Arnold Flick
Arnold Flick

Original Sin 3: Jews are a people, not a tribe

A 1980s letter by Great Britain’s Prince Charles has recently been published. Charles writes of being persuaded by visits to Arab States that people, claiming to be Jews, who immigrated to Israel from Europe, were perhaps not really Jews deriving from Biblical times. Rather, as distinct from Sephardic Jews, they are of European origin and, not being Biblical, have no legitimate claim to Israel. And it is this immigration that is the source of the Arab-Israel wars, i.e. Original Sin: strangers, i.e. non-Jews, to the Palestine Mandate territory displacing legitimate long term, i.e. Arab, residents. Although I mentioned this long-held Arab position in my first Original Sin blog, it seems worth revisiting at greater length.

Let me pass on DNA, I am not expert. But let’s consider phenotype differences. Phenotype refers to that which is visible by ordinary inspection. It is obvious that many European Jews resemble Europeans more than they do Arabs whereas most Sephardic Jews resemble Arabs more than Europeans. Moreover, Sephardic Jews, as is true of Arabs and Eastern Mediterraneans, are subject to a disease called familial Mediterranean disease, and Ashkenazi Jews are subject to Tay-Sachs disease; there is no cross-over.

The Sephardic seem of Biblical stock; some Arabs claim they themselves are the progeny of the original Sephardic Jews who converted to Islam when they saw the true faith. Ashkenazi Jews are much more difficult to classify; my father was blue-eyed, my mother brown-eyed. Arthur Koestler examines this in his book “The Thirteenth Tribe” where he posits that Ashkenazim derive from a Caucasus tribe, Kazhars: migrating Jews fleeing North from Israel interacted with this tribe. This is heavily disputed, but it should be no surprise that 1500 years of Jews living in Europe led to a mixture of tribes, Halachic insistence on maternal line nothwithstanding, and that phenotypic changes followed.

However, to a Jew, none of this matters, and it should not matter to any modern culture. Tribes derive from blood lines, its importance still evident in the Arab world. Peoples or Peoplehood is a much broader inclusion and is the substance of nations. A People are a group where key characteristics prevail:

They, the in-group, see themselves as unique.

Outsiders agree that the in-group is unique.

The in-goup shares several or all of a unique culture, history, language, religion, land mass. They don’t necessarily have all these shared attributes (e.g. Gypsies are a people without land) but they share enough to define their separateness.


We Jews are a people; we are more than a tribe. Sephardics, Yeminites, Europeans, Indian, Black: we are a single people returning to our ancestral homeland. We owe no apology nor explanation to Prince Charles or the Arab world. Ashkenazim came to Israel as part of the Jewish people. They did not come to displace the small Arab population of the 19th century now called Palestinians and now grown, in part by Jewish medical care and by Jewish jobs, to their current large numbers. Using Ottoman deeds, Jews bought the land they settled; indigenous Arabs no more owned that land than I own land to which I have no deed; because I live next to a vacant lot does not mean that I own it. Even a tribal culture understands that there are boundaries to ownership.

It is time for we Jews not to be distracted by false arguments whose thrust is to delegitimize us and to delegitimize our State of Israel.

Arnold L. Flick, M.D. 3890 Nobel Dr. #1206  San Diego,  CA  92122

About the Author
Arnold L. Flick was born 1930 of secular, Zionist, Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. He has followed events in Israel since age seven when he first solicited for the “Jews of Palestine” on the streets of Los Angeles as a young member of Habonim. He was in Israel for four months 1990-91 and for two months 2002. He is active in the House of Israel Balboa park, a non-profit museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, that provides information about Israel to its 15,000 annual visitors.