On May 7, 2013, Rita Rubin reported in the Jewish daily Forward about a young Jewish DNA expert who dares to attack the dogma that Jews are a race and have descended from Semitic ancestors originating in what is today’s Israel.
In an article with the title “‘Jews a Race’ Genetic Theory Comes Under Fierce Attack by DNA Expert” Rubin reports about the controversy which erupted after the young Jewish geneticist Eran Elhaikon’s had published a paper in which he claims to have proven that most Jews are actually descendants from a medieval Turkic tribe called the Khazars.
That claim is not new, as one commentator of the online article aptly remarked, because already in 1976 did the book The Thirteenth Tribe by the late Hungarian-British author Arthur Koestler appear in which the author argued that the so-called Ashkenazi Jews are not closely related to Semites but rather to Turks. Koestler’s classic became a shocker to the Jewish establishment, since it had been written by one of their own. The author traces the history of the ancient Khazar Empire whose citizens converted to Judaism in the Dark Ages. These erstwhile Turkic pagan tribesmen then formed a Jewish empire and became an economic and military force to be reckoned with. Their descendants (the Ashkenazim) have gone on to become the majority of the inhabitants of the state of Israel and vastly outnumber their Sephardic brethren around the globe.
Needless to say that neither Koestler’s original thesis nor Elhaikon’s genetical undergirding of it has been welcomed in particular by the Jewish academic establishment. After all, at stake is much more than an academic question. The very existence of Israel depends on the claim that its Jewish inhabitants are descendants of people who, some 2,000 years ago, used to dwell in that land.
It also goes without saying that, even if this claim were true, this is no justification for the colonial occupation of Palestine. With the same reasoning Hitler could have claimed close relationship of today’s Germans with the Germanic Goths who, until roughly 500 A.D., dwelled in what is today’s Ukraine, hence justifying the occupation of that country, the expulsion of its Slavic population, and the establishment of a new Germanic-Gothic country. Would anyone in the world have agreed with that? If not, why do most people agree with such a line of reasoning when it comes to Israel?