Prior to the Holocaust, it was common for Jews to refer to themselves as a race. But with the Holocaust and the rise of Boasian anthropology, that has gone out of fashion, and educated Jews tend to take exception to any categorization of Jews as a race.
Steve Sailer defines race as “an extended family, partly in-bred.”
A. Most human beings talk about race a fair amount. I write about it.
Q. Why do people care about race?
A. Why do people care about who their relatives are? Maybe they should care, maybe they shouldn’t. I’m not here to preach morality. But people do care, so it’s important to understand the implications.
Q. What’s race all about?
Race is about who is related to whom.
Q. Do you mean a race is a family?
A. Yes, an extended family. (To be precise, a particular type of extended family, one that’s more coherent over time than the norm, a distinction I’ll explain below.)
Q. Race means family? I’ve never heard of such a thing!
A. It’s remarkable how seldom this concept essential to understanding how the world works is mentioned in the press. Yet, in my Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, the first definition of “race” is:
“1. A group of persons related by common descent or heredity.”
Q. If races exist, then, pray tell, precisely how many there are?
A. How many neighborhoods are there in the place where you live?
For some purposes, an extremely simple breakdown into, say, City vs. Suburbs is most useful. For other uses, an extremely detailed set of neighborhood names is helpful: e.g., “The proposed apartment complex will aggravate the parking shortage in Northeastern West Hills.”
Similarly, racial groups can be lumped into vast continental-scale agglomerations or split as finely as you like.
For instance, should New World Indians be considered a separate race—or merely a subset of East Asians?
Every system of categorization runs into disputes between “lumpers” and “splitters.” Whether lumping or splitting is more appropriate depends upon the situation.
Q. Isn’t race just about skin color?
A. That’s a simplistic verbal shorthand Americans use to refer to ancestry. Nobody really acts as if they believe race is synonymous with skin color.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Consider golfer Vijay Singh who during 2004-2005 became the only man in this decade besides Tiger Woods to be the number one ranked player in the world. Singh, who was born in the Fiji Islands of Asian Indian descent, is much darker in skin color than Woods.
Singh is at least as dark as the average African-American. Yet, nobody in America ever thinks of Singh as black or African-American. There’s an enormous industry that celebrates the triumphs of blacks in nontraditional venues such as golf. But Singh’s accomplishments elicited minimal interest in the U.S.
A 2007 article, for example, asked where are all the black golf champions who were expected to emerge in the wake of Tiger Woods’s first Masters championship in 1997. It never mentions the blackest-skinned player on tour, Singh … because we’re not actually talking about skin color when we use the word “black,” we’re talking about sub-Saharan African ancestry.
Q. Aren’t we all related to each other?
A. Yes, that’s why we’re “the human race.”
Q. If we’re all related to each other, how can one person be more related to some people than to other people?
A. How can you be more related to your mother than you are to your aunt? Or to my mother?
Q. If races exist, how can somebody belong to more than one race?
A. If extended families exist, how can you belong to your mother’s extended family and to your father’s extended family?
Q. How many races can you belong to?
A. How many extended families can you belong to?
Consider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s children. Clearly, they are part of the Schwarzenegger clan via their father and grandfather. But they are also part of the Jadrny extended family through their father’s mother. Yet, they also belong to the well-known liberal Catholic Shriver tribe through their mother, Maria Shriver, daughter of Sargent Shriver, the 1972 Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate. And, they are, famously, Kennedys, because their maternal grandmother is Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of the late President.
Jews Are a ‘Race,’ Genes Reveal
Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People
By Harry Ostrer
Oxford University Press, 288 Pages, $24.95
In his new book, “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People,” Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, claims that Jews are different, and the differences are not just skin deep. Jews exhibit, he writes, a distinctive genetic signature. Considering that the Nazis tried to exterminate Jews based on their supposed racial distinctiveness, such a conclusion might be a cause for concern. But Ostrer sees it as central to Jewish identity.
“Who is a Jew?” has been a poignant question for Jews throughout our history. It evokes a complex tapestry of Jewish identity made up of different strains of religious beliefs, cultural practices and blood ties to ancient Palestine and modern Israel. But the question, with its echoes of genetic determinism, also has a dark side.
