"If world Jews were indeed a nation, what were the common elements in the ethnographic cultures of a Jew in Kiev and a Jew in Marrakesh, other than religious belief and certain practices of that belief? Perhaps, despite everything we have been told, Judaism was simply an appealing religion that spread widely until the triumphant rise of its rivals, Christianity and Islam, and then, despite humiliation and persecution, suceeded in surviving into the modern age. Does the argument that Judaism has always been an important belief-culture, rather than a uniform nation-culture, detract from its dignity, as the proponents of Jewish nationalism have been proclaiming for the past 130 years? If there was no common cultural denominator among the communities of the Jewish religion, how could they be connected and set apart by ties of blood? Are the Jews an alien 'nation-race', as the anti-Semites have imagined and sought to persuade us since the 19th century? What are the prospects of defeating this doctrine which assumes and proclaims that Jews have distinctive biological features (in the past it was Jewish blood; today it is a Jewish gene), when so many Israeli citizens are fully persuaded of their racial homogeneity? Another historical irony: there were times in Europe when anyone who argued that all Jews belonged to a nation of alien origin would have been classified at once as an anti-Semite. Nowadays, anyone who dares to suggest that the people known in the world as Jews (as distinct from today's Jewish Israelis) have never been, and are still not, a people or a nation is immediately denounced as a Jew-hater. Dominated by Zionism's particular concept of nationality, the State of Israel still refuses, 60 years after its establishment, to see itself as a republic that serves its citizens. One quarter of the citizens are not categorized as Jews and the laws of the state imply that Israel is not their state nor do they own it. The state has also avoided integrating the local inhabitants into the superculture it has created, and has instead deliberately excluded them. Israel has also refused to be a consociational democracy (like Switzerland or Belguim) or a multicultural democracy (like Great Britain or the Netherlands) - that is to say, a state that accepts its diversity while serving its inhabitants. Instead, Israel insists on seeing itself as a Jewish state belonging to all the Jews in the world, even though they are no longer persecuted refugees but full citizens of the countries in which they choose to reside. The excuse for this grave violation of a basic principle of modern democracy, and for the preservation of an unbridled ethnocracy that grossly discriminates against certain of its citizens, rests on the active myth of an eternal nation that must ultimately forgather in its ancestral land." (The Invention of the Jewish People, Shlomo Sand, 2009, pp 21-22)
What follows came at the end of an interview with "prominent aboriginal leader" Noel Pearson on the ABC's Radio National:
Noel Pearson: Part of the challenge of Indigenous recovery will be for the state to retreat while we build Indigenous responsibility and rebuild Indigenous people taking charge of their own lives.
Emily Bourke: And he's appealed to Aboriginal Australians to consider the experiences of the Jewish community.
Noel Pearson: They are a community who have never forgotten history and they never allow anybody else to forget history. They fight staunchly in defence of the truth. They fight relentlessly against discrimination but what they have worked out as a people is that they never make their history a burden for the future." (Pearson slams Native Title laws, AM, 9/2/10)
What does Pearson mean in that final soundbyte? Who precisely does he mean by "they?" The Australian Jewish community only? Jews in general? Israelis? And what "history" exactly is it that "they" have never forgotten? And that second sentence about "fight[ing] staunchly for the truth," what is that supposed to mean? All Jews? Albert Einstein? Colin Rubinstein? Antony Loewenstein? What about "fighting relentlessly against discrimination?" How then does he explain Israel and all its works? Are "they" a "people" or a faith? And whatever does "they never make their history a burden for the future" mean?
Pearson's comment recalls for me the following disturbing anecdote in Australian doctor Howard Goldenberg's* new book Raft: "In his closing words, Goldenberg, an orthodox Jew, incongruously likens the Australian Aboriginals' struggle to that of Israel. He quotes an Aboriginal man as telling his son: 'Us mob gotta learn from your mob'. 'What do you mean?' asks his son. 'I mean - you mob, you got your land back, you got your culture, you got your pride... We gotta be like that'. Its a pill too bitter to swallow. If this doctor is advocating Israeli settler colonialism (with all its parallels to white Australian settler colonialism) as a righteous model for Australia's Aboriginal people, some readers may find themselves seeking a second opinion." (From the review by Mat Ward, Green Left Weekly, 27/1/10)
[*See my 7/8/09 post A Tale of Two Interviews]
What exactly is going on here? Here's a clue: "The Jewish community is actively involved in the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal... Australians and the broader Australian people. In 1996 the Advisory Group for Faith Communities to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation elected the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) representative as its Convenor, and he participated in the Renewal of the Nation's Congress, for 1,500 invited delegates in May this year . Jewish groups and individuals are amongst the most active in the community in developing projects with, and in support of, Indigenous Australians.' (J.O.I.N. Australian Jewish Community, join.org.au)
On the face of it, such endeavours would seem admirable, but the involvement of Israel lobby group ECAJ suggests the possibility that, whatever benefits may accrue to Australia'a indigenous people from such contacts, they also provide Australian Zionists with an opportunity to portray their settler-colonial project in Palestine, with all that that entails by way of Palestinian dispossession, as a case of dinky-di indigenes winning back control of 'their' ancestral homeland.
