Photo Credit:

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.

Advertisement



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.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisement

SHARE
Previous articleHow to Discuss Estate Planning With Your Parents
Next articleWhy Are We Fighting Over The Kotel?
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.
Loading Facebook Comments ...