Zionism & Indigenous liberation movements
Indigeneity has a specific, internationally-agreed upon criteria. This definition was coined by the Indigenous-led United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This definition took decades to compile, beginning with the first meeting of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982, and was not finalized until 2009.
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues defines Indigenous Peoples as the following: (1) self-identification as Indigenous Peoples; (2) historical continuity with pre-colonial and pre-settler societies; (3) strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources; (4) distinct social, economic, or political systems; (5) distinct language, culture, and beliefs; (6) non-dominant groups of society; (7) resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.
Most people are not Indigenous. In fact, it’s estimated that no more than 5 percent of the world is Indigenous. Indigeneity is predicated on the continuation of land-based ancestral culture which predates colonial contact, not genetics. Having a percentage of Indigenous ancestry does not necessarily make one Indigenous.
The organization Indigenous Bridges describes Indigenous peoples as the following: “a nation with an ethno-genesis with a specific land-space; which has a unique culture, language, spiritual framework, dress and set of traditions which predate colonial contact, and which they intend to pass down to future generations.”
The idea that Jews cannot be Indigenous because “all” Indigenous liberation movements don’t recognize us as Indigenous is absurd for three main reasons:
(1) to classify as an Indigenous people, a tribe has to meet certain criteria, as was outlined in the prior slide. Recognition by other Indigenous revolutionary, liberation, or anti-colonial movements is not one of the criteria. An Indigenous nation halfway across the world is not the arbitrary of who is or isn’t Indigenous in another region, likely a region that the former is historically, politically, and geographically unfamiliar with.
Indigenous nations are not a monolith. Indigenous autonomy means that tribal nations get to define their own membership, not the membership of other tribes. For example: for thousands of years, the oldest continuous Jewish communities in Palestine considered all Diaspora Jews members of their own tribal nation. The Indigenous identity of exiled Jews is not for non-Jews to then redefine.
(2) virtually all Indigenous liberation movements have been smeared by colonial propaganda. Indigenous peoples are not exempt from believing said propaganda. Arguably no Indigenous nationalist movement has been the subject of as much negative propaganda as Zionism. There are various reasons for this: (1) antisemitism is 2500 years old and is as such known as “the world’s oldest bigotry.” This means that antisemitic bias is quite literally embedded into our systems, institutions, and cultures. (2) the foundational text of the Christian and Muslim worlds — that is, the majority of planet earth — was appropriated from our tribe. (3) Zionism has been subject to a disproportionate amount of worldwide attention because the State of Israel came to be in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, a very pivotal moment in human history.
(3) the claim is completely untrue, as I will outline in this post.
The notion that Israel or Zionists are not recognized by other Indigenous peoples and/or movements is incorrect. In fact, Israel and Zionists have long found solidarity with Indigenous peoples across the globe. For example Israel has a long-standing relationship with the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation, the Seneca Nation, and many others in the United States, the Ngāpuhi of New Zealand, as well as other Indigenous nations in the Americas, Australia, and more.
Despite the criminalization of relations with Jews or Israelis in most Arab and Muslim nations, Indigenous nations from across the region largely recognize Jews as Indigenous to Israel. Jewish solidarity with many of these tribes goes back millennia; for example, Jews and the Imazighen of North Africa formed alliances and participated in cultural exchange some 2000 years ago. Similarly Kurds have long recognized the struggle of the Jewish People. The “father of modernist Kurdish poetry,” Hecî Qadirê Koyî, wrote about the common Jewish-Kurdish plight in the 19th century: “Three nations live in exile, expelled from their place of honor: the Kurds, the [Roma], and Jews have gone astray.”
Since 1948, Israel has formed strong alliances with many Indigenous Middle Eastern nations. The Israeli relationship with Kurdish leadership, for instance, dates back to the early 1950s. In 2017, a referendum was held in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in which 93% voted in favor of Kurdish independence from Iraq. Israel was the only country to officially support the result of the referendum.
