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Theater of Fear

They did not foresee…  the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant

Aldous Huxley

We all like good Theater.  Something terrible happens to an innocent victim (or victims), the good guys scurry around trying to find out how and why the tragedy occurred, use all their resources to make sure the evildoers get punished, and it doesn’t happen again.  The audience comes away feeling that despite mishaps, the world is on the right trajectory, a safe place to be.

Take the theatrical aftermath of the recent bike path terror attack in New York City.  Or the van driving down a pedestrian mall in Barcelona.  Or the bomb outside the Ariana Grande concert in England.  Or any of the countless attacks in recent years, some resulting in some minor injuries, other killing dozens.

Closing the barn doors

In the Theater of Fear, a regular script is followed.  First, thoughts and prayers to the victims.  Then outrage, saying that the victims’ city/nation/civilization won’t be intimidated. Then the investigations, where government and police vow to get to the bottom of things.  The authorities take some action to make sure the same attack can’t be replicated.  Like closing the barn doors after the cows have died.

 In “Brave New World” non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation.

Aldous Huxley

Soon there’s a football game, or a celebrity does something scandalous and everything is under control (or at least forgotten) till the next act of the Theater of Fear.  Hopefully it will take place far away.  And the whole cycle is repeated.

What do the thoughts and prayers accomplish? They comfort the spectators, those not touched by the tragedy.  The outrage?  It masks people’s feeling of vulnerability.  Investigation?  It gives the population a sense that the terrorists are being dealt with.

Given enough time and resources, the investigators will be able to determine whether the terrorist yelling a fourteen hundred year battle cry was acting on behalf of some religious ideology.  They will probably decide that he was acting on his own, not part of some nefarious plot to take over the world.

re-defining liberty

It’s all Theater of fear, a diversion.  It doesn’t matter whether a terrorist is part of a tightly controlled organization, or acting on his own.  Sowing havoc doesn’t require great coordination, complex weapons or financing.  We know what the terrorists’ motives are.  We know what population they come from.  We know how to stop them.

But that requires abandoning the theatrics, the grand pronouncements of prayer, outrage and inquiry.  It means doing what we already know has to be done, even though it goes against the grain of what our advanced society is supposed to stand for.  The alternative is to succumb to the forces of evil, that have placed this drama, this horror upon us.  The Theater of Fear is for real.

Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time… somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those would manipulate and control it.

Aldous Huxley

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We, the Accused

Holding the Victim to Blame

Whenever there is a terror attack against Israel, the world media finds some way to make Israel the accused, whether for provocation or retaliation, for people dying or failing to die, for killing the terrorists, or failing to kill them.

Yehuda Elberg, with rescued cousin now living in Israel

Yehuda Elberg, with rescued cousin now living in Israel

This is not a new phenomenon.  Two thousand years ago, a significant Jew was murdered by non-Jews, and for two thousand years the Jews have been persecuted for his death.  In the current era, Jews are being blamed by anti-Semites for provoking the holocaust.  They have been blamed for its horrible death toll, with their accusers putting the blame on Jewish passivity, and failure to resist.  It is this latter blame that my father Yehuda Elberg addressed in a lecture approximately forty years ago.  He was a holocaust survivor, a member of the Jewish Underground in Poland, and part of the Ghetto uprising.  Immediately following the war he worked on smuggling Jewish survivors to Israel (then known as Palestine).  Below are excerpts from his lecture We, the Accused.

***

On the 35th anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, a great deal was written about this in Jewish newspapers the world over, especially in Israel. The influential Maariv carried an article by Chaim Baltsan entitled: “Yom Ha-Shoah 1978: Is it Different from Previous Years?” Among other things, Baltsan wrote: “Much has already been written and said about the heroism — and under the circumstances it was extraordinary — the heroism displayed by the Ghetto rebels and the organizers of the uprisings in the camps. We are proud of that heroism, we will always be proud of it. But not so with the Shoah, that dark and bitter phenomenon in which it is impossible to find even the tiniest spark of light. Yet we are compelled to couple it with the heroism and to utter words in the same breath. We have linked the Holocaust with the heroic uprising in order to conceal the unacceptability of the pain, more accurately the shame; when we recall how millions were led like sheep to the slaughter…”

the Armenian genocide

the Armenian genocide

In brief, they are ashamed of us, they are ashamed of the survivors as well as the fallen. We are guilty of having put on the yellow badge. Better we had all died than let ourselves be so degraded. We are guilty because we did not revolt against being locked up in ghettos; proud people do not allow themselves to be locked into cages like animals in a zoo.  We are guilty because we let ourselves be herded into cattle-cars and did not counter-attack the Germans with our fists…

I want to tell you about the individuals and let the Chaim Baltsans be ashamed of their own ignorance, their own narrow mindedness, their own heartlessness, their owned blindness to the heroism of the Ghetto even when that the heroism was not as spectacular as in the Hollywood film.

An episode from 1940:

They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground ... and they burned the Indians alive.'

They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … and they burned the Indians alive.’

The Germans had given the Jews out of a shtetl in that part of Poland which had been annexed to the Reich. They packed in Jews into trucks. One young woman with a baby in her arms was having difficulty climbing up into the truck. A German soldier politely took the child from her and helped her into the vehicle.  When she stretched other arms to take the child, he throw it to the ground.  The woman jumped from the truck.  The German pointed his rifle at her.  She didn’t budge.  He raved and raged and threaten to shoot her and the child.  She still didn’t budge. He then raised the muzzle of his gun and threatened to shoot all the Jews in the truck.  The woman dragged herself back into the truck.  When they arrived in Warsaw, she was out of her mind.

Who can evaluate the greatness of that sacrifice?  Who can measure the boundless love for her fellow Jews, that gave her the strength to make such a decision and incredible courage to carry it out?  The knowledge of what was going to happen to her baby burned so fiercely in her brain that consumed it.  Her nerves were strung so tautly that they snapped.  Yet she still managed to weigh and measure.  Her hands — a scale of destiny. In one hand the compulsive desire to remain with the child; in the other the lives of the few score Jews.  She made her decision and even succeeded in carrying it out before her unbearable anguish destroyed her brain.

Babi-Yar original art by Esti Mayer

Babi-Yar
original art by Esti Mayer

Hunger, fear and pain weaken a human being physically, and diminishes his mental strength.  There’s no need here to recount what the Jews went through from the beginning of 1940 until the summer of 1942.  In the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials you can find the testimony of one Herman Graebe, a German who was present during the slaughter of the Jews at Dubno.  A group of naked Jews stood at the edge of a ditch.  Behind them we Germans were loading their rifles.  Among the Jews stood a woman with a child in her arms.  The woman tickled the child, and began singing to it, so the child was laughing merrily when the German bullets cut down the mother and baby, and they both fell into the pit.

