Colorful BDS campaigns reflect on Israel’s rainbow of diversity, shed light on Indigenous solidarity with the ancient Jewish people.
Today I am trying to find ways to understand the United Nations declaration that 2014 is “The International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” The one-sided emphasis of the title does not match the description on the UN website, which presents itself as balanced in promoting that the goal is to “achieve a durable peace between Israel and Palestine.” With a title so inflammatory, the United Nations is displaying its allegiance to the predominantly bigoted approach that the pro-Palestinian movement has developed, evident in the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
I could almost thank the BDS activists for highlighting the incredible progressive culture coming out of Israel! Two years ago I was appalled that the pro-peace activists in the USA blocked Israeli gay people from meeting with city organizations in Seattle, Washington, because they claimed the meeting was a plot which they called “pinkwashing,” constructed to mask Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. This week there was a lovely event on Tu B’Shvat at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay in California with Israeli environmentalist Alon Tal, and the protest announcement called the event “greenwashing.” Now, a group of smack-ademics is planning a panel in Lebanon to analyse “redwashing”, a term they use to describe what they claim Israel is doing: “using indigenous Native Americans to cover up…”
Who’s really appropriating, and why? Some Native Americans have been sharing their insights through news outlets and social media.
The Academic Boycott
The Lebanon event comes after the controversial endorsement of the boycott against the State of Israel by numerous academic organizations in recent months, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), which is made up of educators who teach indigenous studies. The NAISA action upset some actual native people who responded publicly.
A Métis man from northern Canada and participant and organizer in the current Idle No More indigenous uprising, Ryan Bellerose wrote a letter to NAISA December 17, 2013 where he objected to their aggression. “Boycotting academics is wrong, it’s immoral and disgusting, it’s not borderline racism it’s abject racism.”
Native American academics do not endorse the boycott of Israeli academics. – Jay Corwin
Academic Jay Corwin, who explains he is classified in America as Native American/Alaska Native, also disagreed with the NAISA tactics. “When people choose to study a subject, a culture, a people, their history or literature, there is a question of respect involved, not only for the subject but for the people behind that subject,” Corwin wrote In his Times of Israel blog December 25, 2013 which was titled “Native American academics do not endorse the boycott of Israeli academics.”
Identifying Jewish Indigeneity
Bellerose told news commentator Ezra Levant in an interview on Sun News December 20, 2013 that Native People can speak for themselves. “I see Israel as an indigenous project – basically, indigenous people who managed to return to their traditional lands and create a state,” Bellerose said. “I happen to think it’s actually a really great example for our people.”
In an article published in Israel National News January 14, 2014, Bellerose described how the Jews are indigenous to the Levant, and the Arabs are indigenous to the Arabian peninsula. “The Palestinians self-identify as Arabs… They deny their indigenous culture and heritage and instead follow the culture and claim the heritage of the colonizer people. How is that indigenous?
“Ask an Arab where his most holy place is. Unless he is one of the tiny minority of Christian Arabs, he will tell you it is Mecca, and he will tell you this in Arabic both of which track back to…. the Arabian peninsula. Ask a Jew where their holiest place is, and they will tell you, and they will do so in the language that developed in the Holy Land.”
On Pro-Palestinian Misrepresentation and Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples
“You members of NAISA spoke out of turn, and you misrepresented Native American communities and people without authorization, and without regard for authentic Native Americans,” Corwin charged in his Christmas 2013 blog in Times of Israel.
In a January 7, 2014 blog entry titled, “BDS Silences Native American Voices,” Corwin made clear the distinctions. “Arabs are not like us. We don’t have a special seat at the United Nations, we don’t have billions given to us by the European Union and Arab states and we don’t have our own world-wide propaganda machine funded by oil rich Gulf States. What we do have is an authentic, legitimate indigenous claim to the land we live on, and that is also where we differ.”
We do not accept this anti-Israel propaganda being spread in our name. We can be pro-Palestinians and still be pro-Israel and pro-indigenous statehood. – Ryan Bellerose
“We do not accept this anti-Israel propaganda being spread in our name. We can be pro-Palestinians and still be pro-Israel and pro-indigenous statehood,” says Bellerose, who sees the Palestinian appropriation of Native American history as a dangerous threat to indigenous peoples, in Indian Country Today January 11, 2014.
“If conquerors can become indigenous, then the white Europeans who came to my indigenous lands in North America could now claim to be indigenous… If we, even once, allow that argument to be made, indigenous rights are suddenly devalued and meaningless,” Bellerose wrote in his January 14, 2014 op-ed in Israel National News titled “Israel: The World’s First Indigenous State.”
