The TV comedienne Whoopi Goldberg demonstrated recently how far ‘critical race theory” has penetrated US thinking when she declared the Holocaust was ‘white-on-white’ crime. But race has nothing to do with skin colour, and Jews from East and West share a common ethnic origin in Israel, argues Laureen Lipsky in Israel Hayom:
A 360-degree loop of lies sustains the most common antisemitic falsehoods, which has reached a crescendo these days – that Jews are White and Judaism is just a religion, and that modern-day Jews have no long-term historical connection to Israel, that the land was ‘stolen’ from Arabs.
Skin color is not race, and the concept of race was actually based on skull shape. This outdated categorization is based on skull composure, divided into Mongoloid, Negroid, and Caucasoid. With the advent of genetic technology, race is now based on haplogroups and genes. Science has confirmed what Jews have known for thousands of years, that we are an ethnoreligious tribe, connected genetically.
Lighter-skinned Ashkenazi Jews have more in common with darker-skinned Mizrahi Jews than they do with any European. No racially White people, historically, both in Europe and in America, ever considered us part of their race, and they are correct.
The issue in America in terms of Jews’ mistaken identity is that many here are Ashkenazi, whose families spent a portion of the Diaspora experience in European countries. In Israel, the majority of Jews are Mizrahi, who lived in, but are not from Arab majority nations. All genetic Jews are from Israel, and even more specifically, Jews today have been traced back to Judea, the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi specifically.
Journalists and scholars weaponise the term ‘Arab Jew’ against Zionism, and ignore that Jews, Copts, Assyrians or Kurds were Arabised by Arab imperialism, argues Rahel Friedman in JNS News. They are the embodiment of resistance to colonisation.
The Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East are often inaccurately represented in academia and the mainstream media. Their rich, complex history is purposely obscured to undermine Zionism. Indeed, professors, anti-Israel student organizations, and influential figures have denied the unique indigeneity of Jews in the Middle East. Moreover, these groups have minimized the widespread historical subordination, persecution, and exile of Jews under Arab and Muslim rule.
Unlike the harmonious depictions of an interreligious coexistence before 1948, Jewish life under Arabic rule was characterized by subjugation and discrimination. The 7th-century CE Pact of Umar formalized dhimmitude across several Islamic societies. Those under dhimmi status would pay a special tax, wear a yellow badge (which would inspire the Nazi-era Jude star), clip the front of their hair, and reduce the heights of their residential homes and places of worship. In addition, Jews could not build new synagogues, stand at eye-level with Muslims, carry swords, ride horses, wear Sudras, or raise their voices during Muslim prayer time. Despite these restrictions, Mizrahi Jews preserved their longstanding cultures and communities.
Thus, the term “Arab Jew” is as offensive as inaccurate. These Jews — as dhimmis — were never considered Arabs by their counterparts and were not afforded equal rights. The Jews were seen as foreigners above all else.
Al Jazeera’s Susan Abulhawa demonstrates this obfuscation, concluding that Mizrahi Jews are Arab. “They spoke Arabic, ate the same foods as their Christian and Muslim compatriots, celebrated and partook in the same national events and traditions, lived by the same social protocols, and moved through their respective cultures as other natives did… [they] speak Arabic at home… dance to Arabic music, eat Arab food.”
Abulhawa is so engrossed in her anti-Zionist agenda that she neglects all historical and semantic accuracies — obscuring the significant distinction between “Arab” and “Arabized.” Like Copts, Assyrians, or Kurds, the Mizrahim were Arabized by military expansion and imperialism — but they are not Arabs. Their cultural heritage represents syncretism with accessible aspects of Arab culture, such as food, language, and music of Arab culture, rather than a definite embrace of Arab culture. Anti-Zionists suppress the truth of this discrimination, as it substantiates the necessity of a Jewish state. In similar motivation, they reduce the complexity of Mizrahi identity and erroneously label it as Arab identity.