Psychologists tell us that when a person stands face to face with death all the emotions are paralyzed.  Terror, hope, anger, love, hate, all disappear at the moment when one looks death in the eye.  Emotionally he is already on the other side of the fight.

Our martyrs, however, demonstrated that it is not necessarily so.  Maybe fear has vanished, maybe all hope has died, maybe anger and hatred have been extinguished.  But one thing in this woman continued to live—love.  The emotion of love remained awake, strong, self-sacrificing.  I do not know any poem more lofty.  I’ve never heard any song more beautiful, never seen any deed more holy than the singing of that mother to her child in Dubno.  The chuckle of her infant, on the edge of the grave, sent out into the world’s void a resounding testimony of Jewish love and self-sacrifice.  The giggle of that child is the most exalted ode ever sung to the Jewish mother…

I come back to the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and I must begin with a prefatory observation.

Some years ago there was a fire in the movie theater where everyone pushed for the exits.  People stepped on each other.  More people died from the panic than from the fire.  Similarly, on a sinking ship, everyone tries to get to the lifeboats.  People grab the rope ladders out of each other’s hands.  The result: nobody gets to the boats.

ghetto sepiaThe Warsaw Ghetto was a flaming inferno, a sinking ship.  But what happened with the people there?

On the day before the uprising began it was like Yom Kippur Eve in a pious Jewish household.  People spoke quietly, walk softly.  A kind of reverential air spread over the Ghetto streets, a trembling, but not out of fear.  Out of exultation.  A decision had been made, responsibility assumed.  But it did not weigh onerously on the people.  It hovered over their heads like an aura.  A whole community of Jews went forth to meet the inevitable with the purposefulness, with a sense of mission, and one could feel the presence of the wings of history, the duty to future generations.  Some sixty thousand Jews marched forth into greatness within the almost festive tread…

We, the Accused

It burns me when I hear someone say that the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto saved the honor and dignity of the Jewish people. No! Jewish honor stood high even when Jews were expiring with a quiet, unspectacular death. It was the honor of the entire humanity that was in mortal peril. And it was the greatness of the Jews in the ghettos, with their sanctified life and their heroic death that saved the honor of the human species, and gave flesh-end-blood mortals back their image of God.

I said that Jewish heroism did not begin with the uprising; it also did not end with the uprising. I need not describe the terror, the anguish, the scientific dehumanization system in the concentration camps. According to all experience in history, according to all the laws of psychology, the survivors should have emerged from the camps embittered destroyers, venomous killers and incendiaries, filled with hatred for a world that had led to all this and then permitted it to go on. Their physical health was destroyed. Their homes were destroyed. But the image of God within them was not.

Overnight, upon the liberation of the camps, a social life was created, with culture, with ideologies. The skeletal fingers did not yet have the strength to hold a pencil steadily, but they were already writing books, issuing newspapers.

I could tell you a great deal about the wonders and the miracles performed by the brands barely plucked out of the fire. Instead, let me quote from a letter by Professor Zelig Brodestski, the then head of Britain’s Jewish community, written to the survivors in Bergen- Belsen after he attended one at their congresses, immediately after the war.

“It was difficult for me to accept the task of coming here to you.  I did not know what to expect, how beaten or wretched you would look But you presented me with e picture of a proud Jewish life, a picture which I shall use in order to instill more pride and more life into the Jews in England. I had thought that perhaps you had fallen in your own esteem. But I have never experienced a more dignified congress. I had thought you would look with anger upon the Jews from abroad, who were able to do so little to save you from the Nazi murderers: but you welcomed me with love and warmth, and you spoke to me candidly and earnestly.  I was afraid you would only weep and lament but you combined your tears with the smile of the eternal Jew.  I had feared your disillusionment and hopelessness, but you displayed a faith and a resolution which all the .Jews in the world would do well to learn from you.”

There is an old legend about the lack of Jewish faith and determination which has hoisted over the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees.  Two hundred and thirty five years later, when the Romans set fire to the Temple and the flames reached the mast, a whirlwind lifted the flag, the legend tells us, and carried it off to a faraway place to keep it safe for a future generation of Jews will redeem the Maccabean flag with their faith and determination.

To live and see this flag redeemed was my most ardent prayer and cherished dream since my childhood.  My dream came true in a strange and traumatic way. It was decades ago, the Warsaw Ghetto rose to fight a formidable enemy, and I was there when the blue-white flag was hoisted over the tallest building in the Ghetto.  It seemed to me that I had seen this flag before.  The dreamy blue and stark white flag was soon consumed by red flames together with the fighters.  It was then that I recognized the flag of my dreams.

Four years later in the Gulf of Lion, in the the harbor of Sete, over five thousand holocaust survivors boarded an old ship to fight the British blockade of the shore of Palestine, a ship later to be known as Exodus 1947.  Again I was there, watching the lineups of boarding passengers.  When I noticed the rolled-up banner under the arm of one of them, I immediately knew that this was the flag of my dreams.

I was not in the lines of battle during the Israeli War of Liberation and the subsequent wars of defense, but I knew that the Maccabean flag was there.  The legendary heroism, the devotion and self-sacrifice of the fighters are proof positive that the flag of faith and resolution inspired them.

***

We shall often be the accused.  But it no longer matters.  The flag that was over the Temple, over the Warsaw Ghetto, over Sete, is over Israel: it’s a flag that shall not fall again.

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National Suicide: The Death of a Nation

Lemmings are known for their mass suicide: jumping off cliffs, to die in the sea. Americans are not known for mass or individual suicide.

 

wrong to have fought back?

wrong to have fought back?

An Israeli man who was stabbed in the neck has been criticized by Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the Peace Now organization for fighting back and killing his attacker. Given that the alternative for the victim was to let himself be killed, Oppenheimer was effectively advocating a form of assisted suicide. A similar view was held by another great peace advocate. Gandhi said the Jews should have committed national suicide during the holocaust, and simply let themselves be killed.

gandhi-jews-racism

The lemming mass suicides were dramatic, stirring the hearts of television viewers just twelve years after Gandhi counseled the Jews to follow the same path.   Audiences would have been glued to the screen to watch people with yellow stars sewn to their clothes, commit national suicide by willingly stampeding to their deaths.