Native Stands Against BDS Culture of Violence
In December 2012, Native American Mvskoke woman Joy Harjo became a target of BDS bigotry when she went to Israel to be a writer-in-residence at Tel Aviv University. “I will perform at the university as I promised, to an audience that will include Palestinian students,” Harjo published on her blog. “The students have written in support of me being here. I will let the words and music speak for that place beyond those who would hurt and destroy for retribution, or to be right. It is my hope that my choice will generate discussion and understanding for many paths to justice.”
“I am also disgusted to see someone attacking Joy Harjo, who is an indigenous artist and activist. I actually watched on her page on Facebook as people threatened her, insulted her and lectured her on oppression,” wrote Bellerose in Indian Country Today.
In his January 7 piece, Corwin said, “Joy Harjo is a prime example of someone whose freedom was impinged upon by BDS thugs. How typical that people who cry victim loudest should be so eager to victimize someone and try to strong arm her into complicity.”
In his December 17 letter, Bellerose stated that First Nations, “have struggled for equal rights in North America for decades. We have never stooped to terrorism, or propaganda. We rely on the fact that our cause is inherently just, so why we would align ourselves with people who advocate for violence? I have no idea. We have grassroots movements like Idle No More in which I have worked as both an organiser and participant in several events. We do NOT glorify murder nor do we advocate for violence.”
January 9, 2014 Bellerose was featured in Canada’s National Post, reacting to what he called “hate speech” in a Pro-Palestinian student group recent leader’s glorification of violent martyrdom in her social media post. “This student group talks about justice and peace and she talks about blowing herself up and having her children blow themselves up.”
Native American – Jewish Solidarity
The People Israel have endured through exile, have fought for the sacred burial sites of their deceased, and have withstood exclusion from their ancestral sacred sites. These experiences are shared by indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Our Jewish values implore us to do justice in the world, so as the Native American people display their support for the Jewish Nation it is time as a nation we direct our attention to their plight.
I first noticed former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber’s advocacy for First Nations when he posted a blog on mercury poison on Native Reserves, in the Huffington Post December 10, 2012 during the first weeks of the Idle No More indigenous uprising. “We have driven First Nations from their traditional lands, poisoned their waters and trampled their rights,” Farber wrote. “It is time we find ways to both compensate for past wrongs while partnering with First Nations to help build a better future.”
Diane Bederman noted parallel histories of oppression and spirituality in her Huffington Post blog May 15, 2013. Bederman is hopeful on cultural preservation and continuity, explaining, “As the Jewish people, for thousands of years, “remembered” Jerusalem and all that living in Jerusalem had meant, so too the First Nations can keep alive their ancestors’ life on their ancestral land, and in the “diaspora” of Canada, the country in which all their ancestors were born and buried.”
Jewish blogger Philippe Assouline has been generating a collection of writings in his Huffington Post blog, ranging from Israel and First Nations advocacy to BDS analysis. In his July 1, 2013 article “Why Canadian Jews must show solidarity With Natives” Assouline asserts, “it is a duty to help them fight for greater justice, especially when what natives face today so closely resembles our own, past struggles. Their fight is every Canadian’s fight but it is ours in particular.”
In the Americas, indigenous sacred sites are being threatened or destroyed and the native peoples are looking for support from their allies. Warrior women and men are standing on the frontlines, putting their bodies in front of energy development on their ancestral lands – for the betterment of all of us. People are impoverished, burial sites are being destroyed, and places of origin are threatened. Jewish people need to pay attention to the social and political situation in Indian country and be active.
The government of Israel, reluctantly and only because of security issues, militarizes our own ancestral sacred sites, such as Rachel’s Tomb, in order to preserve the sites and maintain access. What are we willing to do as a people for another spiritual people embattled in these struggles?
Internet Radio host Lorelai Kude of Radio Free Nachlaot and Mitzvah Media’s “Heart to Heart with Lorelai” program has been conducting audio interviews with Native persons and other minorities opposing the BDS campaign. Kude asks, “How can the Palestinian Arabs, whose systematic destruction of Jewish burial sites in Jerusalem and other Jewish towns is universally known and documented, claim a moral kinship with the Native/Indigenous Peoples whose reverence for sacred sites is legendary?”
Considering the United Nations’ solidarity with the Palestinians over Israel and the overall scenario, Jews should be actively grateful for the Native Americans who are calling bias, violence, and redwashing as the problems of the Palestinians.
Wendy Kenin @greendoula is a childbirth doula and mother of 5 in Berkeley, California. A Jewish eco-feminist and founder of Imeinu Birth Collective, she is also a social media consultant, co-chair of the Green Party’s national newspaper Green Pages, and a member of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. Kenin is currently producing a series of audio interviews with Mitzvah Media on the BDS Movement’s hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy.