“You are not really a Jew if….” Enough, already!

If there is one thing that I am truly sick of, it is the provincial, elitist, sectarian, and often racist attitudes that some segments of my people exhibit towards their co-ethnics. I’ve been a Zionist for about 6 years now, but contrary to what you might expect, most of the ignorance I’ve encountered did not come from anti-Israel activists. It came from other Jews.

For example, I’ve been told several times that I’m not “really” a Jew because only my maternal grandfather is Jewish (I found out last year that my grandmother was a gentile; to be honest, I’m still not used to calling myself 1/4 Jewish), that I’m not Middle Eastern at all because I have pale skin, that I’m not indigenous to Israel because I live in the United States and that only the people who live there (“true Israelis”) get to call themselves that, and that my European (Ashkenazi) and Ethiopian Jewish friends are likewise “fake” and/or “not really Middle Eastern” because they’ve either been exiled for too long or they have too much foreign blood (or, in the case of Ethiopian Jews, they simply don’t like black people). I guarantee that if any of these comments had come from anti-Zionist non-Jews, we wouldn’t hesitate in labeling them antisemites (and rightly so). So why is it acceptable when it comes out of our own mouths? Shouldn’t that be considered *worse*? If it’s unacceptable when it comes from non-Jews or antisemites, what makes you think it would somehow be better if WE said it?

All of the beliefs outlined above are dangerous, both to ourselves and to other historically dispossessed native peoples. For example, if Ashkenazim are now “white Europeans” for the aforementioned reasons, what does that say about Sephardim and Mizrahim? Our ancestors have been away from Israel just as long as theirs have (and in many cases, even longer). By this logic, we are all just “Arabs” and “Persians” and therefore have *even less* of an indigenous claim than they do. Moreover, this line of thinking endangers indigenous rights as a whole, because if our status has an expiration date, why wouldn’t theirs? And that’s without even mentioning how callous it is to tell Jews who have suffered antisemitism for incomparably longer and in incomparably worse ways than any other Jewish group that they no longer have the right to identify with their native soil.

Also, excluding people from the tribe just because their Jewish relatives have the wrong set of genitals? Do you not see anything *wrong* with that? Because I sure do. Ironically enough, Jewishness was originally defined via the father. It wasn’t until the time of Ezra (4th century BCE) that this practice was questioned, but even then we didn’t outright exclude non-matrilineal Jews. The matrilineal rule only became official in the diaspora circa 2nd-3rd century CE, because rapes were commonplace back then and it was often impossible to tell who the father was. Well guess what? We have DNA tests for that now. It makes no sense to continue enforcing this rule in the 21st century, especially since most of our Israelite descent comes from the Y-DNA line (that is, through the father).

As for the idea that fair-skinned people are “not Middle Eastern”, have you ever actually *been* to the Middle East? And I’m not just talking about Israel. I also mean Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, etc. Pale skin is not uncommon at all, nor is blonde hair, green/blue eyes, or even freckles. The view that Middle Easterners are uniformly dark skinned, exotic camel riders is ignorant and, yes, Orientalist. And last but not least is the belief that only Jews who live in Israel get to identify with the land in any way. In other words, diaspora Jews are as good as “foreign”. This view is ridiculous. We are only as “foreign” as an American-born Chinese or Indian person would be foreign to China or India, respectively. Diaspora Jews are indigenous to the land, just like you. Therefore, we have just as much right to identify with it as you do. Yes, you are the ones fighting Hamas, Hezbollah, and living under constant threat of rockets, abductions, murders, etc, but on that same token, we are the ones fighting anti-Israel propaganda, enduring racist abuse on campus, and working to ensure that worldwide BDS doesn’t become a reality. You need us, just as we need you. We are one people, one nation, native to the same patch of desert as each other, and our forefathers. Centuries of separation (from each other, and from our land) and differences does not change that.

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