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In my recent article for The Jewish Press, entitled “We Are NOT Indigenous”, I rejected “hasbara’s” unfounded position that we Jews have a right to Eretz Yisrael based upon “indigenous claims.” The reaction was explosive and generally hostile, particularly from those who treat this contemporary concept with the sanctity of the revelation at Sinai. Most responses consisted of invectives and slurs, with nary a cogent counter-argument.

After about a week or so, Hila Hershkoviz wrote an article for the Times of Israel, “Response to “Jews Are NOT Indigenous”, where she took issue with my position and defended indigenous rights. (It should be noted that her own interpretation of the definition of indigenous radically differs from other proponents of this position, both Jew and gentile.) Hershkoviz’s response was civil and she referenced Jewish sources. I immediately shared my response online with a link to her article, and encouraged readers to scrutinize both articles.

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While it was refreshing to see her engage in a reasoned discourse, I was disappointed that her article included the following statement:

“I also find it interesting that the author does not seem to be as troubled by countless other non-Divine-inheritance-based advocacy claims, such as by those who claim we have a right to be here, “because we need security/because Europe hates us/because we’re technologically developed/because Tel-Aviv has gay parades.” One must question why then does the author only choose to attack… us…?”

Resorting to pop psychology tactics undermines her position, since a bit of research would render her judgement inaccurate. Anyone who reads my articles will see that I address these topics and more. If I am to be characterized, I prefer an appropriate label. Don’t make assumptions about a person’s beliefs without engaging in research first.

The more critical issues in Hershkoviz’s article relate to her interpretation of certain Torah sources. I will attempt to address all points I think are relevant to the discussion. The challenge in doing so is that many of her responses relate to issues addressed specifically to other indigenous advocates, and her defensive posture on certain points may become confusing for the reader. When necessary, I will point out when a point was made in response to another hasbara personality.

Un-Jewish Interpretations: The Domain of Hasbara

The need to defend Israel by resorting to issues of “indigenous rights” is merely one manifestation of hasbara. The problem with hasbara is manifold:

  • it ignores real issues affecting Jews in Israel
  • defends practices and institutions that any truly Torah based Israel would abandon, and offers secular/un-Jewish positions that harms Israel rather than helps.
  • Hasbara is also a well-funded machine more interested in image than reality. It will use any source, be it an evangelical source, or a thoroughly G-dless position, to pander to the world.

I reject flawed efforts to defend our right to our Promised Land, just because hasbara types mistakenly feel that it is a good secular argument to reach the world. I feel it is a false concept that doesn’t apply to Jews and other peoples of the world. It is also irrelevant to the Torah Jew. The anti-Semites of the world are not interested in hasbara. How many pandering videos do we need to see where hasbara advocates interview mindless leftists on American campuses? You could repeat the same experiments and the same individuals would give the same responses. Of course Jews and Israel are the boogeyman!

The plethora of poorly stated arguments and responses in defense of indigenous rights as it relates to Israel speaks more of the need for Jews to believe it without analysis. One basic question should be asked first: Is it valid? Hershkoviz takes it for granted and prefaces her argument with the following:

“Jews are indeed indigenous to the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is the place where our people, culture, language, and deep spiritual worldview developed. It’s the cradle of Hebrew civilization. Although I’ve also noticed a recent increase in professional Israel advocates employing an indigenous argument as a tactic for promoting Jewish rights and justifying Israel’s existence (sadly without internalizing what it really means to be indigenous), Jewish indigeneity wasn’t recently invented by these people. For thousands of years, Jews have self-identified as indigenous, referring to Israel as “admat avoteinu” — “the land of our forefathers,” and even non-observant Jews were willing to die fighting the British in order to liberate what they viewed as their ancestral homeland from foreign occupation.”

My response: As a religious Jew who lives in Israel, I also feel a religious connection and passion for the land. I didn’t move to Israel for any other reason than the halachic imperative to reside here, if at all possible. I didn’t move for health or wealth. I recognize Israel as the heart of Jewish existence, religious development, the place of Kingdoms, and our two Temples. Throughout history, Jews have burned and yearned for Israel. Yet the term “admat avoteinu” which Hershkoviz references does NOT mean indigenous, nor did anyone who ever used the term have any conception of a modern term used by liberal sociologists and representatives from the United Nations. It is indeed the land of our forefathers, and Jews have bled from time immemorial to defend it and liberate it. I am fascinated with the constant archeological findings which confirm our presence in Eretz Yisrael. Yet this reality does not define us as indigenous. It is our ancient ancestral sacred homeland. Excellent, valid terms. But not indigenous! It is simply not an accurate term.

