An open letter to Deb Haaland: Jewish Voice for Peace demonizes Indigenous people

Pictured: Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM-01).(Photo: haaland.house.gov)

Is one of the first Native American congresswomen in history supporting an organization that denies Jewish Indigeneity to Israel asks Samara Brill Alpern

This is an open letter to Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women elected to congress.

On June 7th, 2019 the Albuquerque Journal printed a letter by Jewish Voice for Peace activist Ms. Iris Keltz. In her letter addressing antisemitism, Ms. Keltz writes that she “represented Albuquerque’s 1st Congressional District for Deb Haaland as part of a national Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) delegation to Congress on April 2.” This assertion by Ms. Keltz is alarming because JVP not only purveys antisemitism, but also perverts Indigenous history in the Middle East.

It is one of the darkest years for Jews in decades. We witnessed the most lethal massacre of Jews in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Fifty-nine Jewish gravesites were desecrated in Foxboro Massachusetts in March. “Gas the Jews” was scrawled over the Chickasaw Nation headquarters Oklahoma City, also in March. In April, in San Diego, a shooter entered the Poway synagogue and murdered one congregationalist and shot three others, including a child and a rabbi. New York has seen an incredible 82 percent increase in anti-Jewish hate crime in 2019. In Canada and Europe the statistics are worse.

As Ms. Keltz acknowledges, antisemitism is indeed real, but it is herself and her organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, that is the threat. The 2018 Global Anti-Semitism Report found that a full 70 percent of antisemitic attacks were linked to anti-Israel attitudes, and Jewish Voice for Peace is one the chief promoters of those hateful beliefs.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a misnomer. The organization is neither Jewish, nor for peace. Jewish Voice for Peace has Jewish members, but it also has many non-Jewish members, and the organization’s largest donors are not Jews, but non-Jewish foundations that are anti-Israel. Like the Jews that supported Hitler, the handful of Jews that support Jewish Voice for Peace are reviled by the wider Jewish community, and with good reason.

Jewish Voice for Peace lauds terrorists that murder Jews. In 2017 they welcomed convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh as the featured speaker at their National Membership Meeting. Odeh was convicted by Israel for a 1969 bombing in Jerusalem that killed two and injured nine.

Jewish Voice for Peace supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a movement which advocates for a total academic, cultural, and economic boycott of Israel, a sliver of land smaller than Vermont that is home just 9 million people. This sliver of land is home to half the world’s Jewry.

The modern Boycott, Divestment and Sanction is a rebranding of an Arab boycott of Jews that began long before Israel even existed. The boycott began informally in 1922, and in 1945, as the world learned of the Holocaust, the Arab League officially adopted the policy of boycotting of Jews. The boycott was renamed “Boycott, Divestment and Sanction” in 2001. This May, the German parliament condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement as antisemitic with a majority vote.

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the top promoters of lies about Jews and the Jewish state. Jewish Voice for Peace claims Israel is an apartheid state, when in reality, Israel is the only state in the Middle East where minorities have the right to vote. Jewish Voice for Peace scapegoats the Jewish state for police abuses in the United States, when in reality, the United States alone bears the responsibility for the brutality and failures of the American justice system. Jewish Voice for Peace calls the Jews “settler colonialists” for living in the land of Israel, when in reality, it is the Jews who are Indigenous to Israel, and the Arabs who are the imperialists.

Ms. Keltz illustrates Jewish Voice for Peace’s deceitful revision of Jewish history when she writes, “Tlaib reminded us that Jesus was a Palestinian rabbi who believed in human rights and equality. Justice is the cornerstone of Judaism, so we had no problem with that sentiment.”

Jesus was a Jew from Judea, the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish people. One hundred years after they crucified Jesus, the Romans renamed the land “Palestina,” for the exact same reason Ms. Keltz uses the term today, to expunge Jewish history. If Jesus were alive today, he could not live in the land of his birth. Judea under Arab rule is judenrein.

