Embassy Opening

Unconventional opening for indigenous embassy


Wearing colorful traditional costumes, native peoples from around the globe made speeches, sang, danced, beat drums and, in one case, sounded a giant ram’s horn on Thursday to celebrate the inauguration of the Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem.

The embassy will serve as an antidote to false claims by Palestinians that there is no evidence of Jewish life in Israel prior to 1948, when Jews allegedly arrived as colonialist invaders.

The embassy is in part due to the efforts of the Indigenous Coalition for Israel (ICFI), a New Zealand-based group founded by native Maori to counter the false narrative about the Israel-Palestinian conflict that has “taken hold amongst indigenous peoples” and “has often bled into antisemitism,” its website says.

“We recognize that Jews are the indigenous people of this land, and we stand with you and your struggle,” ICFI co-founder Sheree Trotter told the 200-plus audience.

The Land of Israel is the place where the Jewish “nation was forged, its language and sacred literature developed, the beliefs, customs and traditions began,” Trotter said. “It is the most sacred place in the world to Jews. … This deep connection to a particular land and its ancestors are defining features of indigeneity.”

While not an embassy in the ordinary sense — it will not represent governments of the indigenous peoples’ host nations or the indigenous peoples themselves — it has been recognized as an embassy by the State of Israel. The audience cheered when they learned from Gil Haskell, Chief of State Protocol for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, that the Indigenous Embassy was the 100th embassy to be opened in the Jewish state.

The embassy will be hosted at the Friends of Zion Museum in the center of Jerusalem.

Many of the indigenous representatives present were motivated by religious belief.

Xami Thomas, a representative from the Khoi, an indigenous people numbering some 15 million and divided into 20 or so tribes throughout southern Africa, Botswana and Namibia, told JNS, “Remember, G-d said to Moses, ‘Go tell Pharaoh that Israel is my firstborn,’ so we regard Israel as our big brother. And we love the Jewish people. … We don’t just see this as a way of coming to support Israel but also to make sure to let Israel know that her enemies are far fewer than her friends.”

Addressing the audience, Thomas apologized for “the horrible thing that the ANC [African National Congress] government did to this glorious nation. We are sorry. They do not represent all the Khoi or all the people of Southern Africa. They did not consult us and the allegations are without any substance,” referring to the genocide case South Africa brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“Anybody who says that Israel is not indigenous doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Because if Israel is not indigenous there is no indigenous nation on the earth,” said Thomas.

Greg Motu, a pastor of a Baptist Church in New Zealand and a member of the Maori tribe, also spoke of the spiritual influences that brought him to support Israel. When the British missionaries arrived, they taught the natives “the word that Hebrew men had written over centuries, over thousands of years.”

“Thank you for the culture and your history that you’ve preserved. It’s changed us,” he said.

Ate Moala, the representative from the Pacific archipelago of Tonga, described how in the 1700s Tonga’s king accepted the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “And [the king] said, ‘I give you my people for your protection.’ And he said, not only for him, but for every Tongan that comes after him,” she said.

Moala brought a message of comfort from the king and queen of Tonga, who said that the G-d of Israel who delivered his people before will do so again. “He will protect you during this difficult time in the war with Hamas and Hezbollah,” she said.

Among those in attendance were indigenous people from Tahiti, Hawaii, the Cree of Canada, the Hopi tribe in Arizona, the Arawak Taino from Puerto Rico, and the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee.

The event included a blessing by the indigenous representatives over the Jews present, and the unveiling of the embassy’s plaque. There was a festive atmosphere with plenty of spontaneous dancing. However, the significance of the moment was not lost on the attendees, who felt they were taking part in something historic.

Ateret Shmuel, director of Indigenous Bridges, a group dedicated to advancing indigenous communities globally, said, “Many years now I’ve worked in some capacity for the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples around the world. But only relatively recently did I begin to work for the rights and well-being of mine.”

As a career activist, she continued, “I watched in horror as people that I have known for decades, people who claim to care about human rights and indigenous rights, saw the worst genocide against Jews since the Holocaust, and took to the streets to support it.” They chant slogans for Israel’s destruction claiming that it occupies someone else’s land, she added.

“It’s not about ownership — that’s a colonialist concept. It’s more about stewardship and responsibility,” said Shmuel. “We are responsible for maintaining the well-being and perpetuity of the lands that we are indigenous to.”

“It’s clear that something powerful and epic, I daresay biblical, is taking place here,” she said.