Geneticists have long been aware that certain diseases, from breast cancer to Tay-Sachs, disproportionately affect Jews. Ostrer, who is also director of genetic and genomic testing at Montefiore Medical Center, goes further, maintaining that Jews are a homogeneous group with all the scientific trappings of what we used to call a “race.”
For most of the 3,000-year history of the Jewish people, the notion of what came to be known as “Jewish exceptionalism” was hardly controversial. Because of our history of inmarriage and cultural isolation, imposed or self-selected, Jews were considered by gentiles (and usually referred to themselves) as a “race.” Scholars from Josephus to Disraeli proudly proclaimed their membership in “the tribe.”
Ostrer explains how this concept took on special meaning in the 20th century, as genetics emerged as a viable scientific enterprise. Jewish distinctiveness might actually be measurable empirically. In “Legacy,” he first introduces us to Maurice Fishberg, an upwardly mobile Russian-Jewish immigrant to New York at the fin de siècle. Fishberg fervently embraced the anthropological fashion of the era, measuring skull sizes to explain why Jews seemed to be afflicted with more diseases than other groups — what he called the “peculiarities of the comparative pathology of the Jews.” It turns out that Fishberg and his contemporary phrenologists were wrong: Skull shape provides limited information about human differences. But his studies ushered in a century of research linking Jews to genetics.
Ostrer divides his book into six chapters representing the various aspects of Jewishness: Looking Jewish, Founders, Genealogies, Tribes, Traits and Identity. Each chapter features a prominent scientist or historical figure who dramatically advanced our understanding of Jewishness. The snippets of biography lighten a dense forest of sometimes-obscure science. The narrative, which consists of a lot of potboiler history, is a slog at times. But for the specialist and anyone touched by the enduring debate over Jewish identity, this book is indispensable.
“Legacy” may cause its readers discomfort. To some Jews, the notion of a genetically related people is an embarrassing remnant of early Zionism that came into vogue at the height of the Western obsession with race, in the late 19th century. Celebrating blood ancestry is divisive, they claim: The authors of “The Bell Curve” were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting that genes play a major role in IQ differences among racial groups.
Furthermore, sociologists and cultural anthropologists, a disproportionate number of whom are Jewish, ridicule the term “race,” claiming there are no meaningful differences between ethnic groups. For Jews, the word still carries the especially odious historical association with Nazism and the Nuremberg Laws. They argue that Judaism has morphed from a tribal cult into a worldwide religion enhanced by thousands of years of cultural traditions.
Is Judaism a people or a religion? Or both? The belief that Jews may be psychologically or physically distinct remains a controversial fixture in the gentile and Jewish consciousness, and Ostrer places himself directly in the line of fire. Yes, he writes, the term “race” carries nefarious associations of inferiority and ranking of people. Anything that marks Jews as essentially different runs the risk of stirring either anti- or philo-Semitism. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the factual reality of what he calls the “biological basis of Jewishness” and “Jewish genetics.” Acknowledging the distinctiveness of Jews is “fraught with peril,” but we must grapple with the hard evidence of “human differences” if we seek to understand the new age of genetics.
Although he readily acknowledges the formative role of culture and environment, Ostrer believes that Jewish identity has multiple threads, including DNA. He offers a cogent, scientifically based review of the evidence, which serves as a model of scientific restraint.
“On the one hand, the study of Jewish genetics might be viewed as an elitist effort, promoting a certain genetic view of Jewish superiority,” he writes. “On the other, it might provide fodder for anti-Semitism by providing evidence of a genetic basis for undesirable traits that are present among some Jews. These issues will newly challenge the liberal view that humans are created equal but with genetic liabilities.”
Jews, he notes, are one of the most distinctive population groups in the world because of our history of endogamy. Jews — Ashkenazim in particular — are relatively homogeneous despite the fact that they are spread throughout Europe and have since immigrated to the Americas and back to Israel. The Inquisition shattered Sephardi Jewry, leading to far more incidences of intermarriage and to a less distinctive DNA.