Anti-Zionist groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace also seem to have an affinity for the term, using it nearly 600 times across their different materials. They partner with “scholar-activists;” university professors that abuse their authority and credibility. These academics revise history to justify their anti-Israel political agenda and deliberately mislead students.
The history and expulsion of Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa reverses the central common understanding of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, writes James Sinkinson in JNS News.
Few indigenous populations survived the centuries of onslaught on their authentic identity, and simply disappeared. Despite having second-class, dhimmi status imposed on them by Muslim rulers, Jews refused to relinquish their culture and tradition. They were made subservient to the majoritarian Muslims, who had arrived via invasion and colonization.
This history of conquest, occupation and colonization is one many anti-Zionists would like to hide, since it turns every popular Middle East narrative on its head. Today, strong forces and lobbies ensure that anything exposing Muslim colonial history is censored.
Only a few days ago, Nadia Murad, a former Islamic State sex slave, Yazidi human rights activist and 2018 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was banned from speaking at an educational event by the Toronto District School Board, because her story of mass rape and torture by Islamic State would promote “Islamophobia.”
In other words, students cannot be exposed to stories of persecution by Muslims because it might make other Muslims look bad. Truth be damned, history be damned—as long as no one hears the story of a minority in the Middle East that was treated as chattel in accordance with an extremist interpretation of the Koran.
Progressive leftists are so intimidated that they stop defending real victims, instead siding with the persecutors’ narrative. Murad, who has experienced so much horror and trauma, is not allowed to tell her harrowing story—despite being a Nobel laureate—thus compounding her and her people’s tragedy.
This singular episode speaks volumes about the Middle East conflict. Many—seemingly most—Muslim and Arab leaders cannot countenance a story in which they are the persecutors and not victims. They act to ensure that any mention of their history as conquerors, occupiers and colonizers is excised from the history books and banished from public forums.
It is for this reason that the history and expulsion of Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa is so challenging for Arabs and Muslims. It reverses their central common understanding of the conflict.
The story of Mizrahi Jews confirms that the Jews are the indigenous people of the region, who were conquered, occupied and colonized by marauding Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs imposed their religion, language and culture on those living there, including many Jews in the Land of Israel, who were converted at the point of a sword.
This is the reason some Palestinians in certain areas, such as around Hebron—the first Jewish capital city—have discovered they have Jewish DNA.
It behooves advocates for Israel to ensure the true history of the region is spread, despite threats. The story of Mizrahi Jews is the ultimate antidote to many of the lies told about Israel.
The false narrative put about by far-left organisations such as the Washington DC chapter of the Sunrise group that Jews are colonial interlopers runs counter to the reality for Mizrahi Jews who will resist any return to life as a minority under Arab rule. Elliot Kaufman writes in the Wall Street Journal: (with thanks: Liily)
Justifying such a politics has always required dishonesty. In its statement, Sunrise DC asserts: “Given our commitment to racial justice, self-governance and indigenous sovereignty, we oppose Zionism.” The third plank is particularly galling, as Zionism entails the return of an indigenous people, the Jews, to sovereignty in their homeland, where they’ve had a continuous presence since biblical times.
Asked Thursday about the exclusion of Jews and about Jewish indigeneity, the national Sunrise group didn’t elaborate. It issued its own statement distancing itself from that of its affiliate: “Sunrise DC made a decision to issue this statement, and we weren’t given the chance to look at it before it became public.” On Friday, after critics noted that other pro-Zionist groups had escaped the local chapter’s notice, the national organization issued another statement: “Sunrise DC’s statement and actions are not in line with our values. Singling out Jewish organizations for removal from a coalition, despite others holding similar views, is antisemitic and unacceptable.”
Sunrise DC didn’t reply to questions. Its original statement denies the Jewish connection to the land by calling Israel “a colonial project.” Like so much anti-Zionism, this stuff is the dregs of Soviet “anti-imperialist” and Arab nationalist rhetoric. For 2,000 years, Jews have prayed three times a day for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. It is crude propaganda to shunt Zionism, with its anticolonial struggle against the British, into the same category as, say, French colonization of Algeria. If Jews are interlopers in Israel, where is their home? If Israel is a colony, what is the metropole?