Suicide at Masada

Madasa2CD_600aThere is actually a story of mass suicide by Jews at the fortress Masada, but it took place before the advent of transportable recording equipment, approximately two thousand years ago. The best we can do is to re-imagine the story from archaeological remains, and the historical account of Josephus. The television series were reconstructions (in 1981, 2002 and 2015), rather than actual recordings of events, allowing for greater artistic and political license. The heroic story of a thousand men, women and children who committed national suicide rather than surrender to the Romans gripped the imagination of the world, and of the nascent independent Jewish nation.

Stories abound as well about Jewish communities during the Crusades who committed mass suicide rather than submit to the crueler predations of the Crusaders. While the rabbis who permitted this were praised in some quarters, they were roundly criticized in others.

Do such suicides set a precedent? Is the leader of Peace Now following Jewish tradition when he says a victim of terrorism should refrain from fighting back?

No.

The Masada story has been seriously called into question. Yigal Yadin, the lead archaeologist who promoted the heroic tale of national suicide has been accused sacrificing truth for the sake of myth. There are too many questions about interpretation of artifacts, too many archaeological remains that don’t fit the story. While there may have been suicides, they likely did not take the shape or scale of the heroic account promoted by Josephus and Yadin.

Suicide is often a response to stress or depression. But it’s not a Jewish response, especially to life-threatening situations. Josephus, a Romanized Jew, gave a Roman cultural inflection to the story of Masada. The silence of the Sages of the Talmud on an alleged act of national suicide speaks volumes; either they disapproved, or it didn’t take place.

Contemporary Individual Suicide

There are many ways for individual suicide, using a knife, a gun, or a noose. A person can instruct his doctor to give him a lethal dose of medicine, or provoke a policeman into shooting him (“death by cop”). He can climb into a poisonous snake pit, or bring the snakes into his home.

Contemporary National Suicide

There are many ways to commit national suicide. If you weaken the forces that protect a country from its foes, then it’s easier for them to stab its citizens in the neck, whether literally or metaphorically. When the police are prosecuted for protecting citizens, the level of protection will naturally drop. When laws prevent people from defending themselves, the foes of the nation, whether foreigners or citizens, have a free hand. The country becomes the poisonous snake pit.

When a nation is told by its leaders that it is sinful, that it is a source strife around the world, that nation will turn upon itself. The Biblical exhortations of Isaiah are happy children’s stories, compared to the evils impugned by “progressives” on America and the Western world. When the President’s Church Minister says “God Damn America,” you have to wonder if the leader of the free world answered “Amen,” and took upon himself the responsibility of making it happen.

Citizens of America, Canada and the Western world are being told by people such as Yariv Oppenheimer that it’s wrong to defend yourself against someone trying to kill you. The citizens of Cologne, Germany, were told that rape doesn’t matter; better not to offend the perpetrators. Sexual trafficking of children is kept out of the news.  And governments, to the chagrin of their populace, bring in more and more “refugees,” whose ethnic or religious group is responsible for most of this crime.

Lemming Suicide

It seems that America, Canada and the Western world are rushing headlong over a cliff, like the lemmings. But it’s not as simple as it seems. The lemmings didn’t willingly jump to their deaths. They were pushed by film crews anxious for a good story.

Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus)

Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus)

Americans aren’t metaphorically jumping off cliffs either, clamoring for wholesale immigration of people who want to change the nature of the country.  Witness the wild popularity of Donald Trump, Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen.  They’ve tapped into national revulsion to filling your home with snakes, many of which are poisonous.  Trump et al are considered pariahs or clowns by intellectuals and pundits. Like the lemming film-makers before them, these myth-bearers are also anxious for a good story, or rather a feel-good narrative, and they are willing to push their country off a cliff in order to get it. It’s the same story in many European countries.

Suicide is unnatural, and a bad way to greet the future, and so people are resisting having their nation run off the edge of a cliff. It may not make for a pretty story, but the alternative, killing the character of your country, is much uglier.

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Indigenous Jews, Indigenous People

inuit village

I’ve spent a lot of time living and working with Indigenous people. I spent a winter in the boreal forest with Indians, five hundred kilometers from the nearest road or telephone. My wife and I spent a winter in an Eskimo village. I’ve eaten raw walrus, raw beluga whale (while it was still alive), beaver, rabbit, caribou, and other stuff you don’t begin to want to know about.

The world recently marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, paying tribute to the six million victims. Well, Prime Minister Trudeau payed tribute to the victims, but refused to identify them as Jews. There have in fact been other holocausts, whether of Jews (think Chmielniki pogroms) or other peoples. Think American Indians.

Rabbi José Faur of Netanya, Israel writes of the Spanish American holocaust:

Not a single soul of the native population of Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Panama, Cuba, etc., survived. …in the course of only fifty years, the Iberian conquerors managed to reduce the population of native Americans from eighty million to ten million. By the year 1600, the population of Mexico was reduced from twenty five million to one million. This is the greatest genocide in recorded history.

Things weren’t as bad in Canada. In South and Central America the natives were a disposable labor force, enslaved to extract precious metals. Canada existed because of trade with independent natives, who trapped furs and exchanged them for guns and other implements which in turn, made their lives so much better. There were wars on or between native groups, sometimes exploited by colonialists and traders, but the slaughter was limited.

In the United States, the land the Indians lived on was often considered more valuable than the lives of the Indians themselves. Various military forces slaughtered whole communities, from infants to elders. At Wounded Knee the men were separated from the women, then ordered to hand over their guns. First the men were shot, and then the soldiers turned on the rest of the villagers. Such predations were so common that the Sioux population was reduced to dangerously low levels. The Lakota People had lost nearly 80% of their people. To keep their tribes and clans going, they raided settlers traveling cross-country, adopting their children into the tribe.

Jews were sent on death marches during the Nazi Holocaust. The Navajo were sent on the Long March. The Cherokee were exiled on The Trail of Tears.

But it’s not just a history of suffering that Jews as indigenous people share with Indians. In fact, when the first colonialists came to North America, many were convinced that they had found indigenous Jews, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, because of the many Hebrew-seeming practices. The Navajo and Eskimo for example, are very strict, on the issue of “Tumas Ohel,” contamination of a building by death. If a person dies in a Navajo Hogan or Eskimo igloo, the building is forever abandoned. The Eskimo will cut an opening in the wall of an Igloo to let the dead person’s spirit escape, similar to many Jews opening the window in the room of the dead.

Many Indians have a variation on the laws of “Nidda,” menstrual separation. They don’t send bloodied handkerchiefs to a rabbi for inspection, but have their own stringencies.

The Yucatan Indians practiced circumcision, the Incas had a ceremony that resembled Passover, and others had a form of “Yibbum,” where a widow had to marry her closest male relative. To the fifteenth and sixteenth century European mind considered the savages as indigenous Jews, joined together by practice and belief, if not by blood.