In traversing this minefield of the genetics of human differences, Ostrer bolsters his analysis with volumes of genetic data, which are both the book’s greatest strength and its weakness. Two complementary books on this subject — my own “Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People” and “Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History” by Duke University geneticist David Goldstein, who is well quoted in both “Abraham’s Children” and “Legacy” — are more narrative driven, weaving history and genetics, and are consequently much more congenial reads.
The concept of the “Jewish people” remains controversial. The Law of Return, which establishes the right of Jews to come to Israel, is a central tenet of Zionism and a founding legal principle of the State of Israel. The DNA that tightly links Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi, three prominent culturally and geographically distinct Jewish groups, could be used to support Zionist territorial claims — except, as Ostrer points out, some of the same markers can be found in Palestinians, our distant genetic cousins, as well. Palestinians, understandably, want their own right of return.
That disagreement over the meaning of DNA also pits Jewish traditionalists against a particular strain of secular Jewish liberals that has joined with Arabs and many non-Jews to argue for an end to Israel as a Jewish nation. Their hero is Shlomo Sand, an Austrian-born Israeli historian who reignited this complex controversy with the 2008 publication of “The Invention of the Jewish People.”
Sand contends that Zionists who claim an ancestral link to ancient Palestine are manipulating history. But he has taken his thesis from novelist Arthur Koestler’s 1976 book, “The Thirteenth Tribe,” which was part of an attempt by post-World War II Jewish liberals to reconfigure Jews not as a biological group, but as a religious ideology and ethnic identity.
The majority of the Ashkenazi Jewish population, as Koestler, and now Sand, writes, are not the children of Abraham but descendants of pagan Eastern Europeans and Eurasians, concentrated mostly in the ancient Kingdom of Khazaria in what is now Ukraine and Western Russia. The Khazarian nobility converted during the early Middle Ages, when European Jewry was forming.
Although scholars challenged Koestler’s and now Sand’s selective manipulation of the facts — the conversion was almost certainly limited to the tiny ruling class and not to the vast pagan population — the historical record has been just fragmentary enough to titillate determined critics of Israel, who turned both Koestler’s and Sand’s books into roaring best-sellers.
Fortunately, re-creating history now depends not only on pottery shards, flaking manuscripts and faded coins, but on something far less ambiguous: DNA. Ostrer’s book is an impressive counterpoint to the dubious historical methodology of Sand and his admirers. And, as a co-founder of the Jewish HapMap — the study of haplotypes, or blocks of genetic markers, that are common to Jews around the world — he is well positioned to write the definitive response.
In accord with most geneticists, Ostrer firmly rejects the fashionable postmodernist dismissal of the concept of race as genetically naive, opting for a more nuanced perspective.
When the human genome was first mapped a decade ago, Francis Collins, then head of the National Genome Human Research Institute, said: “Americans, regardless of ethnic group, are 99.9% genetically identical.” Added J. Craig Venter, who at the time was chief scientist at the private firm that helped sequenced the genome, Celera Genomics, “Race has no genetic or scientific basis.” Those declarations appeared to suggest that “race,” or the notion of distinct but overlapping genetic groups, is “meaningless.”
But Collins and Venter have issued clarifications of their much-misrepresented comments. Almost every minority group has faced, at one time or another, being branded as racially inferior based on a superficial understanding of how genes peculiar to its population work. The inclination by politicians, educators and even some scientists to underplay our separateness is certainly understandable. But it’s also misleading. DNA ensures that we differ not only as individuals, but also as groups.
However slight the differences (and geneticists now believe that they are significantly greater than 0.1%), they are defining. That 0.1% contains some 3 million nucleotide pairs in the human genome, and these determine such things as skin or hair color and susceptibility to certain diseases. They contain the map of our family trees back to the first modern humans.
Both the human genome project and disease research rest on the premise of finding distinguishable differences between individuals and often among populations. Scientists have ditched the term “race,” with all its normative baggage, and adopted more neutral terms, such as “population” and “clime,” which have much of the same meaning. Boiled down to its essence, race equates to “region of ancestral origin.”