Ironically, within this paragraph, Hershkoviz took a subtle jab at other proponents of the “indigenous argument” whose views differ from her own. This exposed something that became apparent in many comments responding to her article. Jewish advocates for this concept cannot agree on a definition themselves! So in assessing this modern term, don’t we have a right to demand a proper definition of what indigenous means before even discussing the matter? Don’t we have the right to question why one’s particularistic definition has any validity over another? And these people always quote something from the United Nations to defend the term are being disingenuous. How often do Jews who aren’t knee-jerk leftists quote the U.N.? And why are U.N. definitions valid when they fit their personal agenda, but inaccurate when they apply it in a manner consistent with their anti-Israel bias?

The Problematic Canaanites Revisited

Hershkoviz continues with a discussion about the Canaanites, and notes that they are no longer extant as a people. This is a common argument that proponents of indigenous rights assert, since it avoids the unpleasant issue of a people we Jews were ordered (by Divine mandate, no less!) to destroy. Yet ignoring doesn’t make it go away. (How did they disappear? is the first thing that comes to my mind.) The Canaanite dilemma is particularly problematic for activists who maintain that “colonizers cannot become indigenous,” and a primary purpose of my original article was motivated by a non-Jewish advocates’ assertion of this position.

As far as those who argue that the Canaanites are no longer around, it begs the question. Does destroying another people entirely (correctly in this case, as per G-d’s decree) allow for the possibility for conquerors to become indigenous? As such, do Native American advocates from all ends of the spectrum have a problem with a country built upon conquest, because it came about without totally eliminating Native American” culture? Is the European “sin” that they are not indigenous? These are some of the difficulties which indigenous rights advocates for Israel cannot answer, since any response pigeonholes them. They prefer to wait in the shadows and speak in platitudes.

Hershkovitz cites Jewish sources as “proof” of our indigenous nature. My first statement in response to her sources, is a simple one. Neither she nor anyone else have addressed the most basic source of all, the very first Rashi in Genesis which unequivocally rejects the indigenous argument and declares G-d’s sovereignty over the entire world. He can give it to one people and take it away. I have a right to demand a response to this critical verse and commentary. Hershkovitz neglected to answer my questions. She continued:

“As for the biblical historiographic claim regarding the “Canaanites” (who no longer exist as a self-identified people), it should first be noted that the Ramban explains the journey of Avraham’s family to the Land of Canaan as a return to their own homeland. According to the Ramban, Ur Kasdim had been a foreign country that the family had previously migrated to. And on the verse Fuchs cites at the top of his article — “Avram passed through the land… the Canaanites were then in the land” (Genesis 12:6-7), Rashi states that when Avraham arrived, the Canaanites had been trying to conquer the country, but God desired to give the land to Avraham, in accordance with Noah’s division in which the Land of Israel fell to Avraham’s ancestor Shem and his descendants (our Sages, in both Talmudic and midrashic literature, unanimously identify Malkitzedek — the king of Jerusalem in Avraham’s generation — with Shem).

In their attempt to explain the word “אז” (“then” or “at that time”), other commentators, such as Ibn Ezra, also mention that the Canaanites were only in the land at the time when Avraham arrived, but not previously. The fact that our Sages and teachers are even discussing these issues reveals that the concept of indigeneity isn’t foreign to our authentic culture or identity. And when Yosef later tells Pharaoh that he had been “stolen from the Land of the Hebrews,” it’s clear that Canaan had been known by this name in ancient Egypt.”

My commentary: For a proper analysis of the sources, I recommend the reader refer to the recent piece penned by a colleague and friend of mine, Nathaniel Feingold, who collected and commented on many of the sources, including the ones addressed by Hershkoviz. Feingold’s article is necessary reading. While I will not cite the entire article, certain points are included, because they address sources she cites.