There were differences, though. The Jews clung tenaciously to their religion, whereas many South American natives were willing to accept Church teachings. Christopher Columbus was allegedly instructed:

In order that the Indians should love our religion, they should be treated lovingly, and should be given some merchandise and gifts.

Rabbi Faur continues:

Consider the common practice of snatching children from their mother’s arms and throwing them to be devoured alive by dogs, or smashing them against the rocks and throwing them to die in the mountains. The usual way to kill native leaders was in groups of thirteen, in honor of Jesus and the twelve apostles!

So much for loving treatment. The Spaniards were careful though to make sure that no one with Jewish blood, not even Conversos came to their colonies, lest they hinder the loving conversion of the natives.

Rabbi Faur explains the difference between the Jewish and Christian approach to Indians:

A determining factor in the Jewish attitude towards Native Americans is the Jewish view of the “other.” In Hebrew tradition, the “other” is not a “deformed” being, but only a different expression of the “image of God,” common to the children of Adam, the father of all humanity. The Hebrew term kamokha, “as yourself;” connotes a horizontal perspective. The biblical commandment to “love the other as yourself (kamokha)” excludes a vertical perception of the “other,” with all the monstrous consequences that this commandment had in Christian tradition.

Ultimately, the colonialists concluded that the Indians were not the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes. They knew that their own religion came out of Judaism. To link the savages to the Jews, was to link the savages to Christianity, was to link the savages to themselves. Indigenous Jews was not a feasible paradigm.

When I was in an Inuit village for a winter, my being Jewish was of little import. One woman remarked that I was lucky, because it meant I would go straight to Heaven when I die. A Pentecostal Eskimo explained his fervent beliefs to me, but never tried to impose them.  A friend of mine who spent a year working in Baffin Island told me he never encountered any antisemitism from the Inuit, only from the white support workers stationed there.

There are actually many Native American indigenous Jews. A friend’s Shawnee Indian name means “Walking Knife.” He made Aliyah, moved to Israel about

15th c. Spanish ketuba

15th c. Spanish ketuba

five years ago. Another friend of mine, a brilliant Lakota Sioux Jewish woman, is a warrior: a Vietnam Veteran, who also served in the first Iraq war. Her mother had moved from the reservation to city on the west coast. She found herself taking an interest in Judaism, eventually deciding to study for an Orthodox conversion. From her studies the mother finally came to understand the old parchment that had belonged to her mother’s mother’s mother. It was a Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. The rabbi overseeing her study told her she was a returned person, the taken away who finally comes home. My friend’s mother was drawn to Judaism because she was already Jewish, a descendant of a child taken on an Indian raid; adopted into the Lakota people, but somehow never removed from her birth tribe. And although very different peoples, the indigenous Jews and the indigenous Lakota share a core value: a person is defined by his obligations and relations.

scene from movie Little Big Man

Little Big Man

The kidnapped child, adopted into his captor’s tribe is a common theme in literature. The 1970 film Little Big Man (starring Dustin Hoffman) tells the story of a white child raised by the Cheyenne. The movie title was the name of an actual Oglala Lakota warrior who fought at the battle of Little Big Horn. The recent British television series The Last Kingdom tells the story of an English nobleman captured as a child by the Vikings, and raised as a Dane. In the novel Quantum Cannibals, Osnat is adopted by a cannibal shaman, and learns the ways of her captors.

It’s true that many Native Americans are attracted to popular leftist causes, such as the Palestinians. In some areas, Muslims are marrying into tribes, and trying to gain control Indian reservations. In New Mexico, they are grabbing at the Native Art business.

Some natives are unabashed Zionists. I will close with the words of a non-Jewish Indian friend, a Metis named Ryan Bellerose, one of the strongest voices in contemporary Israel advocacy. He starts from the position that Jews and Indians are both indigenous peoples: the former from Israel, the latter from their lands in the Americas:

Ryan Bellerose

Ryan Bellerose

You want to be Jewish? Learn what that means. It’s not just about wearing a kipah and doing Shabbat once in a while; it’s not saying a few prayers sometimes; it’s a way of being, a totality of belief, action and life. You are not white Europeans, you have to stop thinking like them let alone acting like them. You even have a blueprint for it: it’s called the Torah.

…you just need to start being Jewish. The longer I am in Israel the more I am seeing the effects of resisting assimilation on your people. The more I see how important UNDERSTANDING what being indigenous really is.

I believe that indigenous people need to stand up for each other, that we all have something to learn from each other and that it’s a two way street. I have learned a lot from my Jewish friends and I hope they have learned a few things from me as well. So take it from a Real Indian, the Real Jews are the ones who remember who they are and the ones who have no problem telling you who they are. I believe that indigenous people need to stand up for each other, that we all have something to learn from each other and that it’s a two way street. I have learned a lot from my Jewish friends and I hope they have learned a few things from me as well. So take it from a Real Indian, the Real Jews are the ones who remember who they are and the ones who have no problem telling you who they are.

Indigenous Jews and indigenous Native Americans are related through customs and through the oppression we have endured. We are tied together as indigenous peoples, and as warriors. We can learn from each other.

(This essay was presented as the Sabbath sermon at the author’s synagogue)
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“So this is how liberty dies

…with thunderous applause”

I’m a sci-fi enthusiast. I love The Time Machine, the many volumes of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series, and more. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Star Trek (TV and film), and Star Wars.  When my kids were young, I ran Star Trek role-playing games at my synagogue. We had the toys, the costumes, the books, the video tapes, and then the DVDs. I gave religious talks based on sci-fi themes. I was a serious enthusiast. The scene in Star Wars- Revenge of the Sith, where Padme observes “this is how liberty dies…” is to my mind a critical political observation.

So I’m trying to understand why I’m not in a hurry to see The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars movie. It’s not because I’m getting old. It’s not because I’m afraid that Disney ruined the franchise, or that the Jedi have turned into Bambi. I trust the Director, J.J. Abrams. He makes good films. Nor am I concerned that The Force Awakens will only have a short run in theaters.

The reviews are great. My children and grandchildren loved it. The merchandising is ubiquitous. But I don’t care.

This is how liberty dies

In Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian sci-fi novel Brave New World, the public is distracted from important issues by non-stop drugs and sex. In 1958, Huxley revisited Brave New World, examining contemporary western culture and finding that his dystopia had been realized. He concluded, to his dismay, that

what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies — the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant… non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature… are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation.

