how should we see ourselves?



Antisemitism is a bigotry that is over 2000 years old. It is colloquially known as "the world's oldest hatred." As Jews, we have survived layer upon layer of colonialism and imperialism. We have survived genocides (plural), ethnic cleansing, massacres, segregation, slavery, inequality, prejudice, and so much more. 

The good news is that we are still here; we survived, oftentimes by the skin of our teeth. The bad news is that antisemitism is so old and so deeply engrained in most societies around the world that it’s only natural that most of us (or probably all of us) have internalized some of the ideas that the non-Jewish world has projected onto us. 

To me, this is so tragic. We come from an ancient civilization that fundamentally changed the course of world history. Our peoplehood is 3000 years old. We’ve contributed so much to the world, both in antiquity and in contemporary times. We are creative, smart, spiritual, hilarious, brave, ingenious, resourceful, and a whole other list of positive adjectives. We are valuable enough on our own; we decide who we are.

Jews, you deserve to see yourself through the eyes of our ancestors, not through the eyes of our oppressors. 



The concept of Judaism as a religion is not a Jewish one. In fact, the word “religion” does not even exist in the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. The closest Hebrew concept is “emuna,” meaning belief, or “dat,” meaning law.

In ancient times, there was little distinction between a nation’s ethnic, cultural, national, and spiritual identity. For example, in the Middle East, nations tended to have a “national god.” Israel’s neighboring Assyria, for instance, prayed to the deity “Ashur.” Similarly, Israel, meaning “one who wrestled with God,” was named after “El,” which originally was one of the two most important gods in the Canaanite pantheon but later merged with YHWH, the Hebrew God. 

Because Jews are such an ancient people, there still is virtually no distinction between Jewish ethnic, cultural, national, and spiritual identity. That’s why we are “Am Israel,” or “the nation/people of Israel,” but we are also an ethnoreligious group. 

The word “Judaism” doesn’t come from Hebrew, but rather, from Greek. It’s how the Greeks described all of the things that encompassed Jewish culture and spirituality.

Further, the idea of Judaism as a religion can be attributed to none other than Napoleon. Napoleon granted Jews freedom and security to live as Jews — so long as they reduced their Jewish identity to a religious one, as opposed to a cultural and/or ethnic one. But why should Napoleon — who had a history of antisemitism, by the way — of all people, define how Jews understand our identity?


The Tanakh — the Hebrew Bible — was written as the tribal charter for the Jewish people, consisting of our tribal mythologies, oral and written histories, laws, and genealogies.

The authors — our ancestors — never intended for the Tanakh to be used outside of its intended cultural and tribal context. We never claimed that the Tanakh was a set of moral instructions for all of humanity.

It’s true that the first Christians were Jewish, but very quickly into the birth of Christianity, the Jews drew a line in the sand: being a Christian crossed the line from Jewish to not Jewish. It’s worth noting that in the Middle East, Christianity spread predominantly through proselytization and not by force (i.e. colonialism). This all changed when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. The continued existence of Jews, and of Judaism by extension, challenged Christian supersessionism — the idea that Christianity “replaced” the Hebrew God’s special covenant with the Jewish people. 

A similar issue arose with Islam. Islam teaches that it is the final, most authentic iteration of Abrahamic monotheism, thus superseding both Judaism and Christianity. Some Muslims believe that the earlier scriptures — beginning with the Torah — have been corrupted. This concept is known as tahrif. To reiterate, some people believe that we interpreted the scriptures we wrote wrong, and that they have it right. 

I personally believe that much of the resistance of the world to understand Jews as Indigenous Peoples is that in doing so, they’d have to understand that the Tanakh (or “Old Testament,” as non-Jews call it), the very foundation of so many societies, was appropriated from a confederation of Indigenous tribes.



The Jewish claim to the Land of Israel is rooted in verifiable historical record, archeological findings, cultural continuity, and so much more. The idea that Jews claim Israel based on religious supremacy is not a Jewish idea. But because the world took the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, outside of its intended cultural and tribal context without our consent, the world — and many Jews, sadly — has assumed that our claim to Israel is purely religious in nature, based on a religious fantasy or religious exceptionalism. 

Again, the Tanakh was written as the tribal charter for the Jewish people, consisting of our tribal mythologies, oral and written histories, laws, and genealogies. While the Tanakh is hardly a history textbook — like other groups 3000 years ago, the Israelites were prone to hyperbole — it is how our ancestors understood their history and their origins as a people, which means that, no matter how fantastical some stories are, they are a part of our real history. 

The Tanakh tells the story of the Israelites — our ancestors. It doesn’t, however, tell the story of other people…say, Pakistani Muslims or Irish Catholics. So for them, the Tanakh is simply religious scripture, not the oral and written history or genealogy of their people. But for us Jews, the Tanakh is actually our real history, and we deserve to understand it that way. 