In Algeria, the leader of the Kabylia independence movement Ferhat Mehenni has stated: “the Kabylians have always had a bit of sympathy for Israel…During the War of 1967, Kabylie applauded the defeat of the Arabs.” In 2012, Mehenni visited the Israeli Knesset (parliament). In response to Mehenni’s visit, an official at the Israeli embassy in Paris stated: “The Israeli government supports Mehenni in his struggle for granting Amazigh minorities in Algeria their autonomy and the same applies to their counterparts in Morocco and Libya.”
Mar Awa Royel, the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, has expressed a desire for friendship with Israel. In 2019, an Assyrian delegate in Jerusalem gifted a Jewish delegate with a certificate highlighting the connection between Jews and Assyrians. There are many more examples, including Yazidis, Maronites, Arameans, Samaritans, and more.
“Linguicide” refers to the extermination of a language; that is, language death is caused by human intervention (e.g. colonialism, imperialism, language discrimination) as opposed to natural causes (e.g. natural disasters that decimate communities). It is considered a form of cultural genocide.
The death of an Indigenous language has dire implications for said Indigenous community. In fact, poor language health is often a reflection that an Indigenous community is in poor health, meaning that the community is struggling to survive as a result of colonialism and/or imperialism. Language death has far-reaching implications beyond the loss of speech. For most Indigenous communities, their languages are deeply interwoven with their very identity, collective histories, customs and social traditions, and more.
Like other Indigenous languages around the world, Hebrew came into disuse as a result of imperialism and colonialism. Though numerous Indigenous nations are interested in reviving their ancestral languages, the only language in the world to be successfully revived as an everyday tongue is the Hebrew language. For this reason, Israeli Jews have long assisted other Indigenous nations from across the world in their own language revitalization efforts, using the successful Zionist revival of Hebrew as a framework.
For example, Israeli linguist and language revivalist Ghil'ad Zuckermann is deeply involved with Aboriginal language revivalist projects in Australia, such as with the Barngarla People. In 2012, the Sámi People, Indigenous to the Nordic countries, sent a delegation to Israel to study language revitalization. In 2019, a delegation of Assyrians met in Jerusalem for the Committee for the Resurrection of the Aramaic Language, inspired by the revival of Hebrew.
According to Zuckermann, “Language reclamation will become increasingly relevant as people seek to recover their cultural autonomy, empower their spiritual and intellectual sovereignty, and improve wellbeing.” In other words, language preservation, reclamation, and revival is central to Indigenous liberation.
Jews and Israel have a long history of providing humanitarian aid to Indigenous communities across the globe. In Judaism, “tzedakah” — literally meaning righteousness but translating to something similar to “charity” — is an ethical obligation. Tikkun Olam — or “repairing the world” — is an important concept in Judaism. As of 2020, Israel has provided humanitarian aid to 140 countries or territories, some of which have no diplomatic ties with Israel. Some examples:
Since the 1960s, Israel and other Jewish groups have provided humanitarian aid, military and medical training, media assistance, schoolbooks, and even small amounts of arms to Kurds. In return, Kurds provided Israel with intelligence, both in regard to Jews fleeing Iraq as well as other geopolitical matters. In 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians with chemical weapons, Israel enacted a massive relief operation. During and in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, both Israeli and Jewish organizations from elsewhere in the world provided Kurds with significant humanitarian assistance.
In 2018, an Israeli NGO called Dream Doctors, a British charity called Road to Peace, Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry brought a delegation of Yazidis to Israel to train them in medical clowning to help children in the hospital or recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2019, Bar-Ilan University (Ramat Gan, Israel) and the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID hosted a two-week intensive workshop on post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder treatment specifically to treat survivors of the Yazidi Genocide.
In 2021 an Israeli company named Watergen partnered with the Navajo Nation to bring potable drinking water to their communities. An estimated 10,000 families across Navajo Nation lack clean drinking water.
As always these are just a few examples.