Next, Sunrise DC complains: “Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank cannot vote in Israel, despite the fact that these territories are occupied and effectively governed by the state.” That is untrue. Israel intervenes to protect itself, but Hamas governs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority governs Palestinian parts of the West Bank. Neither Palestinian faction has held an election in years, but Sunrise DC doesn’t mention that. That’s another anti-Zionist tendency: Don’t get worked up about Palestinian deprivation if Israel can’t be blamed.
Sunrise DC panders to American sensibilities by condemning Israeli discrimination against “Black and brown Jewish-Israelis.” These Jews may now be useful as a cudgel against Israel, but their history illuminates the necessity of the Jewish state. In the 1980s and ’90s, Israel airlifted thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia, rescuing them from famine and violence. Mizrahim, the “brown” Jews of Sunrise DC’s taxonomy, constitute a majority of Israeli Jews. They were absorbed after violent expulsions from Arab lands. Anti-Zionists now demand their return to life as a vulnerable minority under Arab rule.
Responding to a Jewish Currents satire, Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA, explains why Jews are an indigenous, Middle Eastern people – historically, linguistically, spiritually, ecologically and politically. Jews should build relationships with other Middle Eastern communities as they strive for land rights, cultural survival and self-determination.
Sarah Levin was surprised to find herself in the Jewish Currents satire, which featured Jewish activists fighting the ‘Jews as settler colonialists’ slur
The Jewish Currents’ piece was deeply troubling for a multitude of reasons, most notably because it ignored Jewish and Middle Eastern history from the days of the Bible through World War Two. Instead, it asserted that Mizrahi Jews, and organizations like JIMENA, have “mythologized” a Jewish link to the land of Israel, despite having lived continuously in the region for over 2,500 years. The article was filled with contradictions, mischaracterizations, and cherry-picked definitions of indigeneity motivated solely by a desire to exclude Jews and Jewish history. My history. Our history.
Issues around indigeneity as a whole are certainly complex. Still, there are specific historical, cultural, geographic, and spiritual truths that need to be taken into consideration when exploring Jewish indigeneity to the land of Israel and issues of Middle Eastern indigeneity as a whole.
For thousands of years, the Middle East has been one of the most ethnically and racially diverse corners of the world and is home to a multitude of indigenous communities including Jews, Bedouin, Copts, Kurds, Shabaks, Tabaris, Samaritans, Assyrians, Yezidis, Chaldeans (the list goes on…). The indigeneity of any one of these communities does not negate the indigeneity of another. Unfortunately, imperialism and colonialism has had a devastating effect on the religious and ethnic diversity of the region. Luckily many Middle Eastern communities in diaspora, like the Jewish people, have clung tight to their heritages, practices, and ways of living that indelibly root them to land and place. For Jews, it is this rootedness—not vague and ephemeral “ties”, but concrete, ongoing, unbroken practice—that connects us directly to the land of Israel and the Middle East. To deny this is to render it nearly impossible to have an honest conversation on Jewish and Middle Eastern indigeneity.
The Jewish Currents piece, however, arbitrarily defines the term “indigenous” as only applying to those colonized after the 15th century. This is at odds with well-established descriptions and definitions used by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and a host of non-profit organizations working on indigenous rights issues. The United Nations does not delineate indigenous groups based on time in a region or when their land was colonized, but instead :
“Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They have a special relation to and use of their traditional land. Their ancestral land has a fundamental importance for their collective physical and cultural survival as peoples.”
