David Weinfeld, in a recent piece in the CJN, wonders if Jews can be indigenous to the Diaspora. To be clear, what that sentence means at its core is that Jews are from nowhere, that we aren’t from any place on earth. If you had to do a double take upon reading that you’re not alone.
Weinfeld begins by analyzing the situation, wondering what would happen if he claimed to be indigenous to Canada compared to the Mohawks of Kahnawake.
It is clear from the above that Weinfeld doesn’t understand the concept of indigeneity because throughout the entire piece he seems to use it as a synonym for ‘where are you personally from.’ Indigeneity is about where your people became a people, and in this case, where did Jews become Jews.
The resounding answer is that we, as a people, became Jews in Israel and the Levant. To suggest anything else is absurd.
Sadly, it is understandable that so many Jews fail to get the concept of indigeneity and even Zionism (the name for the political movement of the Jewish people reestablishing their indigenous homeland). We’ve been so colonized and Europeanized for centuries that the majority of us cannot even conceive of anything more than an Ashkenormative view of the world were Jews are white and the desire to return home only begins after 1840 when European antisemitism started to rise, culminating with the Holocaust. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are a Middle Eastern people whose tradition and religion centers around our land. It is as much a part of us as we are of it. Nearly all Jewish prayers contain a reference to Israel, Jerusalem and or the desire to return to the land. The fact that European Jews coined a fanciful term in the mid 1800’s does not make the idea novel in Jewish thought.
Further, Weinfeld wonders about Palestinian indigeneity to the land. For some reason this has become axiomatic and sacrosanct, so much so that those who question this ‘truth’ are often subject to ostracization and even demonization. I am willing to take that risk because people need to know the truth, regardless of how it will make them feel.
Even according to the United Nations, a place that is far from friendly to Israel, it is the Jewish people, and not the Palestinians who meet the standard for indigeneity.
Jews have a distinct language, culture and belief, as well as social and political systems (ever heard of Halacha?). We have strong links to the land – we pray to Jerusalem, our patriarchs and matriarchs are buried there, our Temple and Holy Sites are there. In fact, the name of our people even comes from there. Even the moniker Palestinian used to refer to the Jews of ‘Palestine’.
What is clear is that the Jewish people meet every single one of the UN’s criteria for indigeneity except for that of being a minority. What is unclear is why the fact that we are the only indigenous people to reclaim our homeland is being held against us.