The business of Zionist colonials masquerading as natives who miraculously managed to win back what had once been 'theirs' certainly seems to be thriving in Canada. For example, leading Canadian Zionist politician and academic Irwin Cotler has developed a great little sales pitch: "For Israel, rooted in the Jewish people, as an Abrahamic people, is a prototypical First Nation or aboriginal people, just as the Jewish religion is a prototypical aboriginal relgion, the first of the Abrahamic religions. In a word, the Jewish people is the only people that still inhabits the same land, embraces the same religion, studies the same Torah, hearkens to the same prophets, speaks the same aboriginal language - Hebrew - and bears the same aboriginal name, Israel, as it did 3,500 years ago. Israel, then, is the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish people across space and time. It is not just a homeland for the Jewish people, a place of refuge, asylum and protection. It is the homeland of the Jewish people, wherever and whenever it may be, and its birth certificate originates in its inception as a First Nation, and not simply, however important, in its United Nations international birth certificate. The State of Israel, then, as a political and juridical entity, overlaps with the 'aboriginal Jewish homeland'; it is, in international legal terms, a successor state to the biblical, or aboriginal, Jewish kingdoms. But that aboriginal homeland is also claimed by another people, the Palestinian/Arab people, who see it as their place and patrimony." (Quoted in Jews are aboriginals & the Christians love us, Cecilie Surasky, muzzlewatch.com, 23/4/09)
And just how impressive is this little Canadian Zionist production?: "B'nai Brith will be accompanying 44 Aboriginal leaders on a 'Stand with Israel' Mission Tour that departs on August 13, 2005. The 'New Allied Christian Caucus for Israel' group, the largest Aboriginal representation to travel to Israel, will be led by the heads of Winnipeg's First Nations Family Worship Centre Pastor Rev. Raymond McLean. B'nai Brith Canada's Midwest Regional Director, Alan Yusim, who worked closely withe the Aboriginal leaders to develop the trip's itinerary, will be representing the Jewish human rights organization. The group will begin its journey in Jerusalem and visit holy sites. During their stay, Jerusalem's Mayor Uri Lupolianski will honour Rev. McLean along with the delegation of First Nations leaders who will participate in the opening ceremonies of Israel's National Festival of Arts and Music. The group will also make a special stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. B'nai Brith has also initiated meetings with Israeli government officials and experts, who will participate in talks with the Aboriginal leaders on economic development, infrastructure-building and techniques for combating poverty based on the Israeli experience. This Mission to Israel is the third consecutive collaboration between B'nai Brith and the Aboriginal community. The initial B'nai Brith-sponsored 2003 'Holocaust and Hope Educators' Tour' followed directly the outbreak of the David Ahenakew affair. The mandate of the Aboriginal group is to build on the positive foundations already established between the Assembly of First Nations and the Jewish community, to fight antisemitism, and to create awareness of Israel as a sister democracy." (Stand With Israel Aboriginal Mission Tour 2005, bnaibrith.ca)
I have no idea just how extensive this kind of collaboration is. However, it is gratifying to learn that some indigenous Canadians at least are proving resistant: "Harley Eagle works with First Nations peoples with the Mennonite Central Committee in Canada. I was stunned to learn that he has been approached on multiple occasions by Canadian Jewish groups who identify as aboriginal. 'They come to us and tell us 'our paths are similar. We have gotten our land back. We hope the same for you. We are cut of the same cloth'. Harley says they tend to target Christian aboriginal people as well as inter-tribal political groups to form a larger political body. They invite people on trips to Israel. But Harley's group had already been doing an exchange program with Palestinians. 'For we younger First Nations people who haven't experienced colonialism and being put on reservations directly, the Palestinian program helps us remember what our people went through. It's very powerful, but for the Palestinians, visiting native American reservations is shocking because they see the future of their own people'." (Indigenous peoples and Israel-Palestine, Cecilie Surasky, muzzlewatch.com, 24/4/09)
For the record, Pearson puts in frequent appearances on the op-ed pages of Murdoch's Australian and is director of the Cape York Institute. The CYI's chairperson, Professor Marcia Langton, travelled to Israel in 2003 as "the Inaugural National Australia Bank Yachad Scholarship Fund Fellow to investigate Israeli approaches to systemic educational disadvantage." (The YALP Story, yalp.org.au)