Ostrer has devoted his career to investigating these extended family trees, which help explain the genetic basis of common and rare disorders. Today, Jews remain identifiable in large measure by the 40 or so diseases we disproportionately carry, the inescapable consequence of inbreeding. He traces the fascinating history of numerous “Jewish diseases,” such as Tay-Sachs, Gaucher, Niemann-Pick, Mucolipidosis IV, as well as breast and ovarian cancer. Indeed, 10 years ago I was diagnosed as carrying one of the three genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer that mark my family and me as indelibly Jewish, prompting me to write “Abraham’s Children.”
Like East Asians, the Amish, Icelanders, Aboriginals, the Basque people, African tribes and other groups, Jews have remained isolated for centuries because of geography, religion or cultural practices. It’s stamped on our DNA. As Ostrer explains in fascinating detail, threads of Jewish ancestry link the sizable Jewish communities of North America and Europe to Yemenite and other Middle Eastern Jews who have relocated to Israel, as well as to the black Lemba of southern Africa and to India’s Cochin Jews. But, in a twist, the links include neither the Bene Israel of India nor Ethiopian Jews. Genetic tests show that both groups are converts, contradicting their founding myths.
Why, then, are Jews so different looking, usually sharing the characteristics of the surrounding populations? Think of red-haired Jews, Jews with blue eyes or the black Jews of Africa. Like any cluster — a genetic term Ostrer uses in place of the more inflammatory “race” — Jews throughout history moved around and fooled around, although mixing occurred comparatively infrequently until recent decades. Although there are identifiable gene variations that are common among Jews, we are not a “pure” race. The time machine of our genes may show that most Jews have a shared ancestry that traces back to ancient Palestine but, like all of humanity, Jews are mutts.
About 80% of Jewish males and 50% of Jewish females trace their ancestry back to the Middle East. The rest entered the “Jewish gene pool” through conversion or intermarriage. Those who did intermarry often left the faith in a generation or two, in effect pruning the Jewish genetic tree. But many converts became interwoven into the Jewish genealogical line. Reflect on the iconic convert, the biblical Ruth, who married Boaz and became the great-grandmother of King David. She began as an outsider, but you don’t get much more Jewish than the bloodline of King David!
To his credit, Ostrer also addresses the third rail of discussions about Jewishness and race: the issue of intelligence. Jews were latecomers to the age of freethinking. While the Enlightenment swept through Christian Europe in the 17th century, the Haskalah did not gather strength until the early 19th century. By the beginning of the new millennium, however, Jews were thought of as among the smartest people on earth. The trend is most prominent in America, which has the largest concentration of Jews outside Israel and a history of tolerance.
Although Jews make up less than 3% of the population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950. Jews also account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students. Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115, with their verbal IQ at more than 120, a stunning standard deviation above the average of 100 found in those of European ancestry. Like it or not, the IQ debate will become an increasingly important issue going forward, as medical geneticists focus on unlocking the mysteries of the brain…
Jon Entine is the founder and director of the Genetic Literacy Project at George Mason University, where he is senior research fellow at the Center for Health and Risk Communication. His website is www.jonentine.com.
German central banker criticized for remarks on Jews
Foreign, defense ministers say Thilo Sarrazin was out of line for saying ‘all Jews share a particular gene,’ arguing that Muslims undermine German society, marry ‘imported brides’
German government leaders condemned a central bank executive on Sunday for making anti-Semitic remarks before the publication of his book on Monday that takes a critical look at Turk and Arab immigrants.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said Thilo Sarrazin was out of line for comments about Jews, remarks that were also criticized by Jewish leaders in the country responsible for the Holocaust.
“All Jews share a particular gene, Basques share a certain gene that sets them apart,” Sarrazin told Welt am Sonntag newspaper ahead of the release of his book “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany does away with itself).
Sarrazin, a Bundesbank board member, denied he was stirring racism. He has faced heavy criticism for making disparaging comments about Muslim immigrants. Sarrazin has repeatedly created uproar for criticizing Turks and Arabs in Germany.
