Dani Ishai Behan
Dani Ishai Behan

Cultural Appropriation, You Say?

We’ve all heard this term endlessly bandied about by now, but what does it mean?

In left wing parlance, cultural appropriation refers to a foreign (almost invariably white) population laying claim to a cultural artifact belonging to another (usually non-white) population. A form of trademark infringement, if you will. Notwithstanding an array of perfectly valid cases (more on that below), it is an oft abused concept. There are times when even the bare act of embracing another culture’s contributions (e.g. white people listening to hip hop or eating tacos) is maligned as a form of theft.

More to the point, we hear Israelis — whom *everybody* knows are just “white Europeans” pretending to be Middle Easterners (yes, that is sarcasm) – accused of this all the time. In addition to our alleged “theft” of “indigenous Arab land”, we are frequently blamed for stealing hummus, falafel, belly dancing, oud music, etc, even though no one knows for sure where they originated and there’s a good chance that our ancestors were among those who pioneered and developed these things.

I’ve always said that if white people, Arabs, or anyone else wanted to play that game with us, our victory would be a foregone conclusion. Our culture has been appropriated over the span of at least 2000 years, and continues to be on a nigh global scale even today. Let’s go down the list…..

1. Arabs and their supporters claiming Jesus was a Palestinian.

He most certainly was not a Palestinian, or an Arab of any kind. He was a Jew from the village of Bethlehem, in what was then known as the Roman province of Judea (aka historic Judah…..you know, that country where the Jews are said to have originated? Yeah, that’s the place). He lived at least 70 years before the Roman occupiers renamed our country “Syria-Palaestina” (Syria-Palestine), which was a deliberate and spiteful attempt to erase our connection to the land following our unsuccessful revolts against them. And on that note, do you know where the name Palaestina (aka Palestine’s namesake) comes from? Go on, take a guess….

Give up? It is derived from the Philistines, a sea-faring tribe who originated not in the Levant, but in what is now Greece. The term “Philistine” itself comes from the Hebrew word peleshet, which means “invaders”. In other words, the Palestinians are literally calling themselves invaders in our language.

All in all, if Jesus, Mary, et al were alive today, they would be maligned as Israeli “settlers” and an “obstacle to peace”.

2. So-called “Black Hebrew Israelites” asserting that the ancient Hebrews were black and chiding “white Jews” for stealing their culture.

Not to be confused with the Beta Israel, Igbo Jews, et al who are both black and authentically Israelite, the “Black Hebrew Israelites” are a delusional group of African-Americans (mostly concentrated in NYC) who falsely claim to be the “true” descendants of the Israelites while castigating today’s Jews (especially Ashkenazi/”white” Jews) as thieves and appropriators of black culture. However, DNA studies, history, and common sense show all of these claims to be false, and that it’s in fact the other way around.

Moreover, Jews are not white people. A portion of our people being exiled to Europe and subsequently raped by Slavs after our land was taken from us does not a white people make. But that should really go without saying, and I’m annoyed that I even had to say it at all.

3. White people in medieval times claiming to be the true Israel while asserting that we are castaways whose only future is perdition.

Self-explanatory. In fact, many white churches still do this, and to this day some can’t even bring themselves to admit that they’re worshiping a Jew. For why else would European painters portray Jesus as a fair skinned man with pronounced Nordic features?

4. UNESCO declaring Rachel’s Tomb, the Temple Mount, and even Kotel to be “Islamic holy sites”.

Last I checked, Rakhel (Rachel) wasn’t a Muslim or even an Arab. She was the wife and first cousin of Ya’aqob (Jacob), who was a patriarch of the Israelites. This means she was, for all intents of purposes, a Jew (although Samaritans have an equally valid claim).

As for the Temple Mount, all but the most delusional of antisemites acknowledge that our two Temples once stood there, and that it is therefore a Jewish sacred site. Slaughtering your way in on horseback and building a giant mosque on top of it doesn’t change that reality. Calling the Temple Mount an “Islamic site” is like saying Mount Rushmore is a white European site even though it was built on an indigenous people’s land, just like the Dome of the Rock was.

This brings me to the Kotel aka the Western Wall. And by Western Wall, we mean “the western wall of what used to be the courtyard of the Second Temple”. It is in no way, shape, or form an Arab or Islamic site. Period.

5. Tomb of the Patriarchs being classified as a mosque by UNESCO.

It is the alleged burial site of numerous Israelite (read: Jewish and Samaritan) patriarchs, hence the name. In Hebrew, we call it Ma’arat ha-Makhpelah or Cave of the Patriarchs. If Ma’arat ha-Makhpelah is a mosque, then so is Big Ben.

6. Recognizing Jerusalem not as the capital of the Jews, but as “central to all three Abrahamic faiths”.

It may very well be a holy city to “all three Abrahamic faiths”, but only one people is actually native to it (two if you consider the Samaritans to be a separate people). We originated on that land, we founded that city, we built it, we gave it it’s name (Jerusalem is Hebrew for “abode of peace”), and made it our capital more than 3 millennia ago. In fact, were it not for European, Arab, and Assyrian colonialism, the State of Israel (with Jerusalem as its capital) would be well over 3000+ years old today, thus making it one of the oldest nation-states in the world.

7. Palestinians claiming they are the true descendants of the Israelites and that today’s Jews are impostors from Europe.

DNA studies have proven this claim false innumerable times, but millions continue to believe it. Although it is true that Palestinians (mostly Christian Palestinians, and the Muslims of Nablus) have Jewish descent, the majority do not. And those who do have long since assimilated into Arab culture, and continue to benefit from Arab colonialism. We, on the other hand, maintained our identity over the centuries and suffered greatly for it.

8. Abbas demanding the Dead Sea Scrolls “back”.

Last I checked, the Dead Sea Scrolls weren’t written in Arabic. They were written in our language: Hebrew. How can you ask for something “back” when it was never yours in the first place?

9. Saeb Erekat calling himself a Canaanite.

Although the Canaanites are said to have disappeared millennia ago, the Israelites are in reality an outgrowth of the Canaanites. The book of Yehoshua, which says that we conquered the Canaanites, was discredited decades ago and no serious historian believes it anymore. Our language is part of the Canaanite family, our national god YHWH/Elohim is really just El (chief god of the Canaanite pantheon), and our cultures are more or less the same, diaspora additions notwithstanding. They are the pagan root culture from which we emerged, so if anyone has a claim to that identity, it is us.

As for the Palestinians (including Saeb Erekat), see number 7.

10. Turbans, agals, and sudras.

Not appropriation per se, but we are accused of “stealing” these things even though it is well known and documented that we’ve worn them for thousands of years, long before there was any such thing as an Arab. Some of us still do, in fact.

11. Europeans and Arabs taking our land from us in the first place AND having the gall to call us colonizers for daring to come back.

This one speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Think twice the next time you want to accuse a Jew of cultural appropriation, because it is a game you will inevitably lose.

About the Author
Half-Irish/half-Jewish American activist, musician, and writer.