How liberty dies- Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

The Force Awakens is a distraction of the most fascinating nature. A new threat arises, thirty years after the fall of the evil Galactic Empire. We had a terrestrial equivalent to the Galactic Empire, and its end was sealed thirty years ago, with the appointment of the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev as leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The USSR was a utopian nightmare, whose goal was to spread its own brand of socialism across the entire world. Gorbachev dismantled its brutal system of central control, freeing the economy and allowing the people, and ultimately its subject nations the freedom to make their own decisions. Socialist oppression is for most of the world a bitter memory, its tens of millions of victims long buried. The few holdout states such as Cuba, North Korea, China and Vietnam are more concerned with nationalist issues than global ideological conquest.

We don’t have a new threat. We have the resurgence of a very old one. But it is just as dangerous as the unrealized Communist hegemony, and oh so much more depraved. While the Communist leaders had the ability to start World War III, they knew enough to back off, when actually facing it. Destruction of the planet was not an acceptable outcome.

How liberty dies Caliph of the Islamic State

The Caliph of the Islamic State

Islamic militants look forward to the apocalypse, the end of the world, to usher in an Islamic utopia. From Indonesia to England they have attacked tourists, schoolchildren, concert-goers, shoppers, transit users— anybody at the target location. There is no concern of avoiding collateral damage, when the intent is to wreak terror in a population you want to subdue.

Darth-Vader_6bda9114

The Caliph’s moral superior

Except in Israel, most western citizens will not be personally touched by terror. After all, there is a statistically higher chance of choking to death. Governments and media pundits respond to terror attacks by saying that terrorists don’t represent Muslims; I believe them. American political leaders claim that the Islamic State, ISIS, is not Islamic , and so there’s no need to worry about Islam’s growing reach, about increasing the Muslim population in the Europe and North America.

The leader of ISIS, its Caliph, has a PhD in Islamic Studies, and probably knows more than President Obama about what is and what isn’t “Islamic.” Nonetheless, many Americans, Canadians and Europeans will accept Obama’s assurances that ISIS is contained.  There’s nothing to worry about, even as the number and scale of terrorist attacks escalates. People can pay attention to their foes on the football field, or  the big screen. But this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause. The unreal, the irrelevant distracts people from the actual threats in their neighborhoods, in their cities, countries, on their planet. They pay attention to the menace in a galaxy far, far away.

How liberty dies Yazidi children

Yazidi children on the ground

So I don’t care about the new Star Wars movie, at least not enough to rush out to see it. There is more important, more gripping drama taking place in my own galaxy, on my own planet; it deserves my attention. And it’s not something where I am a passive viewer, unable to affect the outcome. I can write letters to the editor, I can express myself on Facebook. I can donate to organizations such as CYCI— The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq. I can support the politicians who recognize the seriousness of the threat, and have a strategy to deal with it. With Star Wars- The Force Awakens, all I can do is decide how much money to spend on tickets and merchandise.

This is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause and deafening ignorance.

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Rabbi Elimelech ’s Prayer of Fire

Monday, October 5, 2015 (Shemini Atzeret, 5776) is the twelfth anniversary of the death of my father, the renowned author and lecturer, Yehuda Elberg.  His novels and short stories were published in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, French, German and Spanish.  He was Scholar In Residence at Oxford University, and took part in summer programs in the former Soviet Union.  The following is one of his Hassidic tales.

 

Tehilla & Yehuda Elberg

Tehilla & Yehuda Elberg

Rabbi Elimelech ‘s Prayer of Fire

from Hassidic lore
Want

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Original art by Esti Mayer

If you think it was only in Givon that the sun stopped in its tracks, I beg your pardon, you’re wrong. It happened again when the tzaddik, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk was still a young man, and a disciple of Rabbi Ber, the holy preacher of Mezritch.

Rabbi Elimelech—of blessed memory—was on his way to his rebbe. As he walked along immersed in holy meditation, he suddenly realized that the sun was about to set, and that it was high time he said the afternoon prayer, mincha. He entered an inn at the roadside, and went to the kitchen for water to wash his hands, as required by law before saying one’s prayers.

The inn filled with drunken coachmen singing with raucous voices. Ignoring them, Rabbi Elimelech walked over to the corner, facing east to Jerusalem. Every fiber of his body was filled with exaltation of prayer as his holy lips parted to begin the Ashrei, when suddenly the innkeeper burst out of the kitchen screaming: “Who stole my loaf of bread?”

“That bum over there was in the kitchen,” said the drunk, pointing at the Rabbi. The innkeeper grabbed hold of Rabbi Elimelech, and threw him out. He dragged himself to some trees nearby. The Rabbi stood against one and began reciting psalms to raise his fallen spirits, so that he could recite his prayer, with a pure heart and proper devotion.

When he reached Psalm 29 and recited the sentence, “The voice of the Lord bursts into flames of fire,” a fire descended from heaven and engulfed the inn. The innkeeper and peasants tried to extinguish the flames, but it was in vain for the water they poured on dried up instantly as if devoured by the fire, and the blaze raged on.

Rabbi Elimelech —of blessed memory—had just begun to recite mincha when he caught sight of the fire. He stopped praying, and turned his face to the blaze. The flames were reflected in his eyes as if they, too, were on fire.

“You did that on my account, right? You wanted to vindicate my honor, right?” the tzaddik called up to heaven. “But I don’t want that kind of honor.”

By now the sun was setting at the horizon’s very edge. The time for the afternoon prayer would soon pass, and yet the Rabbi’s lips were sealed. He did not complete the Ashrei, but simply stared at the conflagration, and stubbornly remained silent.

In another moment, day would pass into twilight. Heaven’s window had already been shut against the evening’s dew, and beads of moisture hovered between sky and earth; they could neither fall nor rise. The sun’s rim hung to the brink of heaven, as a drowning man holds on to the rim of a well by his fingernails, with his last ounce of strength. The stars could not be lit until Rabbi Elimelech’s mincha reached heaven. The sky turned bloody, as if the day was to be snuffed out beneath the knife of a slaughterer. All the trees in the wood whispered: “Nu, well, so now what?”

“I won’t say mincha for you until you put the fire out.” The tzaddik remained unyielding.7-The-Plough-Inn-rural-scenes-William-Shayer-Snr

Ought I tell you what happened next? Clearly Rabbi Elimelech had expressed his wish, and the Lord—blessed be He—fulfilled it. The blaze disappeared; the inn remained undamaged. It was only slightly scorched by the smoke, so that far and wide it would attest to the greatness of the tzaddik. The holy Rabbi continued the Ashrei with deep joy. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, long forbearing, and of great mercy.”

