Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The Khazar Myth and the New Anti-Semitism
The Khazar Myth and the New Anti-Semitism
By: Steven Plaut Wednesday, May 9, 2007
. "Israelis have no history in the Land because they are Khazars, who are
not connected to the land." . Al Hayat Al Jadida, June 16, 2003
.".Oddly, the Zionists were mostly non-Jews whose ancestors had themselves
converted to Judaism around 800 AD in a place called Khazaria, in the
Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian and Black Seas. They were quite
literally Caucasians." . Judicial-inc. website
."In 1917 the Khazar Jews passed a major milestone towards the creation of
their own state in Palestine. The same year they also created the
Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. There followed a Christian holocaust, the
likes of which the world has never seen. The Khazar Jews were once again
in control of Russia after more than 900 years, and they set about the
task of destroying the Russian Christians . over 100-million of them, at
the same time over 20-million religious Jews also died at the hands of the
Khazar Jews." . Aljazeerah.info website
It is one of the great ironies of the 21st century that anti-Zionists and
anti-Semites on both the Left and the Right, have returned to racialist
arguments against Jews that most of us thought had died out after World
One of the most bizarre aspects of this "re-racializing" of anti-Semitism
is the role played by the Khazar myth.
The newly fashionable Khazar mythology holds that modern day Ashkenazim,
and especially the European leadership of the Zionist movement, are not
Jews at all in the racial sense, but rather descendents from non-Jewish
Khazars; therefore, the Khazar "theorists" claim, Zionists and Israelis
have no legitimate claims to the Land of Israel.
It would be hard to exaggerate how widespread the misuse of the Khazar
myth is among those seeking to delegitimize Israel and Jews today. A
recent investigation showed nearly 30,000 websites using the Khazar
"theory" as a bludgeon against Israel and Zionism.
Some two hundred websites claim to describe a cabal known as the Khazarian
Zionist Bolsheviks (KZV). Neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial organizations and
websites are particularly fond of the Khazar myth. It is also growing in
popularity among left-wing anti-Zionists.
Arab and Islamofascist propagandists have long bandied about the
Ashkenazim as Khazars theory and Iran.s genocidal leaders adore it.
Al-Jazeera has been using the Khazar story to urge a worldwide Christian
religious war against the Khazar pseudo-Jewish imperialists.
Groups promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion often cite the
nefarious role of Khazars as "proof" of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy (I
counted 700 such websites). And even Jewish anti-Zionist cranks like
Alfred M. Lilienthal and the Swedish "Israel Shamir" have used the Khazar
myth to attack Zionism.
Why are these various groups suddenly interested in a rather esoteric and
archaic group of people in Central Asia that disappeared nearly a
The answer is very simple.
According to the Khazar theory of the new anti-Semites, most Jews today,
particularly Ashkenazi Jews, are not racially Jews at all but descendents
from the Turkic tribe of Khazars, whose ruling class and parts of its rank
and file population converted to Judaism in the 8th or early 9th century
CE. Hence, argue the racialists, Ashkenazi Jews have no rights to live in
the racially Semitic Middle East and especially not in the Land of Israel.
Fact and Legend
For Jews, the history of the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism is best
known from essays in The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith, a
medieval book composed by the great Spanish poet and philosopher Judah
Only part of the book actually deals with the Khazar kingdom, about which
little was known, and the historic claims about them in the book are not
considered fully reliable.
In any case, The Kuzari purports to report the debates at the Khazar royal
court that supposedly led to the Khazar elite.s conversion to Judaism.
Other senior Jewish officials in the Spanish Muslim regimes actually
corresponded with the Khazar kingdom . most notably Cordova Rabbi Hasdai
ibn Shaprut (whose letters have survived). And the great Iraqi sage Saadia
Gaon is believed to have maintained correspondence with Jews in the Khazar
It is commonly thought that part of the motivation for the Khazars.
conversion was to establish political neutrality for the Khazar kingdom,
which faced potential threats from the powers of both Christendom and
The Khazars themselves left no documentary records. The Arab historian ibn
Fadlan wrote about them, but he did so two centuries after the conversions
to Judaism had occurred. Some Jews, having sought refuge from Byzantine
persecutions, probably lived in the Khazar kingdom long before the
conversion of the royalty there.
One ironic historical twist is that the Khazars contributed to the
Cyrillic alphabet, in which Russian and some other Slovak languages are
written. Saint Cyril came to Khazaria in 860 in an attempt to convert the
Khazars to Christianity. Since the Hebrew of the Khazars and Greek were
the main alphabets known to St. Cyril and the early Slavs, they borrowed
Western interest in the Khazars was stimulated largely by the 1976 book
The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler, a writer better known for his
lifelong battles against totalitarianism in all its forms. Koestler.s book
was largely based on the earlier book The History of the Jewish Khazars,
by the historianD.M. Dunlop.
Dunlop rejected the idea that large numbers of Ashkenazi Jews could trace
their origins to the Khazars, but not so Koestler. By grossly and
sensationally exaggerating the role and numbers of Khazar descendents
among European Jewry, Koestler . who was a strong Zionist . inadvertently
provided today.s racialist anti-Semites with all the ammunition they could
want, and many of them frequently cite his book as the basis for their
racialist denunciations of Israel.
A number of more serious books about Khazars are now on the market,
including The Jews of Khazaria by Kevin Alan Brook. Rabbi Bernard
Rosensweig was one of the leading figures in debunking the Khazar theory
of Ashkenazi Jewish origins. Writing in Tradition (16:5, Fall 1977, pages
139-162), he dismissed it as "wobbly scholarly foundations without
Likewise, the Swedish archaeologist Bozena Werbart, an expert on the
Khazars, wrote: "In the Khazar kingdom, Koestler wanted to see the origin
of the eastern European Jewry. Nevertheless, all the historical and
linguistic facts contradicted his theories."