Regarding her claim that the Canaanites were conquering Eretz Yisrael from the descendants of Shem, during the times of Avraham, Feingold notes the following:

The idea that the Kena’anim were conquering Eretz Yisra’el from the descendants of Shem in the days of Avraham seems to find little support outside of Rashi’s comment on Genesis 12:6, even elsewhere in his own commentary. For instance, in his commentary on Numbers 13:22, Rashi indicates that Hevron was built by Ham for Kena’an, rhetorically asking if it is possible that Ham built Hevron for Kena’an, his youngest son, before he built Tzo’an for Mitzrayim, his eldest.

More explicitly, in his commentary on Genesis 1:1 and Psalms 111:6, Rashi reminds us that Hashem, the Creator of the earth, gave the land to the Kena’anim before He took it from them and gave it to Yisra’el:”

Regarding her position that Ramban views Avraham’s return as a return to his homeland, Feingold notes:

“Contrary to the claim that Ramban explains the journey of Avraham’s family to the land of Kena’an as a return to their homeland, Ramban explains in his commentary on Genesis 11:28 that Avraham and his fathers had always dwelled beyond the Euphrates River prior to Avraham.”

Though this article was shared on numerous blogs and online forums, including the Times of Israel article by Hershkoviz, NO ONE to my knowledge responded to Feingold’s analysis, which exposes the fallacy of her interpretations.

At the end of the day, the most basic reading of the text, along with the adjoining issues relating to the halachic imperatives of war, makes it very clear that there were Canaanites in the land. Any interpretations of verses which address the real love the patriarchs had for Israel, or scrutinize how long the Canaanites were in the land, were never intended to deny what every Torah believing Jew knows. The verses speak of conquest. There were Canaanites in the land! If we conquered the Canaanites how can we be viewed as indigenous? Hershkoviz isn’t bothered by this, but others accept and advocate for such a criterion. (I am not interested in the responses of those ignorant types who respond that we Jews are Canaanites, which has no basis in history or archeology.) A Torah based individual such as Hershkoviz must respond to my inquiry regarding the very first Rashi in Genesis.

Issues of Race

I don’t want to dwell on Hershkovitz’s next focus, my contention that indigenous claims are based on “racist, blood based theories.” I stand by my claim that:

“Indigenous rights” is a multicultural strain of thinking that ironically many normal Jews who usually reject such notions accept without question. They accept the definitions of indigenous activists, which always remain vague enough to avoid scrutiny, and are imbued with the kinds of racist, blood-based theories that would be rejected outright if suggested by any mainstream group. Anyone who cites “blood quantum” in any context, other than to provide a blood transfusion should trouble us. Such ideas certainly have no basis in Torah. Yet in this case, since a handful of activists are willing to apply this exotic term to Jews, many hasbara types enjoy the prospect of appearing native.”

My referencing of blood quantum related to the list of criteria that Ryan Bellerose cited in his article, “Israel Palestine: Who’s Indigenous?”, which was authored/developed by a representative of the U.N. Her subsequent foray into Jewish issues of lineage, our tribal ancestors, ancestry, confused me, since I agree with her and don’t see any commonality between concepts related to the preservation of Judaism: i.e. issues of halachic identity, lineage, etc. I agree with her that such notions in Judaism have nothing to do with racism. As a religious Jew, I accept all halachic categories, and understand that such issues relate to halachic concepts.

I have nothing more to say on this point. I still maintain that much of the argument for indigenous rights relates to more than just lineage or ancestry, but actual issues of “blood quantum.” Hershkoviz is welcome to read the plethora of available information online to see that many activists subscribe to such notions, which I maintain are indicative of multicultural racism. As far as her issues of western vs. eastern identity, I do not share her fixation. Judaism desires neither identity. We only require Torah. There are many wonderful manifestations of cultural differences from Jews across the world. Our true identity remains Torah.

No Fear at All

Despite what she maintains, I have no fear at all of my enemies, be they spiritual or physical. My disinterest in arguments other than Torah based arguments is simple. They misrepresent our only true claim to the land. And no amount of pseudo-intellectual theories, secular arguments, or hasbara will convince Jew haters that we are the true people of Eretz Yisrael. I don’t fear x-tians. I believe in stating Torah truths which the best gentiles will eventually accept if it is presented honestly, proudly, and without compromise. I don’t believe that we have any need for palpable arguments. And the record shows that no amount of hasbara will sway the minds of those who hate us.

