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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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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
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Expulsion and the Will to Survive

Historical Wrongs: Deportations and Expulsions

Assyrian Destruction of Peoples and Nations

Assyrian EmpireIn 1300 BCE, the Assyrian Empire ensured the docility of the nations it conquered by expelling peoples from their homelands, and replacing them with other deportees.  The best way for a nation to survive was to humbly submit as an Assyrian vassal state.  The northern Kingdom of Israel resisted, and its people becoming the Ten Lost Tribes.  The southern Kingdom of Judea acquiesced, and prospered for many years.  It was an era of displacement, great suffering, and the disappearance of many peoples.

Disappearance of the Dorset Eskimo

Between 1200 and 1500 AD, the Dorset Eskimo (known to the contemporary Inuit as Tunniq) disappeared from the archaeological record.  According to stories, the Dorset were powerful but timid people, driven out by the newcomers, the contemporary Inuit.  Whether any Tunniq survived, whether they moved elsewhere, is unknown.  It was a time of displacement, suffering, and the disappearance of a people.
(the Tunniq name, though not the culture, is used in the novel Quantum Cannibals)

Expulsion of the Jews of England

edward IIn 1290, Edward I expelled England’s approximately 3,000 Jews.  Having seized their property a few years earlier, he now declared that all money owed to Jews was owed to him.  It was a time of displacement and suffering, as the Jews wandered from one country to another, searching for security and stability.

Expulsion of the Jews of France

The Jews of France suffered the depredations of the Crusades, the burning of the Talmud, the seizure of their property, and finally, in 1305, imprisonment and consequent expulsion of a hundred thousand Jews by Phillip IV.  It was another chapter in their ongoing persecution and displacement.

Incan Mass Relocations

Machupicchu_hb10As the Incan empire grew in breadth and power, the native Incan population became smaller and smaller in proportion to the subjugated population.  Beginning in about 1400, the Incan rulers instituted the mitmaqkuna, where entire communities were relocated to serve the whims of the empire.  The able-bodied men became forced laborers for the Incan, dependent on whatever role the empire assigned them.  It was a time of great social upheaval, displacement, and the disappearance of many peoples and cultures.

Expulsion of the Jews of Spain

expulsion SpainPerhaps the most infamous expulsion of Jews is when Spain expelled its Jewish population, numbering at a couple of hundred thousand.  The Catholic authorities were afraid that Jews would cause the tens of thousands of recent forced converts to Christianity to slip back towards their old religion.  By January 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Muslim armies, and they could turn their attention to the Jews.  Fleeing to Portugal, North Africa, Italy and Turkey, they abandoned homes they had lived in for centuries.  The alternatives were conversion, the inquisition, or execution.  It was a time of displacement, suffering, torture or death.

Expulsion of the Acadians

Acadia was an area of eastern Canada ceded by France to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.  As the tensions between British and French continued to rise, the former wanted to make sure that the Acadians, descendants of French settlers, wouldn’t turn against Britain.  The Governor demanded they swear unconditional oaths of allegiance, but by the time the Acadians agreed to this, he was convinced that oaths were insufficient.  About 10,000 people were expelled in the period from 1755 to 1763, when France finally lost its last possessions in eastern North America.  It was a time of fear, suffering and displacement.

The Trail of Tears: Expulsion of the Cherokee

trail of tearsAlthough President Andrew Jackson’s military command and almost certainly his life were saved by Cherokee allies in 1814, he felt no debt of gratitude.  The Cherokee had signed treaties, but these all fell to pieces with the discovery of gold in northern Georgia.  The Cherokee turned to the courts for protection, and won a number of significant cases.  Jackson didn’t care, and proceeded to illegally force 17,000 Cherokee from their homeland.  About 4,000 died from hunger, exposure and disease.  It was a time of death, a time of tears, later known as “The Trail of Tears.”

