Newt Gingrich, the Guardian, and the invention of a moral outrage.

The row over Newt Gingrich’s comments about Palestinian identity being “invented” has already generated three Guardian stories on the former Congressman’s “illiberal” views in the span of 24 hours, and has included quotes from outraged Palestinians that Gingrich’s arguemnt is a form of “incitement“.

However, a look into the coverage of an attack on the identity of another minority group is instructive in contextualizing the Guardian’s reports about Gingrich’s comments.

Shlomo Sand – a communist and post-Zionist, opposed to the existence of a Jewish state within any borders – wrote a book (published in 2009) called The Invention of the Jewish People‘.

Briefly, Sand’s book argues that Jewish nationalism is not justified as there is no such thing as a Jewish people; today’s Jews are descended from disparate groups of people who converted to Judaism and had no ties to the land of Israel; And, conversely, there was no exile of Jews from the land of Israel and that most Jews remained in the land, converted to Islam and were the progenitors of present-day Palestinians.

The wretched scholarship of Sand’s post-Zionist inspired agitprop was condemned by historians and literary critics.  

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, characterized it as “intellectually worthless”.

Hillel Halkin called assertions made in the book “the exact opposite of the truth”.

Yaacov Lozowick’s review deconstructed Sand’s “astonishingly unconvincing scholarship”.

Jeffrey Goldberg argued that “Sand… is dropping manufactured facts into a world that in many cases is ready, willing, and happy to believe the absolute worst conspiracy theories about Jews and to use those conspiracy theories to justify physically hurting Jews.”

In a commentary published in Ha’aretz, Israel Bartal, dean of the humanities faculty of the Hebrew University, wrote that Sand’s claims about Zionist and contemporary Israeli historiography are baseless, calling the work “bizarre and incoherent,” and that Sand’s “…treatment of Jewish sources is embarrassing and humiliating.”

A review by CAMERA noted that “When it comes to undermining the legitimacy of the Jewish state, there is no thesis too absurd to be published, regardless of how preposterous the underlying thesis…Such is the case with The Invention of the Jewish People, a book by Shlomo Sand.”

Of course, Sand’s book did receive critical acclaim by anti-Zionists ideologically predisposed to such a deconstruction of Jewish identity, and therefore Jewish nationalism. 

George Galloway’s interview of Sand on Iranian PressTV allowed the prolific defender of Islamism an opportunity to use Sand’s thesis to argue that since – as Sand argues – Jews were never exiled from the land of Israel there should be no right to return for Jews and no “Zionist right to scatter the Palestinians all over the world.” 

Sand agreed with Galloway’s statement but went one step further stating: “even if it was a people, even if it was an exile…why is it giving rights after two thousand years”. Sand categorically asserted that there was no justification for the “colonial” Zionist project.

Laudatory reviews can also be found at sites dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, such as Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, CounterPunch, the blog of Gilad Atzmon, Al Arabiya, and the site of at least one neo-Nazi group.

In addition to the praise Sand’s work received by such fringe sites, there was at least one widely read “liberal” broadsheet similarly praising the book’s thesis.

The Guardian Group’s praise included Rafael Behr’s Observer review in January 2010, an Observer ‘Book of the Year mention by Eric Hobsbawm, and Ian Pindar’s review of the paperback edition for the Guardian in June 2010.


“[Sand demonstrates that] the disappearance of converts from Israeli history books coincides with increased occupation of Arab land. This is not a conspiracy theory. Zionism was a typical modern nation-building exercise. It followed the pattern by which most European national identities were forged in the 19th and 20th centuries. Intellectual elites propagated myths that met “the deep ideological needs of their culture and their society”. In Israel’s case that was the myth of ethnic origins in a biblical kingdom based around Jerusalem.”

“Israel’s best hope is to acknowledge that its nationhood is invented, and modernise even more.” [emphasis mine]


“Sand wants [Israel] to abandon ethnic nationalism and to modernise and democratise, and as this controversial book was a bestseller in Israel, perhaps there is hope that some Israelis want this too.” [emphasis mine]


“Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso) 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.”

Sand’s “incitement’ against the Jewish people is conveniently available in three separate editions at the Guardian’s Online Bookstore.

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