Far from being brave, I see the advocates of hasbara, and those who argue for “Jewish indigenous rights” to be the fearful ones. They need the world love them, and they are desperate to have the false constructs of the United Nations apply to them. What could be a more timid, fearful drive than this weak-kneed pandering philosophy?

I disagree with virtually all of Hershkoviz’s positions on this issue, yet I was pleased to read that neither she nor the group LAVI which she is associated with, associates with or aligns themselves with missionaries or evangelicals. She noted that:

“As for the claim that “some of these indigenous rights activists have alliances and friendships with missionary groups and prominent messianic personalities” — I can’t speak for all Jews who identify as indigenous, but the LAVI movement with which I am associated not only opposes any cooperation or alliances with Christian groups, but also views missionary activity as a form of cultural colonization that we as an indigenous people must resist.”

Good for them. I would only add that many (perhaps most) of the Jewish activists on the hasbara scene arguing for some definition of “indigenous rights” have deep alliances and relationships with such people. These include many of those social media activists who are sharing her article. I will not belabor the point. The diligent reader can easily research this topic, and they will find a treasure trove of data confirming this.

“I FEEL Indigenous”

Hershkoviz concludes with the following declaration:

“You might claim indigeneity to be “un-Jewish” Mr. Fuchs but nothing feels more natural for me than to declare myself a Jew indigenous to the Land of Israel.”

What can I say? I’m glad she feels this way. Yet saying it is so, does not make it so. It reminds me of the claims of many well-intended but misguided Jews who sometimes claim to “feel kedusha”. Kedusha differs in that it is a true halachic concept which can be understood and recognized, not one that can be felt. Our psychological relation to categories causes feelings. In the case of indigenous rights, it is not true, and the purported feelings are merely the fantasies of those who require approval from those who celebrate the legacies of heart-fressing Aztecs, but demonize Jews. I have no need for such feelings. I enjoy the incomparable feeling of torah truths, and the comforting fact that G-d gave us the land of Israel.

Despite pilpulistic attempts to twist the sources, (in a way that the rishonim could never have fathomed!) we Jews are STILL not indigenous. Neither Rashi nor the Ibn Ezra had any such concept in their heads. They didn’t know about the U.N. They knew about Torah and what Hashem commanded.

We are not indigenous, and as a people, we Jews should refrain from identifying ourselves as western, eastern, or other. Our identity is Torah. Every inch of Eretz Yisrael belongs to us, because The Almighty gave it to us.

Now what can be more comforting for a self-respecting Jew?

#divinerightsnotindigenousrights

{With thanks to Nathaniel Feingold and Moshe Schwartz for their contributions. Nathaniel’s commitment to identifying and analyzing Torah sources with keen precision and rare insight is invaluable. Moshe Schwartz’s expertise in the tactics of evangelical/missionary movements is equally invaluable, and he uses his knowledge of these movements to educate Jews and expose their deceptive agenda. I am grateful to share a friendship with both individuals, whose unwavering love for Am Yisroel and Torah are inspirational.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Donny Fuchs made aliyah in 2006 from Long Island to the Negev, where he resides with his family. He has a keen passion for the flora and fauna of Israel and enjoys hiking the Negev desert. His religious perspective is deeply grounded in the Rambam's rational approach to Judaism.

23 COMMENTS

  1. The Jews, or Israelites, or Hebrews, are descendants of Ya’akov (Jacob), also called Yisrael (Israel), who was born in the Land of Canaan, that is the Land of Israel, which includes all the Palestine. So, the Jewish people are indigenous to the Land of Canaan, that is the Land of Israel, also called Palestine. The old Canaanites were also indigenous to the Land of Canaan, but they do not exist anymore.

  2. One item you didn't address is: Why did Yosef refer to his home as the land of the Hebrew -Ivrim? [Berei 40:15] – and Ivri is from Shem as it is stated: ולשם ילד, גם-הוא: אבי, כל-בני-עבר [Berei 10:21]. I also messaged nethaniel who you quoted – it is just a hole that was not addressed seeing that it was part of Hila's argument.