As The Encyclopedia of Judaism (1989) emphatically states, "The notion
that Ashkenazi Jewry is descended from the Khazars has absolutely no basis
What Became of the Khazars
The actual Khazar kingdom was partly subjugated by the early Russians in
the 10th century, and whatever was left was annihilated as a result of the
Mongol invasions of Central Asia.
What exactly became of the Khazar Jews is simply not known. Those who
retained their Judaism probably integrated themselves into other Jewish
communities around the world. Some groups of Khazars joined the Magyar
invasion into what became Hungary and may have merged with local Jews
already living in those lands; indeed, archeologists have found Jewish
stars in the remains of Hungarian Khazar villages.
Small groups of Khazar mercenaries probably found refuge in other places.
Most likely the largest integration of Khazar Jews among other Jews took
place in Iran and Iraq, the large communities closest to the Khazar
kingdom and with whom close ties had been maintained.
(An urban legend holds that red-haired Jews are descended from Khazars,
though that could hardly explain King David, not to mention Esau. Arthur
Koestler claimed many were blond with blue eyes.)
In any case, Khazar political existence ended a thousand years ago.
So what are we to make of the Khazar myth concerning Ashkenazi Jews and
their supposed lack of legitimate claims to Israel due to their Khazar
origins? The greatest irony is that even if the entire Khazar theory of
Ashkenazi Jews were correct . and virtually none of it is correct . it
would be entirely irrelevant. Judaism has never defined Jews on racial
grounds. Anyone from any race is welcome as a convert to Judaism as long
as he or she is sincere.
The biblical Israelites themselves were already a racial hodgepodge. They
absorbed the "mixed multitude" that left Egypt together with them at the
time of the Exodus. There are biblical references to Jews of different
racial features, including the black-skinned Shulamit mentioned in the
Song of Songs.
Jews always defined themselves in religious, ethnic-national and at times
linguistic terms, but never along racial lines. If all Ashkenazi Jews were
indeed converted Khazars, as the racial anti-Zionists claim, they would be
no less legitimately Jews . and, as such, would have the same legitimate
claims to the Jewish homeland as any other group of Jews. (Given the
traditional Jewish deference to righteous converts, maybe more so.)
Pseudo-History and Poppycock
The actual details of the Khazar theory concerning European Jewry are
simply pseudo-history and crackpot poppycock.
Jews already lived in Europe a thousand years before the Khazar kingdom
was formed. There are no genetic markers or indicators at all showing that
Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Turkic tribes. In fact, there exists
considerable genetic evidence showing that European Jews are closer to
Levantine and Syrian Arabs than to Central Asians.
After the Mongol invasion most Khazars probably assimilated into the
Jewish communities of Iran and Iraq, which of course eventually emerged as
important Sephardic centers, formed mainly of Jews with Semitic racial
characteristics, descended from migrants and exiled Jews from the Land of
Israel. In any case, there are more "Semitic" Sephardic Jews in Israel
today than there are European Ashkenazi Jews. And if the Khazars looked
Turkic, how on earth could they give Ashkenazi Jews a European complexion?
There are other problems. If all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from
converted Khazars, why are there Cohens and Levis among them? One inherits
the status of a Cohen (priest) or Levite from one.s father. Descendants of
converts through the male line can never be a Cohen or a Levite.
And why are there no Khazar surnames among Ashkenazim, or Khazar names for
towns in Europe where Jews lived? And why did most Ashkenazi communities
speak variations of Yiddish rather than Turkic?
As mentioned, the popularity of the Khazar myth among anti-Semites
represents a return of modern anti-Jewish bigotry to the racialism of the
1930.s and earlier.
Nearly every anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi website denounces Zionists and
Israelis as "Khazars." Web chat lists in which Jews defending Israel are
dismissed as "Khazar usurpers" are too numerous to count.
The racialism once again in vogue holds that Jews would only have
legitimate claims to the right of self-determination in their homeland if
they were appropriately Semitic from a racial point of view. Palestine is
part of the Semitic racial lebensraum and those who do not possess the
correct pure racial markings have no business being there. Racial purity
is suddenly the new basis for national rights.
I discovered scores of neo-Nazi websites claiming that "Khazar Zionists"
were really behind the 9/11 attacks. I found thousands of websites
claiming that "Khazar Jew-pretenders" are in a conspiratorial league with
Freemasons, the Vatican, the Illuminati and others to control the world.
Khazar conspiracists get nuttier by the day; a widely cited Ku Klux Klan
website claims that the pro-Israel evangelist Pat Robertson is really a
Khazar Jew. The neo-Nazi American Patriots Friends Network claims Khazars
are themselves descended from the Magog race and secretly control America.
If we take the racialist argument to its logical conclusion, Palestinian
Arabs have the right to exercise all claims to sovereignty in Israel due
to their being true racial Jews, while Zionists are non-Jewish Khazars .
racial imposters and usurpers.
To make things even sillier, Arabs themselves are, of course, a mix of
racial strains, with a particularly large Caucasian component thanks to
Arab intermixing with Spanish and Italian Europeans, Caucasian Berbers,
Vandals, Goths, and even some Vikings.
The racialist delegitimizing of Zionism as "Khazar imperialism" is smack
inside the same insane asylum with the "Jesus was a Palestinian" theory
and the claim that all real Jews (from a racial point of view) converted
to Islam after the Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century and so
became Palestinian Arabs.
One can also find countless websites claiming those things.