Israel, the Cosplay Nation
How Europeans Rewrote History, Invented Traditions, and Revived a Classical Language to Claim a Middle Eastern Land
“If all nations would suddenly claim territory in which their forefathers had lived two thousand years ago, this world would be a madhouse.” — Erich Fromm
Nations are built on myths, legends, and lies. Israel’s European founders knew that well, so they made a country from bad history, stolen customs, fake traditions, and a revised language that had died in the 3rd century BC. That does not deny Israel’s right to exist — its right to exist was granted in 1947 with UN Resolution 181. It only denies that Israel has a right to any land beyond those 1947 borders. What follows can be interpreted as praise, because no nation has invented itself as quickly or as thoroughly as Israel.
To understand the scale of Israel’s founders’ task, you must know a few facts:
- Before the birth of Israel in 1948, most Jews belonged to two European cultural groups. The largest, the Ashkenazim, are descendants of Jews from Germany, France, and Eastern Europe who spoke Yiddish, a Germanic language. Since they take their name from the Hebrew word for Germany, think of them as Germanic Jews. Before 1948, most Jewish immigrants to Palestine were Ashkenazim, which is why Ashkenazim form a disproportionately large part of Israel’s ruling class.
- The smaller group, the Sephardim, are descendants of Jews from Spain, Portugal, Italy, North Africa, and the Middle East who spoke Ladino, a Romance language based on Old Spanish. Since they take their name from the Hebrew word for Spain, think of them as Hispanic Jews. After Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, the Sephardim settled around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. Significant Sephardic immigration to Israel only began after the nation’s creation in 1948, which is why Sephardim form a disproportionately large part of Israel’s working class.
- Because most Sephardic Israelis came from Muslim countries, Middle Eastern Sephardim now have a name of their own, Mizrahim, based on the Hebrew word for eastern. Though Mizrahi Jews form a tiny part of the world’s Jewish population, they are the largest Jewish group in Israel.