If You Believe In Indigenous Rights, You Must Support Ours As Well

It’s fair to assume that most American and European progressives have, at the very least, a rudimentary understanding of the importance of indigenous rights. After all, anti-imperialism has been at the heart of left wing activism for decades (if not longer), and indigenous rights is inextricably tied to that. To wit, we’ve persistently maligned Western imperialism and encouraged indigenous resistance all throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. However, as with almost everything else that falls within the progressive left’s purview, Jews – one of two aboriginal peoples (the other being the Samaritans/Shomronim) of Israel/Judah+Shomron (“West Bank”), Western Jordan, and the northern Sinai – are conspicuously excluded from this tent. And not only is this glaringly obvious omission countenanced, it is normalized to the point that anyone who dares to mount a defense of Jewish indigeneity is – generally speaking – dismissed as a “right wing racist troll”.

An activist’s credibility is contingent on his or her willingness and aptitude for applying their principles broadly, in a consistent manner, and with no room for exceptionalism. In other words, any movement which professes a serious commitment to cosmopolitan indigenous liberation cannot afford to play favorites. But from my experience, nearly all assertions of Jewish indigeneity have been met with arguments that, applied in any other context, would be scornfully derided or otherwise ridiculed.

One such argument is that most Jews have been exiled from Eretz Yisra’el for “too long”, and therefore our identity and rights are no longer valid. That is to say, our indigeneity “expired” centuries ago, so instead of returning to our land, re-establishing sovereignty, and consequently galvanizing decades of extreme colonial butthurt, the proper course of action would have been to “suck it up”, assimilate, and disappear peacefully. Jewishness is just a religion after all, and we are simply natives of the countries we were banished to and – more often than not – racially othered by the surrounding population *precisely because* we came from the Middle East, and Israel in particular. The Arabs, on the other hand, have lived on our lands for centuries, and likely have a great deal of Hebrew blood as well. Never mind the fact that they arrived to Israel the same way the Europeans arrived to the “New World”: colonial conquest and desecration of our lands (how do you think the Dome of the Rock got there? Why do you think they chose that particular spot?). Eventually, with the passage of time, colonizer’s can be indigenous too.

This calls for a thought experiment: swap out Jew and replace it with Cherokee, then swap out Arabs and replace it with white people. It would go something like this: “most Cherokee have been exiled from their lands for centuries, therefore their identity and rights are no longer valid. Their indigeneity expired a long time ago, so instead of returning to their lands and angering the white colonial settlers, the proper course of action would be to suck it up, assimilate, and disappear peacefully. Cherokee culture is just a religion, and they are nothing more than natives of the states/countries/etc they currently reside in. White people, on the other hand, have lived in Tennessee for centuries, and likely have a great deal of Indian blood as well. Never mind the fact that they arrived via colonialism. Eventually, with the passage of time, colonizers can be indigenous too.”

Does the above sound disgusting and ridiculous to you? Yes? That’s because it IS disgusting and ridiculous. They are literally the same arguments all colonizers make when faced with the prospect of being forced to return what isn’t theirs. Why is it any less so when applied to Jews? Because we’ve been away longer? Where is this statute of limitations on indigeneity? Nowhere, because it doesn’t exist. Indigenous status does not disappear unless the indigenous *people* disappear. And since we still exist, so do our rights and claims.

Still others will argue that we’re no longer indigenous to Israel because we’re not “pure” Israelite. Yes, that’s right – a blood purity argument. First of all, Levantines in general are highly mixed with foreign populations, often to a greater extent than the largely endogamous Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and other parts of the Middle East. Second, it’s not exactly uncommon for indigenous populations to absorb genes from those who have colonized them. Thirdly, Martinez-Cobo’s definition – which is still in use by the UN (although they too fail to apply their criteria honestly), anthropologists, and indigenous activists when deciding who is/is not indigenous – requires the population to carry the blood of the original inhabitants of the land, which we do. It does NOT require blood “purity”, because it is an impossible standard to hold indigenous groups to.

Ultimately, we meet all of the criteria on Martinez-Cobo’s checklist vis a vis Israel. Our ethnogenesis happened in Israel, and our identity, root culture, religion, code of laws, language, alphabet, and ancestry are all tied to that land. Jews, as a monotheistic outgrowth of the Canaanite pagans who had resided there for thousands of years, obviously predate any colonial conquest of the land. Moreover, DNA tests have shown, time and again, that we share common descent with the original occupants of Israel – the Canaanites, and the bedrock of our culture is indisputably Levantine. Yes, there were amendments made in diaspora, but our core culture has remained intact, and so has our identity. Hebrew is an indigenous language of the Levant, one of the last extant Canaanite languages. Even in diaspora, Hebrew was still used in liturgy, literature, etc, and survived in pidgin form (e.g. Yiddish) until it was revived as an everyday spoken language in the 19th century. Need I go on?

Another so-called “fly in the ointment” people like to bring up is the existence of converts. Converts have been rare for thousands of years, and always either married into the community (thereby contributing to the gene pool, rather than supplanting the Near Eastern ethnic matrix) or left within a generation or two, pruning themselves from the gene pool. And when counting recent converts (the only members of the Jewish tribe who one could reasonably argue have no Israelite blood), they are a tiny, almost vanishingly small minority of the global Jewish population. Not to mention that there are *many* indigenous tribes that have made a habit of adopting and assimilated outsiders. This didn’t nullify their indigenous status, and it doesn’t nullify ours either.

Lastly, we have the “all humans originate in Africa” argument. This one, perhaps more so than any of the above arguments, exhibits a complete lack of understanding of what indigeneity is and what it entails. Indigeneity is about ethnogenesis – where a people became a people. The human *species* originated in Africa millions of years ago, but most people today would be unable to trace their identity, language, culture, and ancestry to the African continent. We, on the other hand, are able to do all of the above vis a vis Israel.

Overall, if you care about indigenous peoples, believe in liberating us from the yoke of colonialism and potential extinction, and endeavor to preserve cultural diversity throughout the globe, then you must apply those principles consistently. You cannot call yourself an indigenous rights activist unless you believe all indigenous peoples are equal and have the same basic fundamental rights. Making an exception for Jews in this case is discrimination, and discrimination against Jews has a name: Judenhass.

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