  3. One small point is that the rashi saying about canaanites conquering from shem is not necessarily a contradiction to the first Rashi or to the one saying that Ham built Hevron for two reasons: 1. Israel was sparsely populated as city-states. You can possibily have Philistines in one area, caananites in another area and a third (or fourth) group in other areas and 2. Israel does not equal Shem. Therefore Shem being there does not necessarily pose an issue to saying that Israel was given the land later. Consider – Esau/Edom and Lots children were from Shem (at least from the father).

  4. In principle, I oppose to any re-examining of our legitimacy of being the rightful sovereignty in Eretz Israel.

    We claimed out rights in The Declaration of Independece*. Our tights were recognized and approved by the world. That's the end of it – and no need to question it now.

    * "ERETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books."

  5. The Jews were in Israel long before the Arabs were. Therefore their historical right is certainly justifiable. True, original Canaanites may claim an even stronger historical right, but they are no longer relevant. Even Rabbi Kahane felt that historical Jewish presence was indeed a valid claim that the Jews had to their right to Israel, though not the strongest claim.

    A valid historical claim:

    "All this land is ours, historically." (R' Kahane, A Mezuza)

    “For Israel to change [its] Jewish character would be to turn those who created it on the basis of the Jewish historical right into liars and thieves.” (R' Kahane, They Must Go)

    The strongest claim of divine right:

    “The right of the Jewish people to the land is not based on human favors or historical residence. It is a title granted by the Builder and Owner.” (R' Kahane, They Must Go)

    All claims:

    "Israel is in the territories of Judah and Shomron and Gaza and the Golan by right, by claim of history, by decree of G-d.” (R' Kahane, Comfort)

    Source: http://www.mkwords.com

  6. Oh please. If you are religious then the Land is ours by Divine Decree. If you are secular, then Jews are merely a tribe that came to dominance from among other Caananite tribes and made up a mythological origin story to make themselves seem special. This can be supported with a lot of the archeological data that has been discovered in the last decade. In either case, the land is ours. This article is not helping.

  7. I’m religious but articles like this are what stings me about the so-called religious. Congrats, you might not like Israel’s enemies, but I’m sure they (now) love you. Lots of intelligence, but not a lick of wisdom.

    I can’t help but think of the Haredim before WW2 who argued with the Zionists that what they were suggesting were “non-Jewish” ideas. (fighting and building) More concerned about being right than doing what was right. In the end, who cares who was right? Too many Jewish lives were lost because of it.

  8. What is the goal of the indigenous rights claim? We already have our country. We now just need to have the courage and dignity to defend it from a Jewish perspective In fact let me just ask what is the goal of Hasbara in general? What are actual tangible results? I am not just speaking up going to a protest for a yelling match or a debate on a college campus against anti semites, but where is all this suppose to go and is it actually promoting a Jewish homeland or a State for Jews?

  9. I learned a lot form this fascinating article and from the equally fascinating and informative comments.
    At the end I think in practical terms it is more important that we keep justifying our right of occupying the historic Jewish homeland by proving we are indeed the Jewish Nation.
    And for that we should use the fundamental principles the original Nation was established upon, namely unity and mutual guarantee.
    And we should do this not only for the sake of theoretical purposes, to win arguments.
    Only through unity and mutual guarantee will we be able to solve our mounting internal and external problems and safeguard our continuing survival against all odds.

  10. You tell 'em, Mr. Fuchs! I'm so sick and tired of Jews trying to justify their presence in Israel via secular, left wing arguments!

    There are NO secular reasons for Jews to be in Israel! Just as there is no secular reason for murder to be illegal or for the world to even exist in the first place.

  11. The problem with what you are saying is that Yosef was addressing Pharaoh’s Chief Butler in explaining where he came from. That implies that there was a certain amount of Ivrim present so that it was known.
    Also you are assuming everything is all or nothing – the land of Canaan may be after the majority. The philistines were not from Canaan [Genesis 10:12] either the words אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מִשָּׁם פְּלִשְׁתִּים means they came from linage-wise from Mitzraim or it means they “went forth” ie they travelled from Shinar.

