Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Arabs' favorite Jewish author

For Arab intellectuals, the world-renowned Hungarian-born author, Arthur Koestler, who died in 1983 at age 78, has long been a hero. Koestler, who was a Jew, wrote a book entitled "The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage," which debunks the Jewish historical link to what is now Israel and Palestine. Ever since its publication in 1976, the book has been a major ingredient in the perennial Arab/Muslim campaign to discredit Zionism. That Koestler was a Jew, his admirers believe, allegedly gives his book a degree of authenticity.
Koestler's book claims that today's Jewish people are descended not from the ancient Hebrew-speaking inhabitants of what is now Israel and Palestine but from the Khazars, a now-vanished Turkic-speaking people who lived some 2,000 years ago in an area ranging from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Resisting pressures from Byzantium to become Christians and from the expanding Islamic empire to become Muslims, they apparently converted to Judaism in 740 A.D.
They were later wiped out by Mongol forces invading from the east. According to Koestler, the surviving Khazars fled westward to Polish and Lithuanian territories and formed the cradle of contemporary Jewry. It is far more likely that they were absorbed into the neighboring communities of such other Turkic-speaking people as Turkmen and Kazakhs.
Nevertheless, Arab intellectuals have seized upon Koestler's dubious theory to argue, as one commentator explains: "The absolute historical truth is that the Jews did not originate from Palestine. They are not 'descendants' of the mythic Jews of the Bible. Jews from eastern Europe and western Asia were descended from Mongolians and other Asiatic people who had adopted Judaism as their 'religion' over 1,000 years ago and had become known as 'Jews'."
Koestler was an eccentric ideologue. A one-time ardent Communist, he later became a militant anti-Communist crusader. His novel, "Darkness at Noon," is widely regarded as a classic work of anti-Communist literature. A former Zionist who lived in British-mandated Palestine during the early 1930s, Koestler eventually became a fierce opponent of Jewish statehood. Not surprisingly, his book, "The Thirteenth Tribe," was quickly embraced by anti-Zionist activists.
The book focuses on Yiddish- and German-speaking Ashkenazim, the largest Jewish ethnic sub-group. It ignores the existence of Sephardim, descendants of the Jews who fled Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century, and of Mizrachi or Eastern Jews who lived in Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern regions--all of whom, like the Ashkenazi Jews, have always claimed ancestral roots in Palestine.
But there is an even more fundamental flaw in Koestler's Khazar theory of Askenazi origins. He claims that the people who escaped the Mongol hordes fled western into Europe from Asia. However, the fact that they spoke Yiddish, a Germanic-based language or German itself--many of them also bearing Germanic names--clearly demonstrates that the Jews migrated eastward from German-speaking territories in western Europe into Poland, Lithuania, and other east European countries.
The issue has, of course, become academic. Israel is now a thriving nation of more than 5 million Jews possessing cultural strains from many foreign regions, but with no evidence of any Khazar influence. But until the Arabs abandon the challenge to Israeli legitimacy made by anti-Zionist polemicists like Arthur Koestler, the likelihood of a meaningful peace in the Middle East is not very encouraging.


Blogger Observer said...

Koestler's dubious theory. Eccentric ideologue. Polemicist.---
Those are fighting words.

I have read "Darkness at Noon" ages ago, can't even remember when. Many years ago I read and re-read "The Thirteenth Tribe". I am neither an Arab nor an intellectual and I find his writing believable and the events he describes plausible. Why criticize this man just because something he wrote or propounded years ago happens to play right now into the hands of assorted anti-Zionists or anti-Jews.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Ruth Adar said...

I read "The Thirteenth Tribe" recently, and I agree with Mort: it's seriously flawed. Its most glaring problem is its absolute refusal to acknowledge the existence of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewry.

Not far behind, though, is the binary either/or aspect of Koestler's logic: he suggested that if there are significant linguistic and cultural links between Ashkenazi Jews and the Khazars, then Ashkenazi Jews can not have origins in the Middle East. He ignored the possibility that Jews from the Middle East intermarried with Khazari Jews, which they would have done without difficulty after the first conversionary generation. Even the most stringest reading of Judah HaLevy's _The Khazari_ (Koestler's major source) differentiates between born Jews and converted Jews, not between Khazars and Jews on any "racial" basis. The born-Jewish daughter of two Khazari converts was as legitimately Jewish as any other Jew, even by HaLevy's standards.

Monday, September 05, 2005 6:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can believe that Modern Ashkenazi Jewry is a combination of Khazar and Semetic. Khazaria had a lot of Jews inside the Kingdom that mixed with the converted Khazar population. That just makes sense. I don't see how this can fuel anti-zionists though because the genetics are still there either way. Also, anyone who believes in Judaism ought to be able to live in Israel and the fact that there is a Sephardic population. The Ashkenazi Jewry population is a very good looking group of influential people who have contributed a lot to society and are probably genetically intelligent because of natural selection. They deserve more homelands than just Israel to tell you the Truth. Luckily there are many great nations like the USA, Sweden, Australia, and many other countries who have always been excellent in regards to the life force.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 1:27:00 AM  

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