Ryan Bellerose Talks Indigenous Jews To Tablet

Israellycool contributor Ryan Bellerose has a great piece on Indigenous Jews published at The Tablet.

As an indigenous activist—I am a Métis from the Paddle Prairie Metis settlement in Alberta, Canada—there is one question I am most often asked by the public, one that can instantly divide a community due to its intense and arduous subject matter.

Yet, regardless of the scenario, each time I hear the words, “Are Jews the indigenous people of Israel?” I’m inclined to answer not only with my heart but with the brutal, honest truth, backed by indisputable, thousands-year-old historical and archaeological fact: yes.

It covers similar ground to many of his posts here on Israellycool and especially his original one: Israel Palestine: Who’s Indigenous?

There are a couple of key points I’ll draw out and emphasise here. After presenting the Martínez Cobo criteria for judging indigenous claims, he draws attention to the one glaring problem as this definition is applied by the UN, the seeming catch put in just to separate out Jews.

As a guideline, the Martínez Cobo study is fairly clear and gives us a way to avoid falling prey to false claims. However, there is one section—which, as far as I can tell, wasn’t in Cobo’s earliest definition—that has been referred to as problematic by many indigenous activists. This section refers to “nondominant sectors of society,” which is directly related to the issue of Jews as an indigenous people. It implies that by being “nondominant,” you have yet to realize self-determination. Ergo, if a group has achieved self-determination (i.e., the Jewish people or the Fijians), they will no longer meet the checklist as indigenous.

Seeing how the goal of all indigenous peoples is to achieve self-determination on their ancestral lands, it’s basically the most egregious example of a Catch-22.

From towards the end:

I got involved in this struggle because I was seeing nonindigenous people make arguments that are detrimental to actual indigenous people, arguments that attempt to rewrite our history. The idea that “Palestinian Arab” conquerors could become indigenous through conquering the Jewish people, even though the term “Palestinian” was only used in reference to Jews before 1948, is anathema. While Arabs claim to be related to the descendants of Israel through blood, it’s just another way to say that they acted like all conquerors, raping and pillaging and then settling and subsuming the locals. Native North Americans especially understand that simply conquering indigenous people does not grant one indigenous status.

All together a very well presented argument being put in front of an American Jewish audience who may not have been exposed to these ideas before.


Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.