As soon as the Rabbi—of blessed memory—had reached the closing prayer Aleinu, the dew descended in blessed abundance, and settled upon all that grows. The stars came out dancing, and covered the skies like jewels on a king’s crown. The Rabbi—of blessed memory—managed to get to Mezritch in time for the evening prayer, by a miraculous shrinkage of distance, I guess. The Lord loves his tzaddikim, and occasionally relaxes the laws of nature for their sake.

After the prayers, Reb Ber saluted Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk with the customary greeting “shalom aleichem” and added the words the angel spoke to Jacob when our forefather vanquished him, “For you have striven with God and have prevailed.”

Rabbi Elimelech began to tremble. He had not—God forbid—intended to challenge the Lord’s will. He merely meant to hold back a punishment.

The holy preacher consoled him: “If a mere mortal is not envious of his son or disciple, as our Sages have said, then surely even more so, our Father in Heaven would not be jealous. He takes pleasure in your compassion for his creatures.”

The grave of Rabbi Elimelech

The grave of Rabbi Elimelech

May the merits of the holy tzaddikim intercede for us, so that we be granted the privilege of serving the Lord with pure hearts and profound devotion.

Translated from the Yiddish by Shulamith Charney
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I’m Not Gonna Argue History

hebdoHow did we get here? It’s not what our civilization is about.

On January 7, 2015, Three black-clad gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” stormed the Paris offices of a satirical publication known for lampooning Islam, killing 12, including its editor, three political cartoonists and a police officer whose cold-blooded murder at close range was captured on a disturbing video. This resulted in a wave of  Islamaphobia, and baseless hostility to the Religion of Peace.  Why  did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the safety of its citizens at risk?

“I think everyone sees history through their own lens, and I don’t begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. This is what we see. And that should be valid. I’m not gonna argue history; I could, but I won’t.”

 The History of Pearl Harbour

On December 7, 1941, a Japanese air expedition on a humanitarian relief expedition ran into mechanical problems near Hawaii. Contaminated fuel, or something like that, led to

Planes accidentally crash at naval base

Planes accidentally crash at naval base

their rapid descent from the skies, as they hoped to land at Pearl Harbor to repair and refuel. American military commanders mistook the peaceful approach for an attack, and started firing upon the peaceful Japanese aircraft. The pilots, now in even worse trouble, had to unload their ordinance to lighten their planes. The Americans used this as an excuse to declare war on neutral Japan.

“I think everyone sees history through their own lens, and I don’t begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. This is what we see. And that should be valid. I’m not gonna argue history; I could, but I won’t.”

  The History of the Warsaw Ghetto

Jews like to live in close-knit communities (ghettos), to be near their synagogues, kosher restaurants, gymnasiums and banks. On April 19,

Burning the Warsaw Ghetto

Burning the Warsaw Ghetto

1943, a fire broke out in the heart of the Jewish community in Warsaw, Poland. The fire raged for twenty seven days, before finally being extinguished with the help of visiting German troops.  It was a terrible holocaust. Shocked, disheartened survivors were sent to Treblinka, where they were given food, shelter, and gainful employment.

“I think everyone sees history through their own lens, and I don’t begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. This is what we see. And that should be valid. I’m not gonna argue history; I could, but I won’t.”

 The History of Fort Hood Workplace Violence

On November 5, 2009, a mass murder took place at Fort Hood, Texas. In a letter to a Florida congressman, a top Army official wrote that the available evidence did not indicate the 2009 attack was an act of international terrorism. The official, at the time the Army’s senior uniformed lawyer, described the attack as “the alleged criminal act of a single individual.” Hasan was charged with mass murder, not terrorism. The government made it clear: Ft Hoodthe Fort Hood shooting was workplace violence.

“I think everyone sees history through their own lens, and I don’t begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. This is what we see. And that should be valid. I’m not gonna argue history; I could, but I won’t.”

 The History of the Selma Civil Rights March
Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel

Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel

President Lyndon Johnson was opposed to civil rights for black people, and did everything he could to stop Martin Luther King’s famous march in Selma, Alabama. It was Johnson (not the liberal icon Bobby Kennedy, as some fascists claimed) who set the FBI on King.  It was a time when black people stood alone, as Jews and other whites were busy protecting their own interests.

“I think everyone sees history through their own lens, and I don’t begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. This is what we see. And that should be valid. I’m not gonna argue history; I could, but I won’t.”
–Ava DuVernay, Director of the movie Selma (about Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous march), responding to criticism of her distortions of history.

 How did we get to the point of cartoonists being slaughtered? It’s a consequence of substituting fantasy for history, a consequence of pretending the history that you want to see is reality. When the people who shape how we look at history don’t care about accuracy, we lose the ability to learn from the past.  When the people who shape our view of current events don’t care about accuracy, we lose the ability to cope with the present.

 

MuslimTerroristOnPlaneSigneWilki-1

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Attacking Films, Attacking Freedom

Many Americans, including President Obama, are righteously concerned about North Korea’s seemingly blatant attack on freedom in its hacking of Sony Pictures, and the threats of violence against any theater that dares screen the movie ‘The Interview.’ The film’s depiction of the assassination of Kim Jong-Il goes beyond acceptable standards for the North Korean dictatorship. The threats go beyond acceptable standards for attacking films, attacking freedom.

Americans should be more concerned though about subtle assaults on American freedom. Assaults where the attacker’s identity is not known, where it’s not even known that an assault is underway. And as in some forms of computer hacking, the participants in the attack don’t even know that they’re being used in one.

America Attacking Freedom

From the 1920’s the American film industry guarded itself carefully from government regulation by imposing self-censorship. Religious leaders applied constant pressure to ensure that Hollywood upheld their standards of morality, in the dress of the characters and the values they portrayed. By the 60’s, the counter-pressure of the demand for profits began to overwhelm the moral codes, to the point that contemporary actors are often expect to fully expose themselves, as they participate in simulated on-screen sex. Morality, restraint was framed as attacking freedom. Censorship and sex swapped positions, as the former became a dirty concept, in place of the latter. On “The Simpsons,” when Marge starts a campaign against a violent children’s television show, she ends up having to defend a Michelangelo statue against censorship. The lesson is that any restrictions or limits are wrong. A cartoon cat having its head blown off is equated to renaissance art.

The fact, in short, is that freedom, to be meaningful in an organized society must consist of an amalgam of hierarchy of freedoms and restraints.
~Samuel Hendel

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives worked intensely to keep Communist influences out of American cinema. Recognizing the tremendous influence of Hollywood on American culture and beliefs, the Committee members understood that films by people who supported socialist ideology could easily sway the public. The heavy-handed blacklists created by the Committee provided fodder for the progressive self-righteousness of the 60’s and 70’s.North Korea

In the 21st century, flesh and sex are ubiquitous in entertainment. If the House Un-American Activities Committee were to be examine contemporary Hollywood politics, it would blacklist virtually all of its actors, producers and directors. Today entertainment media conservatives have to keep their beliefs to themselves. Repression and censorship is a two-way street.

