempting to decouple the Jewish people from the historic land of the Jewish people which happens to sit on what is modern day Israel and Judea and Samaria. In order to do this, he seeks to separate the biological links of today’s Jewish people from those Jews who lived in Judah and Israel 2000 years ago. The problem is that this is a straw man. Today’s Jews are connected through ideas, beliefs, traditions, practices and communal language to each other. That is why a Polish Jew could visit a Yemenite synagogue in Yemen today or 300 years ago and pray in the same language, share similar sabbath traditions, maintain similar kashrut observance, etc.

    The Jews of today are the heirs to Jewish tradition and Jewish history. It doesn’t matter if somewhere 500 years ago one of my ancestors married a Jewish man but agreed to convert to Judaism, or even if both my ancestors were Khazars who converted. I don’t need a biological link to connect me to Israel, the entire history of my people connects me. It’s just on top of this poor reasoning on his part, we ALSO have genetic studies that refute his work and that leave him unable to respond to criticisms without resorting to disparaging, as you do, genetic studies in general.

    Again, between politically motivated history that relies on many suppositions and genetic studies that do not appear to have any ulterior political motive and furthermore have to contend with peer review of contemporary data that is available for all to see, I can’t see how you or anybody can argue that Sand’s position hasn’t been gravely undermined.

  • What’s often overlooked is that Sand was an active Communist Party member, and that doctrine opposes the whole notion of nationality. Jewish Party members often make a point of attacking Jewish nationality especially, as a way of furthering the cause and proving their own loyalty to it. Ronnie Kasrils in South Africa is another Party member.

    Sand cobbles together all the discredited “anti-” stories and makes a book out of it. But his specialty is modern European history, not ancient Middle East. His focus is 20th-century France. (Hey, he’s popular in France; go figure.) To get a Ph.D. in history, usually you have to learn two languages besides your own. Doubtful the two he learned are relevant to the topic.

    Not that credentials are that essential. An opera singer can sing pop, and a jazz musician can play classical…

    But there’s _nobody_ with any credential in this area that agrees with Sand. Nobody. Nor is he presenting any new information in his book. Clearly he’s just throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks.

    As he told an interviewer in Haaretz, Sand’s explicit goal is an ethnicity-blind state, I think a one-state solution, etc. He’s twisting his history professor-ship to serve that political agenda, quite overtly.

    One guy who’s already picked up on Sand, though: Louis Farrakhan, in a recent speech, where he also demands reparations from Jews for the harm he alleges they’ve caused blacks.

    It’s a common article of faith among many anthropologists, like Ernst Gellner, that nationality in every situation is merely an invention. And there are some historians, typically of the modern period and of Marxian leanings, who’ve picked up on this, like Tony Judt.

    That they single out Israel for this sort of attack is because, hey, who’d care if they attacked Danish nationality? Would they sell many books, get prominent op-eds? And taking on the far slighter case for Palestinian nationality — that certainly would get them snubbed at some faculty parties.

  • Regarding the Law of Return — it’s in fact much the same as laws in Italy, England, Germany, Greece, Russia, and Japan. What’s called ius sanguinis. It may be more common than what we have in the US, Canada, and Australia, the lex terris. In some countries, having one grandparent who was a citizen of that country allow you to claim citizenship there. Israel’s law is similar to, but not the same as, Jewish canon law, halachah. For that matter, I think the offspring of a Muslim man is also considered Muslim according to shari’a.

    Israel’s law doesn’t preclude other people from applying for citizenship. Just fast-tracks certain groups. Compare this to affirmative action in the US.

  • Weell…the ‘free Israel trip’ banner should have clued me in. I’m not exactly preaching to the converted here.

    Without insinuating who eventually would have won, lost, or given as good as they got, or sneaking in any parting shots, or any of that other good stuff, I think I’ll sign off while things are still civil. Just for a change of pace.

    Happy trails.

  • Colin, be well. I’m sorry that you felt that you could not have a conversation or debate here and I’m not quite sure what any of the advertisers on our site have to do with the merit of the discussion. I have tried to approach criticism of Sand’s ideas with logic, facts, history and science. My points have been made civilly and I’ve responded to your points respectfully. If seeing strong support for Israel is enough to stop you from proceeding with the discussion, then this makes me sad.