“There’s no room in the political debate for remarks that whip up racism or anti-Semitism,” Westerwelle said.
“There are limits to every provocation and Bundesbank board member Sarrazin has clearly gone out of bounds with this mistaken and inappropriate comment,” Guttenberg added.
Stephan Kramer and Michel Friedman, leaders in Germany’s Jewish community, also criticized Sarrazin, 65, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and former finance minister in the city-state of Berlin.
“Someone who tries to define Jews by a genetic make-up is consumed by a racist mania,” Kramer said.
“Enough already!” Friedman wrote in Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “No more tolerance for this intolerance. It’s okay to provoke thought but enough of this baiting and defamation. We don’t need any hate preachers, especially in the Bundesbank.”
Embarrassment for Bundesbank
Almost 3 million people of Turkish origin and an estimated 280,000 of Arab extraction live in Germany.
Leaders in Sarrazin’s SPD have called for him to quit the party and resign from the Bundesbank.
Sarrazin’s comments have also embarrassed Bundesbank President Axel Weber, who some German leaders have backed to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank next year.
The Bundesbank has tried to distance itself from his remarks, saying they are his personal opinions and not linked to his role at the bank. The central bank requires evidence of “serious misconduct” to bring about Sarrazin’s dismissal.
The central bank last year stripped Sarrazin of some of his duties. If the central bank’s board voted to remove Sarrazin, the move would then need the approval of the president.
In the book, Sarrazin argues that Muslims undermine German society, marry “imported brides” and have a bad attitude. He said young Muslim men were aggressive due to sexual frustration.
“Sadly, the huge potential for aggression in this group is obvious. The Arab boys can’t get at their Arab girls,” he said.
“In the end, they use the German girls from the underclass who are easier to get, and then they hold them in contempt because they’re so readily available.”
German banker: I’m man of numbers, not anti-Semite
Central bank executive Thilo Sarrazin spreads anti-Muslim messages on every stage, but only when he speaks against Jews does political establishment unite against him. His book launch met with protest, which Sarrazin calls ‘opportunistic attack’
BERLIN – It has been more than a week since Thilo Sarrazin – an executive in Germany’s central bank, a senior member of the Social Democratic Party, and a political provocateur – has been spreading racist remarks against the Muslim minority in Germany. He did so on every media platform provided him in order to promote his new book “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany is doing away with itself) that was released on Monday.
Popular German tabloid Bild published selections from the book in recent weeks. In interviews held with Sarazzin in more quality newspapers n Germany, the banker came out against Islam in general and claimed that German intelligence is declining as a result of immigration. He backed up his assertions with pseudo-scientific statistics on fertility, intelligence, and labor. All of this went without any major comment.
However, when he claimed in an interview on Sunday that Jews carry a “particular gene” that sets them apart from all other nations, the German political establishment spoke up.
Chancellor Angela Merkel called for him to be ousted from the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, and promised that a discussion would be held with the heads of the financial institution. Merkels called the statements “unacceptable” and said, “These are comments that only damage and don’t help integration in this country, which is a national duty.”
Joining Merkel in her denunciation of Sarrazin’s statement, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Sarrazin “crossed the line.” A long list of Christian Democratic Union party members also joined in the condemnation.
Sarrazin’s own party, SPD, also did not spare him harsh criticism. The party headquarters in Berline announced on Monday that it will launch an official procedure to sack him from the party.
Sarrazin: What’s the fuss about?
The official launch event for Sarrazin’s book was held on Monday in Berlin. During the event, Sarrazin said that he was shocked by what he called “the opportunistic attack” against him. The senior politician reiterated his claims that he is not racist, but rather “a numbers man” who isn’t afraid to reveal the truth even it is inconvenient for the listener.
In defense of his hotly contested statement, Sarazzin referenced research published in scientific magazines that “reveal the genetic basis shared by European Jews.” Regarding the comment itself, he asserted, “It wasn’t said in positively or negatively.”