The Long Walk:  Navajo

longwalkAnother infamous Indian removal was the Long Walk, the forced relocation of the Navajo.  Although Navajo relations with American settlers were initially peaceful, they disintegrated quickly as more settlers moved into their territory.  The U.S. Army went to war against the Navajo, destroying their fields, orchards, houses and livestock.  Some 8,500 Navajo were then marched three hundred miles in harsh conditions to what was supposed to be their new home.  Hundreds died of cold and starvation on the way; many more died at their barren destination.  It was a time of terror and privation, forever etched into the memory of the Navajo.

Internment of the Ukrainians
Internment camp for Ukranians

Internment camp for Ukranians

From 1914 to 1920, over eight thousand Canadians with Ukrainian ancestry were interred as enemy aliens because the western Ukraine was occupied by Austro-Hungary.  Businessmen, farmers, housewives and children were placed behind barbed wire because of a war they had nothing to do with; a war eight thousand kilometers away.  It was a sad period in the history of Canada, a time of hunger, fear and shame for the victims.

The Armenian Genocide

In 1915 the Ottoman government embarked upon the decimation of its Armenian population.  Deportations disguised as a resettlement program were really intended as death marches.  Convoys of tens of thousands of people at a time were marched into barren territory, with no armenian-genocide-02-jpgprovisions for food, water or shelter.  Up to a million and a half Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman/ Turkish forces, in the first attempt at genocide of the twentieth century.  Hitler viewed it as an inspirational precedent, as a license to kill mercilessly.  The Armenian genocide was the horror that paved the way for future horrors.

Stalin’s Deportations

In the 1930’s Stalin removed entire populations from their ancestral homelands.  Among the populations who were forcibly displaced were Azeris, Chechens, Ingush, Karachi, Finns, Meskhetians, Crimean Tatars, Black Sea Greeks, Kurds, Koreans, Kalmucks, Germans from the Volga region and Ukraine and others.  Many of those deportations are at the root of contemporary ethnic and national conflicts.  Stalin’s callous brutality led to decades of conflict and suffering.

Internment of the Japanese

JapaneseIn 1942, both Canada and the United States feared that their citizens with Japanese ancestry were potential security risks.  Over twenty thousand Canadians had their property confiscated, and were put into internment camps.  After the war, the government refused to let them move back to the west coast, forcing them to either war-ravaged Japan, or Canada east of the Rocky Mountains.  In the United States, over one hundred and twenty seven thousand Japanese Americans were interned.  It was a time of racism, displacement and loss.

Expulsion of the Lhotshampa

In the 1990’s over one hundred thousand Lhotshampas, ethnic Nepalese, were evicted from southern Bhutan in order to protect Bhutanese bhutan-mapcultural identity.  Living in overcrowded refugee camps in Nepal and India, their only option is to settle in a new country.  In 2008 the United States offered to take in sixty thousand Lhotshampa.  Other nations are willing to take smaller numbers.   Efforts at repatriation have been hampered by Bhutanese government resistance, and by the seizure of Lhotshampa land and property.  There is stress, there is displacement, there is suffering, but there is also hope.

Culture carries no privilege to exist.  Cultures do not have value simply because they are.  Some cultures, the world is better off without.”- Terry Goodkind

Conclusion: An Aggressive Creed

In the twenty-first century, followers of an aggressive creed are living as ordinary citizens in Europe, Australia and the Americas.  They have full rights, and not subject to any serious discrimination.  Many followers of this creed refuse to give up their aggressive ways, committing violence, while at the same time claiming victim status.  Bombing buildings and trains, marathons and airplanes, they exploit the sense of equality and justice of the societies they dwell in.  Thousands of ordinary civilians have been killed as a result.  If the followers of this creed are not expelled, or deported, it will be a time of terror, a time of tears.  Their callous brutality will lead to decades of conflict and suffering.

Palmira Silva, beheaded by Muslim convert in UK

Palmira Silva, beheaded by Muslim convert in UK

Europe, Australia and the Americas can’t reject expulsion based on what happened in the past.  It would be learning the wrong lesson from history, because it’s different this time around.  It’s not racism, it’s not nationalism.  The followers of this aggressive creed shouldn’t be expelled because of who they are, but because of what they do.  It’s the only way for western civilization to survive.

Your comments are welcome