So free expression is attacked by an enemy state, North Korea. Free expression is attacked by religious American moralists, by secular American moralists. Congress suppressed liberal Hollywood. Now liberal Hollywood suppresses conservative Hollywood, to the point of driving it underground.

Emirates Attacking Freedom?

But there’s more. Although American religious leaders have lost any say about what goes into films, this doesn’t apply to the Arabian Gulf States. The United Arab Emirates, especially Abu Dhabi, is working hard to attract entertainment production, offering tremendous cost advantages, but with certain strings attached, such as not offending religious sensibilities. While there is little profit to be had in being sensitive to the concerns of American religions, there are significant incentives to follow the rulings of the Imams of the Emirates.

johannwolfgangvongoethe134023And the Emirates are not just limiting their cinematic influence to Muslim moral standards. Environmental propaganda, funded in part by Middle Eastern oil producers’ campaigns against Western energy independence. Many Arab nations stand to lose a substantial amount of income if fracking opens up an alternative fuel source inside the United States. The actor Matt Damon seemed sincerely surprised that his anti-fracking movie was funded by Mid-East oil interests. Most of the films Abu Dhabi participates in are innocuous, such as The Hundred-Foot Journey, or Men in Black 3. Some are overtly political.

No one will contest that the ruler of North Korea is a lunatic. No one will contest that a nuclear-armed nation led by a lunatic is a serious threat to America and the free world. It’s harder to accept, and more difficult to respond to threats to freedom from friendly nations- ones we do business with. It’s hard to accept that the entertainers we obsess about are collaborating with foreign governments against our interests.  That they are, however inadvertently, attacking freedom.

The entertainment industry— movies, television— play a large role in shaping the beliefs and aspirations of America, indeed of the world. Who is shaping, who is controlling the entertainment industry? Who is shaping America, and to what end?

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
~Thomas Paine

 

 

Your comments, as always, are welcome.
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All Your Deeds Are Recorded In The Book

Eighteen hundred years ago Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi taught:

What is the proper path a person should choose for himself…  Know what is above you: an eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in the Book.
(Ethics of the Fathers 2:1)

While this is stating the obvious for believing Jews and Christians, for non-believers it’s an absurdity.  At least it was an absurdity till one or two decades ago.  Now it’s no longer a declaration of piety, but rather a statement of fact.  With the proliferation of security cameras, there are eyes all over the streets, inside buildings, elevators, buses…  All watched, all recorded in the book.

We think our private electronic communications are hidden from prying eyes, but anybody who has anything to do with Sony Pictures has discovered otherwise.  Supposedly hidden personal emails, cel phone numbers, hackedsalaries, social insurance numbers have been placed out in the open, where an irresponsible press has gone on a feeding frenzy, publishing any private embarrassing material they come across.

Anybody who uses Facebook should know the perils.  Many companies demand that potential employees hand over their Facebook passwords, so they can scrutinize their personal behavior and beliefs.  Many have lost their jobs over Facebook comments.

Search engines record everything you look for, so they can target you better with ads.  Google reads all emails on its servers, including every single Gmail document.  The company considers that users have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Reading your private book

Reading your private book

Although such snooping was part of the mandate of the American National Security Administration, people were still stunned as to how much personal information the NSA gathered.  But with simple, off-the-shelf technology and a six thousand dollar drone, any interested eavesdropper can listen to your phone calls, break into your Wi-Fi network, and peruse anything there.  Everything is recorded in the book, and the book is open.

In his nineteen forty-eight dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell described a world where the government watched everything a

Big Brother Is Watching- Everything Is Recorded in The Book

Everything Is Recorded in The Book

person said or did.  “Big Brother is Watching You” was written as a warning, but has ended up as a model.  What is perhaps most disturbing is that people have become complacent about it.  We traded our privacy, our personal space, for the ability to instantly disseminate videos of cats.

We’re not likely to get rid of Big brother in the near future; cute videos are a big part of our lives.  Instant business and personal correspondence have become too important.  Our friendships with people we’ll never meet take up a big part of our lives.

Digitial technology has the ability to instantly record and store everything its eyes and ears pick up.  And they’re picking up more and more every day.  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s concept of everything being recorded in the book is no longer scientifically absurd; humans have the technology to do it.  If there’s an omniscient God, It dwarfs humanity’s abilities in this field.

Another Rabbinic teaching offers a potential solution:

A fence for wisdom is silence.
(Ethics of the Fathers 3:17)

When you choose to speak, when you choose your path of action, do so in a way that you won’t be embarrassed if it turns out you are being recorded in the book— whether by the NSA, Google, or God.

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Aboriginal Americans & the Jewish State

Hijacking Planes

In 1968, Palestinian terrorists hijacked an El-Al plane, and got away with it.  They used the tactic repeatedly after that,entebbe12 with varying degrees of success.  The most infamous incident was the forcing of Air France plane to Entebbe, Uganda, and Israel’s successful rescue of the hostages.

Hijacking Feminism

More such rescue operations are required these days, but not of aircraft.  The Palestinians and their Islamist allies have taken to hijacking peoples and

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan

causes.  For example, in nineteen seventy five Betty Friedan, a feminist trailblazer, led the American delegation to an International Woman’s Year World Conference.  She was stunned by the conference’s anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  A 1980 Women’s Conference in Copenhagen had a huge portrait of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, a man at the forefront of the oppression of women, decorating the conference chamber.

Hijacking Gays

Queers Against Israeli ApartheidAlthough Israel is the only place in the Middle East where homosexuals are legally protected from persecution, Toronto’s annual gay pride parade has frequently featured the participation of “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.”  That homosexuals would promote a movement that brutally oppresses them points to the effectiveness of Palestinian hijacking techniques.

Hijacking Aboriginal Americans- a special publication from the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research

Zionism, An Indigenous Struggle: Aboriginal Americans and the Jewish State

The collection of articles in this publication examines the relation between Aboriginal American and Jewish issues, focusing on the perceived attempt to hijack the Native American struggle for rights and recognition into the framework of Palestinian suffering.  Native Americans are viewed as the quintessential victims, having suffered genocide, theft of lands and consequent marginalization.  This fits into the casting of the Palestinians as victims of colonialism and oppression.

