opinion

Staying on message: Israel’s indigenous people

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While Jews have been persecuted over the centuries more than perhaps any other people, they can take at least cold comfort in the fact that their enemies almost always rely on outright lies to attack them.

Lies such as the blood libel that Jews use the blood of Christian babies to make matzah, that Jews deviously manipulate international banking, and now that Israel is an apartheid state, guilty of genocide and colonization.

These accusations are clearly, factually and demonstrably false, making it easy to brand those who spread them as rank anti-Semites. Yet, as Mark Twain was reputed to have said, “an early-morning lie travels ’round world before truth has time to put its shoes on.” 

We lovers of Israel are condemned to explain and document the truth repeatedly, because so many people still haven’t heard it — and the lies travel fast.

The latest outrage was committed by the Washington DC branch of a national climate action group, Sunrise DC, which bowed out of a voting rights rally because a “number of Zionist organizations” would be taking part. “Given our commitment to racial justice, self-governance and indigenous sovereignty, we oppose Zionism and any state that enforces its ideology,” Sunrise DC said in a statement.

You may want to read that statement again to fully comprehend its absurdity. Sunrise DC opposes Zionism, the nationalist movement for the reestablishment and support of the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland, because of the group’s commitment to “self-governance and indigenous sovereignty.” 

In other words, all peoples — including ethnic successors of colonizers — are welcome to self-governance and indigenous sovereignty … except Jews. 

According to Amnesty International, an indigenous people has (among other things):

•A historical link with those who inhabited a region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived;

•Distinct social, economic or political systems;

•Distinct language, culture and beliefs;

•Been marginalized and discriminated against by newcomers;

•Maintained and developed their ancestral environments as distinct people.

The Jews of Israel possess all of these characteristics. The Palestinians have none.

T

he Jewish people are the oldest surviving civilization — by thousands of years — with ties to the land of Israel. Jews have their own laws, religion, language and culture. The Palestinian Arabs do not.

The Jewish people held sovereignty in the Land of Israel on multiple occasions in history, only to be conquered, occupied, oppressed and then violently expelled — or to be more precise, ethnically cleansed. Whether in Christian Europe or Muslim Asia and Africa, and even in their own homeland, Jews were a subjugated people, constantly harassed and reminded that they did not belong. 

Yet even during the darkest moments of their exile, they never lost hope in a return to their homeland, and kept alive their distinct language and culture — firmly rooted in the territory that is today the State of Israel.

By all rights, such a people, who seized the opportunity to return home, liberated the territory from those who had occupied it with foreign settlers — buttressed and supported by imperial and colonial powers like the Arabs, Ottomans and Great Britain — should be the darlings of all who support “self-governance and indigenous sovereignty.” 

Indeed, Zionism is the ultimate act of self-governance and indigenous sovereignty. Only the Jewish people can make such a claim about their connection to their homeland in the Middle East. Every part of Jewish identity is tightly bound to the land that gave us our name. The term “Jews” originates in ancient Judea.

On the other hand, the Muslims who currently live in Israel or Judea and Samaria are the descendants of people who settled in the territory under colonial rule, Ottoman or British. Even those whose claims go back a number of centuries still identify their origins in Arabia, or were colonized by the language, culture and religion of the Arabian Peninsula, like the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. 

During the 1,300 years of largely Muslim rule, no occupying or imperial leader made the Land of Israel sovereign. Each conqueror oppressed the locals, whether Jewish or Christian, forced many to convert and killed others. 

Tellingly, the documents and titles Palestinians and their advocates like to wave in court are all, without exception, awarded by the Ottoman sultanate, an occupying power, to their ancestors — merely on the basis of ties to the colonial leadership.

Apologists for Palestinian indigenous claims now have a new tool — the children’s story “Uncle Meena,” by Palestinian author Ibtisam Barakat — which is being promoted in English classes in US public schools. This one-sided book’s most contemptuous view, promoted by the beloved Uncle Meena and endorsed by the relatable Noora, holds that Palestinians are like Native Americans (or “Red Indians,” as the story dubs them), while Israeli Jews are akin to white, colonizing cowboys.  This is the central theme of “Uncle Meena.”

According to “Uncle Meena,” Jews are new to their homeland — denying Jewish identity and erasing Jewish history. Ironically, this “cancellation” of ancient, indigenous peoplehood is the ultimate act of colonialism. 

Those touting and accepting this narrative complete the colonization: It becomes unimpeachable, because so many people accept it. It is the power of a lie that is not defeated. 

On the other hand, once Jewish history and millennia-long connection to the Holy Land — long predating the Islamic conquest and Arab occupation of the region — are understood and accepted, the Palestinian narrative façade shatters.

Those who use the language of “self-governance and indigenous sovereignty” are, perhaps unwittingly, siding with the colonizing and imperial occupiers over true indigenous people. They are signaling their social justice credentials — in the service of the great lie. 

However, ignorance is no excuse for racism. It’s time social justice warriors got a shot of integrity and stood up for the truly, factually      indigenous people of Israel — regardless of a misplaced bias against the Jewish people and Zionism — their 3,000-year dream of self-determination finally fulfilled.

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