As we all know, the common language of the Jewish people is Hebrew, passed down to Jewish children from generation to generation as part of their shared patrimony as a link to Jewish peoplehood. It is no quirk or historical triviality that young Jews, as part of their rite of initiation into Jewish adulthood, learn Hebrew for their B’nai Mitzvahs. Hebrew, a Semitic language from the land of Israel, is closely related to Arabic and Aramaic, dates back to the second millennium BCE, and has remained the Jewish liturgical language for over 2,500 years in diaspora, regardless of the foreign lands we’ve lived in. Our language is rooted not only in prayer, but in the actual land of Israel where our Jewish faith was built upon our ancestors ecological knowledge of the region.
In so many conversations around Jewish indigeneity, we fail to mention that at its root, Judaism is an earth-based practice that is grounded in strict laws created in Israel to govern agriculture, land-management, environmental stewardship, and food security. The three Jewish pilgrimage holidays of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot are not just relics of our collective memories; for thousands of years, they have embodied and sustained the core of Jewish practice and ritual and have kept us deeply connected to the land of Israel and to each other. We would do well to acknowledge and learn how our Jewish ancestors observed these specific holidays as agricultural festivals that celebrated the harvests and natural elements of the land of ancient Israel.
As “wandering Jews” we’ve rightfully defined ourselves as a people in diaspora, dispersed from our original homeland and yearning for our ingathering back to our ancestral land. There is no better testament to this then the ancient Passover ritual of echoing the words, “next-year in Jerusalem.” This is not a construct of modern Zionism, but an embedded element of Jewish faith across race, ethnicity, and location. It is our 2,500-year-old cry for freedom and self-determination.
Sadly, like many other uprooted indigenous communities, Jews have been forced to live as “others” in lands around the world. In the face of threats ranging from forcible assimilation to violent genocide, we have adapted our earth-based practices to the environments we live in. We should be proud of these innovations and of the resilience we’ve displayed over generations of efforts to see our people destroyed. But does this mean we should not try to reclaim what’s been lost and forgo our tie to Israel because our exile began before the 15th century? Do they really think that divorcing ourselves from Jewish peoplehood will help solve the Arab-Israeli conflict?
What is most sad is that a Jewish publication seems intent on undermining Jewish self-determination (Zionism) while lifting up the rights of other indigenous groups in their quest for political self-determination. Because let’s be clear: the Jewish Currents piece was not, and scarcely claims to be, about affirming the rights of Palestinians. The piece was exclusively aimed at discrediting the claim that Jews are entitled to our right to self-determination. Whereas I proudly wrote that “Students will not be taught the lie that Jews are somehow foreign interlopers in our ancestral homeland,” the Jewish Currents yearns for a day when students are taught exactly this—that Jews in Israel are invaders, are outsiders, are foreigners, and ultimately, are expendable.
As Jewish Currents points out, indigeneity is about “naming power relationships in present-day conflicts.” If it is serious in this definition then it must look at the Arab-Israel conflict as a whole. Neither the status nor the history of Jews in the Middle East is reducible solely to a story of powerful Israelis and dispossessed Palestinians. Erasure or denigration (as “mythology” or as political opportunism) of the realities of Mizrahi history may make for catchy cartoon punchlines, but it betrays a fundamental disrespect for the full diversity of the global Jewish community. Our history, our rootedness to the land, and our indelible ties to Israel are neither mythology nor opportunism, and we will not stand silent when libeled as foreigners and invaders in the lands that nourished us.
For Jews, like most indigenous groups, the spiritual is political and also ecological, and we should not be afraid to lean into deep connections to the land of Israel. We can do so and uphold the dignity and rights of Palestinians and all other indigenous Middle Eastern peoples. As so many of us continue to support and identify with the decolonization of Israeli Jews, we should build relationships with other indigenous Middle Eastern communities and support them as they strive for land-rights, cultural survival, and self-determination. The lessons learned from our successes and failures as a dispersed indigenous group that has been successful in our quest for self-determination, can help the world find equitable solutions for oppressed indigenous peoples on every continent while simultaneously strengthening our collective ability to care for and protect our fragile planet.
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.