The hijacking doesn’t just take place through protest marches and conferences.  A Wisconsin Ojibwa Indian told me of her fear of the inroads Muslims have made in the local native communities, marrying Indian women and then using their new status to gain influence in native affairs and policies.  An expert in Southwest Indian art claims that Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian Arabs have been buying Aboriginal American art businesses in Arizona and New Mexico, then selling “Navajo” art made in the Philippines.   When I asked him to write about this for our publication he refused, not even wanting his name mentioned.  “People have been killed,” he explained.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren photo by Tim Pierce

The left has long revered the oppression of native peoples, and tried to make the most of it.  Pretend aboriginal Americans such as Ward Churchill and Elizabeth Warren used ostensible native identity to advance their careers.  Steven Salaita, a minor academic who has written peans glorifying Palestinian suffering was supposed to join the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois; his overt anti-Semitism got in the way.

Also getting in the way is that many Aboriginal Americans aren’t interested in perpetually playing the victim.   It doesn’t fit their traditions or values.  And while they may have been downtrodden in the past, they don’t want that to define their future.  They want to make their own lives.

The Navajo, for example want to improve the efficiency of their agriculture.  We provide a link below on how the Navajo nation is working with Israel to improve its expertise on efficient irrigation in an arid climate.

Ola Mildred Rexroat — an Oglala Lakota Warrior

Ola Mildred Rexroat — an Oglala Lakota Warrior

Other aboriginal Americans are businessmen, professionals.  Many, both men and women, have served in the military, and cannot accept the reflexive anti-Americanism of the Palestinian agenda.  Many are devout Christians, and cannot accept the Muslim agenda. But more than that, they are themselves.  Native Americans are not anybody else’s stooge or weapon.  The attention from the left may be enjoyable for a time, but ultimately it is another form of cooption, another form of exploitation.  The Palestinians may claim that they are “indigenous,” but as our contributors deftly show, there is no moral or historical equivalency with aboriginal Americans.

***

Most popular opinion agrees that mankind has a common place of origin, whether in the Garden of Eden in some unknown location between the Tigris and Euphrates, or somewhere in Africa.  If you go back far enough, everybody on earth has common indigenous roots.

It’s when we start going only part way back that things get more complicated.  Populations have never been stable.  The Bible (cf. eg. 2 Kings 17) tells us how the Assyrians displaced whole nations, replacing them with populations from elsewhere.  If we prefer non-Biblical sources, speakers of the Turkic language group (Ottoman Empire) can be found far from their Turkish homeland, in China and Siberia, where they are now indigenous peoples.

Examples can be found in North America as well, such as the disappearance of the Tunnit (Dorset)peoples of the north, displaced by Inuit and Indians.  The Cheyenne were pushed out of the Great Lakes area, in turn coming into conflict with other Native Americans and of course the U.S. Army.  The Inuit battled the Ojibwa, Cree and Athabaskan Indians for territory.  Warfare   and population transfer happened both before and after the onset European colonization.  Are Native Americans indigenous to the specific places they now inhabit?  A bigger question is “does this matter?”

If we adopt a synchronic criterion of indigenous status, that is, a definition at a specific point of time, then everyone and no one is indigenous.  Whether we shout “1967,” “1948,” “1867” (Canada’s independence from Britain), “1763” or “1492,” we run into problems when indigenous status reflects a particular slice of time.  This simplistic approach may be useful for sloganeering, but our contributors take a more sophisticated approach.

Ryan Bellerose and David Yeagley, each coming from opposing sides of the political spectrum, observe how Native American rights are an attractive issue used to legitimate other causes.  Many movements have tried to appropriate or incorporate oppression of Native Americans into their own causes.   As Margaret Atwood pointed out in Survival, her guide to Canadian literature, the Indians have become the quintessential victims, doomed to forever remain so.

Jay Corwin uses a literary approach to negate the victim/ perpetrator narrative as it constrains both Native Americans and Jews, relegating them to a mythological realm.   As characters in such a realm, both Jews and Native Americans are condemned, unable to act to bring about their freedom.  Perhaps the real sin of Israel in the eyes of the world’s media is its refusal to abide by the rules of fantasy.  According to this paradigm, Israel has no right to return fire when it’s attacked.  Fantasy characters don’t carry real guns.  Bellerose, Yeagley and Corwin argue that refusing to be a victim doesn’t make one into an oppressor.  The attempted appropriation of Aboriginal American issues is form of exploitation.

In his “conversation with an Indian friend,” Bellerose lays out the misconceptions that facilitate lumping Israel and the Jews with the oppressors of Native Americans.  Once that grouping is made, it’s easier to build Native solidarity with other people who claim to be victims of the same oppressors.

Robinson discusses the ultimate expression of those misconceptions in his account of the Ahenakew affair.  David Ahenakew was an important Native American leader, earning the Order of Canada for his achievements on their behalf.  He was also a rabid anti-Semite, schooled in hatred in both Germany and Gaza.  He was ultimately stripped of the Order of Canada, and his racism denounced by other native leaders.

Ambassador Baker, in his article The Indigenous Rights of the Jewish People, explains the significance of a people being indigenous, in terms of history, politics and law.  He uses this to examine concepts of legality and illegality of the presence of Jews in various parts of Israel, rejecting nomenclature that delegitimizes that presence.

Mara Cohen has indigenous status in two worlds: as Lakota Indian and a Jew.  Describing the potential of dual status as a source of conflict, she explains how it rather provides the ability to see reality through a number of perspectives, and to move with ease between cultures.

Uqittuk Mark’s connection to Israel is Biblical, rather than political.  A devout Christian, he went on an organized Israel pilgrimage to see the land of the Bible.  His attachment to the land transcends the politics, while his experience as an Inuk (Eskimo) gives him a clearer perspective to understand the struggles over it.

Finally, while Palestinians and their supporters work hard to appropriate Aboriginal American identity and victimhood, Howard I. Schwartz explains why the early European colonists were convinced that the native people they found in North America actually were Jews: descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes.  Schwartz explains the ideology which led the colonists to interpret native culture as primitive Judaism, and then ultimately reject that interpretation when its implications became clear.

 What Cause Do Aboriginal Americans Belong To?

The injustices imposed on Aboriginal Americans are dramatic.  Their past suffering, their current travails stir many hearts.  Their impeccable credentials as victims make them a useful prop for many issues.

But to appropriate Native American issues to support other causes is another form of imperialism: taking from them what is exclusively theirs.  Although it’s tempting to equate so-called Palestinian indigenous rights with Native American indigenous rights, the essays in this publication demonstrate that this is a false analogy.  It is more: another attempt to hijack, to steal what belongs to the Indigenous peoples of North America.

See the entire special publication of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

Your comments are welcome