…For many Germans, the problem is not with the subject matter of Sarrazin’s statements – the increase of immigrants in Germany, especially Muslims – but the way in which he expresses them in his book. Sarrazin speaks of a “German national identity” and an “inborn intelligence.” He also uses statistical tools to prove that immigrants are multiplying at a faster rate than native Germans. He claims that is definitive proof of the threat to the “national identity” and “the level intelligence.”
This type of discourse reminds Germans of Nazi anti-Semitism, which also relied heavily on dubious scientific tools to prove its claims. In the media flurry that has been sparked as a result, debate of the actual content of his statements has been lost.
For if the early twentieth century’s racial science, however flawed, was more accurate than the blank-slatist ideas that have become culturally hegemonic in the West since 1945, then there would need to be a radical and far more nuanced reassessment of Hitler. Indeed, it is now documented that many of the founding fathers of the blank-slatist consensus, namely Franz Boas, Theodor Adorno, and Stephen J. Gould, were ethnically-motivated pseudoscientific fraudsters.
The continued ethnically-motivated character of much of the reigning orthodoxy is not in doubt. That Jewish publications freely discuss the genetic characteristics of Jews while the German writer Thilo Sarrazin was widely defamed a few years ago by Jewish organizations (making it onto innumerable “Top Anti-Semites” lists, with enormous associated costs to his reputation) for discussing this same issue in a morally neutral way, can only be explained in terms of ethnically-motivated hypocrisy and sophistry. This is only one among innumerable examples which could, with truly nauseating frequency, be cited.
If the evolutionary science of the early twentieth century, however imperfect, was more accurate than the social science of today, a moral reassessment of Hitler would be inevitable notwithstanding his real brutality. Politics is, at best, the world of amoral raison d’État and Realpolitik, not of individual morality. The mainstream historians concede as much: Most do not condone the burning alive of hundreds of thousands of German men, women and children through firebombing, the ethnic cleansing of 9 million German civilians in East Prussia, Silesia, and the Sudetenland, or the rape of 2 million German women by the Red hordes, among many other atrocities and questionable doctrines (supposed defense of “Polish sovereignty,” “unconditional surrender,” “Yalta” . . .).
No, the historians plead these were unfortunately necessary measures, understandable reprisals, or regrettable collateral damage in the war against Hitler. They consider that these crimes, unlike Hitler’s, are ultimately excusable in the context of the overarching moral imperative of destroying the absolute evil of “Nazism.” They adhere, openly or not, to an ends-justifies-the-means morality. Certainly, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs and you couldn’t destroy “Nazism” without raping a couple million women and girls.
But by the same token, if Hitler’s racial ideas, at the center of his doctrine, were not quite as “pseudoscientific” as the mainstream claims, what does that mean for the moral significance of his undeniably often brutal means? As Raymond Aron wrote on deceit, but one could say the same of violence and political amorality in general: “Deceit in the service a great endeavor is easily excused, and sometimes even inspires admiration.”
National Socialism was a sincere attempt to systematically apply the evolutionary science of the day to public policy. This was remarkably successful in certain respects (above all in the astonishing rise in the German birthrate) and catastrophic in others. This was inevitable, National Socialism was by its own account a kind of fanatical civil religion. This had the advantages and disadvantages of all religious revolutions: The society’s culture, values, and behavior were indeed radically transformed in line with the new faith (a successful religion can be considered a kind of cultural programming), but this also necessarily meant inflexibility and dogmatism.
The result? Where German National Socialism was right, it was brilliantly successful. Where it was wrong, it was disastrous, in the end fatally so. Above all, Hitler fixed what was still an infant and imperfect racial science into a semi-fixed (because sometimes vague) political doctrine. The spirits of science (skepticism) and of religion (faith) are in truly radical opposition, combining them being thus supremely difficult, like the would-be philosoper-king’s almost impossible ambition of uniting thought and action. The achievement of any degree of success in this task may perhaps be considered the supreme work of art.
We have to consider that Hitler in general was “too racist”: He tended to overestimate both the degree to which an individual or people’s qualities were due to genetic factors and the amount of genetic difference between European peoples. This had tragic results, arguably resulting in millions of deaths and ultimately in the Third Reich’s defeat through failure to build sufficient constructive relationships and alliances with fellow Europeans.