Unfortunately Jews are too familiar with genocide. Genocide is something that many other Indigenous peoples across the globe have also sadly experienced. For this reason, Jews and Israel long expressed Indigenous solidarity through genocide education.
For example, in 2009, 19 Amazigh educators and activists visited Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem.
In 2017, a delegation of Yazidi representatives, led by refugee, genocide survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and human rights activist Nadia Murad, visited Israel for the first time, making a stop at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum. In addition to Holocaust education, the purpose of the visit was for the Yazidi delegation to learn effective ways to memorialize the Yazidi Genocide.
Yad Vashem’s experts discussed methods of raising awareness and preserving and disseminating testimony with the Yazidi delegation.
In 2018, Chief Joseph RiverWind of the Arawak Taino Nation also visited Yad Vashem.
In 2010, Yad Vashem posthumously honored an Aboriginal elder named William Cooper of the Yorta Yorta tribe for his efforts in protecting Jews during the Holocaust. Similarly, Kabylian immigrants in Paris played a large role in saving the Jews of France during the Holocaust.
PROTECTING EACH OTHER
Jews and other Indigenous communities, particularly in the Middle East, have long protected each other during times of need.
For example, following the outbreak of the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli War, Iraq severely cracked down on the millennia-old Jewish community of Iraq. Though Jewish emigration was banned, both Assyrians and Kurds heavily assisted their Jewish neighbors in secret operations to flee Iraq. In the aftermath of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, Israel once again resumed its support of the Kurdish leadership, providing training, intelligence, military and defensive equipment, and more.
After the Nazis rounded up Parisian Jews on July 16, 1942, Kabyles spread pamphlets to their own community in Tamazight, stating the following: “Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested, the old men, the women and the children, in exile like us, workers like us, they are our brothers, their children are like our own children…When you encounter one of their children you must give them shelter and protection as long as the misfortune — or sorrow — lasts. Oh, men of my country, your heart is generous.”
Because few people in Paris read or even recognized Tamazight, the pamphlets were nearly impossible to intercept. A mosque rector called Si Kaddour Benghabrit was at the heart of the resistance network, sheltering some 500 to 1,700 Jews, who escaped through the city’s sewer system and eventually were transferred to the French countryside.
After the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, William Cooper of the Yorta Yorta tribe in Australia led a protest before German Consulate in Melbourne.
An Israeli Jewish woman named Lisa Miara has devoted her life to the rehabilitation of Yazidi survivors of the ISIS genocide. In the years following the genocide, the Israeli organization Shevet Achim, which brings children from the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and Syria to Israel for open heart surgeries, has brought a number of Yazidi children to Israel for medical treatment, despite bureaucratic difficulties, given that Israel and those countries remain at war.
WHAT REAL SOLIDARITY LOOKS LIKE
I think we need to reframe how we view intra-community solidarity.
It’s certainly true that many Indigenous communities and movements have expressed solidarity with Palestinians. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; Palestinians, like all people, are deserving of solidarity and compassion. But it’s also true that no self-determination movement has been subject to the attention that Zionism has been subjected to, for reasons I outlined in an earlier slide. Like all Indigenous movements, Zionism has been smeared and delegitimized. However, because Zionism has received exponentially more attention than other movements, this delegitimization has occurred on an astronomical scale. Indigenous nations from half a world over have likely been exposed to this delegitimization of Zionism, oftentimes without having a firm grasp of the historical and geopolitical intricacies of Israel-Palestine, and as such they are certainly not immune from believing propaganda.
Solidarity takes many forms. Not all solidarity takes shape in the form of waving flags at protests or viral posts on social media. The most visible kind of solidarity is often the least substantial. Real solidarity has depth. To me real solidarity can look like decades of research into Indigenous language revitalization, humanitarian aid, education, and communal bonds that go back thousands of years.
That’s not to say that we are perfect. We certainly have room to improve where Jewish-Indigenous relationships and solidarity are concerned. But to say that there is no recognition and/or no solidarity is objectively incorrect. Just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.
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