Fact Check: Most Israelis Are NOT Descendants Of The Medieval Khazars


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Fact Check: Most Israelis Are NOT Descendants Of The Medieval Khazars Historic Myth

Are most Israelis descendants of the Khazars, who established a medieval empire that ruled much of modern-day Ukraine, thus undermining their ancestral claim to the Holy Land? No, that's not true: Geneticists and historians have investigated this theory, long accepted as fact by many, and turned up no evidence to support it.

The claim appeared in a Hungarian-language video (archived here) on TikTok on October 17, 2023, under the caption (translated from Hungarian to English by Lead Stories) "🔥Israeli democracy‼️" It shows an interview that appeared on Nexus TV, a Hungarian internet channel, with orthopedic doctor Alfréd Pócs on October 15, 2023. When the discussion turns to the recent Hamas-Israel conflict, at the 6:25 mark of the TikTok clip, Pócs says (translated from Hungarian to English by Lead Stories):

Genetically, most of [the Israelis] are Khazar Jews, so Khazar Jews can go back to Khazar territory, and there, it can't be said that they don't belong and or that they're oppressing anybody. There's a massive amount of good land, there's huge mineral wealth. It'd be much better for them than in Israel, in the desert.

This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:

TikTok screenshot

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Wed Oct 18 06:57:07 2023 UTC)

The Khazars formed a Turkic empire that ruled over vast areas of land from the Caspian Sea to the Dnipro River between the seventh and 10th centuries. Many historians have espoused a theory that the Khazars embraced Judaism en masse in the eighth century. Following the empire's decline, the Khazars' descendants moved westwards, eventually becoming Europe's Ashkenazi Jews, the theory holds.

Critics have seized upon this thesis to delegitimize Jewish claims to present-day Israel, arguing that the Ashkenazis' ancestors never lived there. On April 30, 2018, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech in which he said (translated from Arabic to English by Palestinian Media Watch) the Khazar Empire

broke apart, and all its residents migrated to Europe, and these are the Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazi Jews are not Semites, and they have no connection to Semitism or Abraham, Jacob, or others. It was a Tatar-Turkic state.

The claim lacks a scientific basis. On December 1, 2023, Human Biology, the official publication of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics, published a study that examined whether the ancient Khazars and contemporary Ashkenazis had similar genetic material. The authors wrote:

We found that Ashkenazi Jews share the greatest genetic ancestry with other Jewish populations and, among non-Jewish populations, with groups from Europe and the Middle East. No particular similarity of Ashkenazi Jews to populations from the Caucasus is evident, particularly populations that most closely represent the Khazar region. Thus, [Ashkenazi Jews] possess considerable shared ancestry with other Jewish populations, and ... there is no indication of a significant genetic contribution either from within or from north of the Caucasus region.

It is also unlikely that the Khazars even converted to Judaism, according to a 2013 study by Hebrew University professor Shaul Stampfer. After a four-year investigation into the theory's historical roots, he found:

A careful examination of the sources ... shows that some of them are pseudepigraphic, and the rest are of questionable reliability. Many of the most reliable contemporary texts that mention Khazars say nothing about their conversion, nor is there any archaeological evidence for it. This leads to the conclusion that such a conversion never took place.

Even if the Ashkenazis were descended from the Khazars, it is not clear that they make up a majority of Israel's Jewish population. In 2010, Hebrew University estimated that 2.8 million Israelis identified as Ashkenazi. That was slightly less than half the country's total Jewish population at the time, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

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