Reverence for and connection to the Land of Israel is just as central to Judaism as monotheism. The Hebrew calendar, for example, follows the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. Many of the 613 Mitzvot (commandments) can only be carried out in Israel. Agricultural practices such as Shmita apply only to Israel. Many Jewish holidays are rooted in ancient Canaanite harvest festivals, celebrating the Land of Israel. Every year at Passover, we say “next year in Jerusalem.” We pray facing Jerusalem. The idea among Indigenous peoples that their land is a gift from a deity is quite universal. Denying the Jewish historic right to Israel is not only ahistorical, but also quite literally anti-Jewish.



Zionism is a Jewish political movement. Shouldn’t Jews — specifically the Jews who are Zionists — get to define what their movement is? So how did Jews define Zionism? And how do we today?

In 1897, Jewish delegates from across the world met for the First Zionist Congress. There, they defined Zionism in simple terms: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz ­Israel [the Land of Israel] secured under public law.”

That’s it. Beyond that, people who identify as Zionist don’t necessarily agree on anything. There are Zionists on just about every end of the political spectrum, with just about every view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Today, Zionist Jews define Zionism as the Jewish movement for self-determination in the Land of Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. Self-determination is a basic right under international law. 

But for as long as political Zionism has existed, antisemites have smeared and delegitimized it, just as they’ve done with everything Jewish, such as the Talmud, for example. Wilhelm Marr, the antisemite who proudly coined the term “antisemitism,” called Zionism “a foul Jewish swindle.” In 1903, a hoax, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was published in Russia, which purported to “reveal” the transcript of the First Zionist Congress. According to the Elders of Zion, when Jews met for the First Zionist Congress, they met to plan for world domination. 

No one, however, did more to delegitimize Zionism than the Soviet Union — the same Soviet Union that infamously marginalized and persecuted its Jewish population. 


Following the Holocaust, antisemitism became heavily associated with Nazism. As such, the Soviets, many of whom had long expressed antisemitic views (e.g. Stalin), began persecuting Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism instead.

Interestingly, however, the Soviets were never covert about the fact that their “anti-Zionism” was actually just antisemitism. In the 1960s, Soviet propaganda (such as newspapers) made blatantly antisemitic claims, including: “The character of the Jewish religion serves the political aims of the Zionists,” “Zionism is inextricable from Judaism, rooted in the idea of the exclusiveness of the Jewish People,” comparisons of Judaism to the Italian mafia, and claims that Israel was merely a means to an end of Jewish imperialism and world domination.

To strengthen their sphere of influence over Arab and African nations, the Soviets launched a covert operation against Israel, named Sionistskiye Gosudarstva, meaning “Zionist Governments.” According to KGB chairman Yuri Andropov (1967-1982), “We had only to keep repeating our themes—that the United States and Israel were ‘fascist, imperial-Zionist countries’ bankrolled by rich Jews.’”

It’s true that Jewish anti-Zionism has existed for as Zionism has existed. But Jewish anti-Zionism was nothing like the anti-Zionism we see today from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, whose interpretation of Zionism is totally warped by old Soviet propaganda. The Bund, for example, did not deny Jewish origins or connection to Israel. Rather, they saw Zionism as “escapism” and as an impossible dream (they were wrong about the latter point, because Israel now exists). But by the end of World War II, Bundists in Displaced Persons camps were even lobbying for the British to allow Jewish refugees into Palestine, and though they opposed partition in 1947, they supported a binational federalist state. 

All of which brings me to this point: it’s up to you whether you identify as a Zionist or not. But at the very least, while considering, I hope that you will define your Zionism or lack thereof by the Jewish definition of what Zionism means, because Zionism is a Jewish movement, and you deserve to understand Jewish concepts through Jewish eyes. 




The other day, I saw a Jew apologize for calling out Holocaust denial, because it “decentered” Palestinians. It really saddened me. Holocaust denial hurts Jews, and we have a right to call it out at any time that it shows up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with advocating for ourselves and for our people, and that doesn’t take away from advocating for others. 

Jews have been demonized for advocating for or defending ourselves since as long as antisemitism has existed. In the lead up to the Holocaust and the American involvement in World War II, American Jews lobbied relentlessly for the American government to intervene on behalf of their Jewish siblings in Europe. Unsurprisingly, virulent antisemites — and much of the American public — accused American Jews of being agitators for war.

One of the most notorious examples of this accusation is a virulently antisemitic speech delivered by Charles Lindbergh in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1941, when he accused Jews of trying to drag the United States into war. After the end of the Holocaust, the second in command at the Red Cross, Carl Jacob Burckhardt, decried the Nuremberg Trials, calling them “Jewish revenge.” 

In May of 1960, the State of Israel “extracted” Adolf Eichmann, known as the “architect of the [Nazi] Final Solution,” from Argentina, which had long provided a safe haven for Eichmann and his family after the Holocaust. The following month, the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 138, staring that Israel had “violated Argentinian sovereignty” and “endangered international peace and security,” and, as such, that Israel owed Argentina reparations. 

Similarly, after Israel rescued 102 hostages in the 1976 Entebbe raid, the United Nations tried to pass a resolution condemning Israel.

Just because antisemites would rather us not advocate for ourselves doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice ourselves for the “greater good,” nor should we place last in the hierarchy of which marginalized groups are worthy of advocacy. We shouldn’t have to wait for “our turn.” Our lives are worthy now. 

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