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The fake Jew furphy rises again

Suggesting Jews are not indigenous to Israel is just the latest incarnation of an old trope.
Jason Franks
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Illustration: TJI

Published: 8 July 2024

Last updated: 14 July 2024

About ten years ago a pair of young Korean missionaries buttonholed me at a train station in suburban Melbourne. It was just before Easter, so I told them I was Jewish, and that Jesus’ Last Supper was probably a Passover seder. They were fresh to their mission and I’m certain that they had never met a Jew before. The missionaries angrily told me I was wrong, and that I wasn’t a Jew, and stormed off.

I have been thinking about this encounter a lot over the past eight months.

When the reality of a living Jew did not match their worldview, the missionaries chose to deny my identity rather than reconsider their position.

Jews are just 0.2% of the global population, still fewer Jews than prior to the Holocaust, and many people don’t think the remnant is the authentic article.

This is why they are so quick to tell us that our faith is obsolete, our history fake, and our attachment to land imaginary.

There have been many attempts to erase Jewish history and invalidate Jewish identity. The discredited Khazar myth claimed that Ashkenazi Jews were actually descended from a nomadic Turkic people, who converted to Judaism. A more recent phenomenon is the Radical Hebrew Israelites—a Christian extremist group who claim modern Jews stole the religious identity of Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people and that White Jews are fake. Until recently mainstream Christianity accepted Jewish history but argued Jewish religion was no longer valid because it had been superseded.  

The denial of Jewish indigeneity in Israel is yet another attempt to deny Jewish authenticity.

Ironically Israel is positioned as the apogee of white supremacist thought while white supremacists hate Jews

Jewish identity is difficult to articulate. We are an ethnicity as well as a religious group, but, as the world’s oldest diaspora, we are diverse. We are the Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe, the Sephardim from Portugal and Spain, the Mizrahim from the Middle East and North Africa. We are the Beta Israel Jews from Ethiopia, the Desi Jews from South Asia, the Kaifeng Jews from China.

We have many cultures and many skin tones and we do not fit into the ideologies of the extreme right and the radical left, both of whom insist that identities must be neatly classified and ranked.

This refusal to acknowledge the diversity of the Jewish people almost always leads to antisemitism. If we are fakes it is easier to paint us with the ancient libels, especially those that are baked into dominant cultures.

Characterising today’s Jews as white European interlopers is the latest incarnation of the trope of the fake Jew. Denying the relationship between today’s Jews and the ancient Biblical people who are our ancestors is a strategy to brand Israel as a settler-colonial project that has displaced the indigenous population: the Palestinians.

Science shows that the Jewish people did indeed come from the Levant. Genetic studies show white-passing Ashkenazi Levis have genes not present in the host population, suggesting continuous pre-Diaspora lineage. There is plentiful archaeological evidence showing that the Jews lived in Israel, the obvious example being the Western Wall, the remnant of the Second Temple.

Unable to refute this evidence, those who want Jews cleansed from the Middle East sometimes resort to denying that we are Jews.

An irony of this argument is that it positions Israel as the apogee of white supremacist thought while white supremacists hate Jews because they believe we are outsiders pretending to be white.

Those who claim that today’s Palestinians are not a people, are indulging in the same erasure.

In the West, Jews have made an effort to pass as white, for the obvious social benefits. I lived in apartheid South Africa as a child and I never questioned my white status when I was growing up—even though I am dark-skinned enough to have had my appearance compared to the 9/11 hijackers.

Are Jews white? We are Jews; we do not fit the paradigm. The lens of today’s racial politics does not show all of our dimensions.

A further confusion arises from the term antisemitism, coined by a Jew-hater and based on the linguistic category that encompasses Hebrew and Arabic. Accused of antisemitism after claiming Jews control the US government, Hollywood and Wall Street Lebanese-American journalist Helen Thomas claimed that she could not be an antisemite because she is a “Semite”—and that most Jews are not. In 2010 these inversions brought an ignoble end to Thomas’s long and distinguished career. Today, they are repeated by media personalities and shouted at protests.

Denial of the heritage of the Jewish people is a tactic of pure propaganda. The diverse nature of Jewish identity, coupled with centuries of antisemitic tropes cross-pollinated through many world cultures makes us vulnerable to this technique.

The attempt to obliterate history happens in the other direction too. Those who claim that Palestinian national identity was constructed in the 1960s and that today’s Palestinians are not a people, are indulging in the same erasure. Just as the Jewish national identity has changed over time, so has that of the Palestinians.

Fake race science and blood-and-soil rhetoric will not deliver peace to the Middle East. We will not have that until we recognize that both Jews and Palestinians are both genuine peoples deserving of safety and self-determination.

About the author

Jason Franks

Jason Franks is a novelist, comics writer and data scientist. His non fiction has been published in The Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage and A Vindication of Monsters: Essays about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

Comments1

  • Avatar of Ben Harrison

    Ben Harrison14 July at 12:22 am

    I’ve never heard the claim that Jews are not indigenous to Israel. The claim I’ve heard is that not all those of the Jewish faith including many European Jews who settled in modern day Israel after WW2 are not actual descendants of indigenous Israelites. So, you seem to be fudging the facts of the actual controversy. Are you saying all Jews ARE indigenous to Israel? That seems to be what you’re suggesting. I don’t have a problem with Jews. Some of my good friends are Jewish. What I don’t care for is bs on either side of this argument, debate or whatever you want to call this. I have to say though that it seems there are Jews that can’t take any criticism whatsoever as though they have some permanent victims status that doesn’t allow for any debate or criticism where they are concerned. Those that dare to even discuss it as I am now are labeled antisemitic. This isn’t ok and I shouldn’t have to profusely reassure that I’m not just because I raise questions or doubts or criticize. Peace to all and if someone would like to educate me respectfully, I’m all ears.

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