    In either case, it was called “The land of the Philistines [Genesis 21:32]
    -even though it was in the future borders of Israel.
    That is a counter-example to the claim that there were no other people with the future borders of Israel.
    Canaans’s area was actually along the borders – it states where ויהי גבול הכנעני, מצידן–באכה גררה, עד-עזה: באכה סדמה ועמרה, ואדמה וצבים–עד-לשע. [Genesis 10:19].

    It is possible that there were some others in the vast empty areas. Note the Lot saw vast tracts of land available – he chose to settle in a populated city – Sodom but it’s clear that there was plenty of room – also from the story of Yacov and Esau – where Esau went to the Land of Seir in order to allow Yaakov to be in the future borders of Israel with Yaakov’s large flocks. It’s again clear that there were vast areas of unpopulated areas.
    Who knows – maybe the Canaanites who were the majority wanted to get any strangers out just like the story of Sodom. We know that the Amorites were conquerors such as Sihon conquering the lands of Moab: כי-אש יצאה מחשבון, להבה מקרית סיחן: אכלה ער מואב, בעלי במות ארנן. כא,כט אוי-לך מואב, אבדת עם-כמוש; נתן בניו פליטם ובנתיו בשבית, למלך אמרי סיחון. [Bamidbar 21:28-29].
    This concept should not be surprising and that could be what they would do to others such as a possible minority of Semites.
    Clearly Canaan was the majority but can we say for certain that there weren’t other pockets here and there? People definitely travelled and settled in those days.
    I’m not sure you can state that with certainty that there were no others in the whole land aside from Caananites.
    In either case, I don’t think the answer to that affects your argument that the reason the land is ours is that Gd gave it to us.
    That is valid whether or not there were some others aside from the Canaanites living there in those early days.

  12. Nothing that you said is against anything I said.

    Let me make it into points to answer so we don't go in circles:

    1. Where does it say that in your words "the lands were given to Kena'an." They settled there – where was it granted?

    2. I didn't say that "That Pelishtim conquered part of it" – Does it say that somewhere? For all we know they settled on unoccupied land.
    My point was to show the terminology used by the Torah was calling it "the land of the Philistines" all you can learn from that terminology is that they were settled there nothing else in terms of 'rights.'

    3.You wrote: "The Tora tells us that the land, until HaShem gave it to Yisrael, was Eretz Kena'an."
    -all you can learn from that terminology is that they lived there and were the majority.
    You cannot either tell from that terminology whether they got there by settling empty land, by conquering or a combination. It doesn't tell much about 'rights' either.
    See point 2 above.

  13. Many of the things that you are writing are beyond the point and that really confuses the argument.
    I agree that 'rights' are not part of this – why get into all that?

    Don't use arguments such as Ramban says this or Rashi says something – remember Rashi said something to contradict you – that Canaan was conquering from Shem.

    Very explicit.

    Now you are challenging that – that's fine – but then don't use a Rishon including Rashi to back yourself up.

    I made three points. All points were to challenge your interpretation and implication from words.

    Let me again make some points:

    1. You use Ramban, A Rishhon, to to prove Canaan was 'granted' – then I can use Rashi who says Shem had it. The Torah does not say explicitely what the Ramban said.

    Furthermore that the Ramban says that Hashem gave it to Cannan to hold until Israel gets it does not imply that no one had parts of it before Canaan.

    Anytime someone owns something BY DEFINITION Hashem gave it to them – you cannot tell whether they had it the first or the last. Thus you cannot imply that from the Ramban.

    2. When the Torah uses "Land of SO and SO" it does NOT necessarily mean that they were there first;
    as you see from the 'Land of the Philistines.' Thus "Land of Canaan" does not necessarily mean they were first.
    Simple point. Maybe they were BUT those words do not show it.

    3. Nobody said Rights are implied – why include all that in your answer?

    The point is that just as Israel is called the land of Israel even if they weren't the first, so too for the land of the Philistines, the Land of Seir and possibly PARTS of the Land of Canaan.

    You have not proven it yet.

  14. By the way, I in general agree with your points. Arguing rights based in indiginousness or earliness is not the real reason.

    The real argument is that Gd runs the world and He decided to grant it to His people Israel.

    Nevertheless I think its OK for someone to say 'and furthermore, in your case, you weren't even there until recently.'

    It shouldn't be the only argument and you would be right to question someone for ignoring the main argument.

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