That Jews are Indigenous to Israel is indisputable. The story of the Jewish people is known to the whole world. Abraham, Rachel, Joseph, Moses — whether you believe the Torah to be the word of G-d or not, there is no doubt that these are our stories. This is Jewish tribal history. It is a history that was never forgotten, not under imperial subjugation by the Babylonians nor the Persians, not under the Hellenists, the Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, or the British. Though Jews never completely left Israel, most were forced into exile. But even over 2,000 years in the diaspora, we never forgot our connection to our ancestral homeland. In exile we prayed, as observant Jews do today, to Jerusalem every day. Facing expulsions, massacres, and genocides, we maintained our language, our matrilineal blood ties, our dietary practices, our beliefs. 

King Solomon established the First Temple in the tenth century BCE, 1,500 years before Muhammed was born. Muslim conquerors would build the al-Aqsa mosque on top of the Jewish temple, just as Hernan Cortes built his castle on top of the great palace Tlahuica. Such is imperialism.

In the Middle East, Jews, like the Kurds and Yazidi, are the Indigenous people. In the Middle East, Arabic is like English and Hebrew is Keresan. Judea is Katishtya, the West Bank is San Felipe.

Dividing the Israelites from Israel is like dividing the Dine from Dinetah. 

Therefore, Ms. Keltz’ affirmation that she represented Albuquerque’s Congressional District for Deb Haaland as part of a national Jewish Voice for Peace delegation to Congress is extremely troubling.

Is Rep. Haaland one of the many non-Jewish members of Jewish Voice for Peace, celebrating Jew murdering terrorists and boycotting half the world’s Jewish population? Is one of the first Native American congresswomen in history supporting an organization that denies Jewish indigeneity to Israel? 

I hope that Rep. Haaland will view Middle Eastern politics with an eye towards solidarity with the Indigenous people there. But it is urgent that, at the very least, she condemn Jewish Voice for Peace, a hate group dedicated to nothing but demonizing Indigenous people in the Middle East. 

Am Yisrael Chai. 

Samara Alpern is a freelance writer from El Paso, Texas. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2007 and currently lives in Jalisco, Mexico.

Comments (23)
No. 1-5
davichon
davichon

Talk about erasing a people! The word 'Palestinian' is never mentioned in this piece, except in a quote from Jewish Voice for Peace. And both 'Arab' and 'Muslim' are mentioned only so the author can brand both as imperialist. Disgraceful. Worse, I think, is to write in this publication as if concept 'indigenous' existed only to support a schoolyard jeer about whose mother is really legitimate. I myself am a product of two different Jewish cultures, one of which -- Sephardic-- derives from a time when Muslim-ruled Spain (Al-Andalus) was the height of world civilization, with more going on between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars, philosophers, and artists than possibly any time before or after. As for the present, whose economy and borders are controlled by Israel and Egypt, has been described as "the world's largest open-air prison". Palestinians are given some nominal freedoms, but even their children are subject to arbitrary arrest, humiliation of the parents, and otherindignities and deprivations of an occupied people. You don't have to endorse every word that I have written to see that Samara Alpern's piece is founded on ethnic and religioud hatred.I am a grandpa and a proud supporter of JVP. I have also observed first-hand the tensions and dialog that have gone on in that organization, to deal with the diversity of Jewish identities (Black, Arab, LGBTQ, ... it's a long list!) I am asking that Indian Country Times publish a full-length reply solicited from JVP. Not simply so an organization may defend it's right to criticize Israel and it's oppression of Palestinians, but so that no one confuses the idea of "idigeneity' this article spews out, with any kind of respect for human life, religion, Pachama (Mother Earth), history... or its readers.

RiverWind
RiverWind

The Jewish people are the indigenous people of Judea. With over 3000 years of historical and archaeological evidence to back up that claim. Everyone is indigenous to somewhere yet the Jews are denied their indigenous right to their ancient homeland? Revisionist history and propaganda must stop targeting First Nations. It is a cancer that is slowly spreading. We have more in common with the Judeans, period.

7 replies

Honmana
Honmana

Uh, how are Jews denied their indigenous right to their ancient homelands? They were given that country, by the UN, if I remember correctly, after WWII. It is their responsibility to defend it honorably without hurting anyone else, and without asking for money and support from others who they do not support in return. Native Americans also have their own history that supports their rights to their homelands, and their own covenants with their creator for that land, but since ours was oral history, it isn't considered real history. Don't co-opt the term First Nations for your own purposes, without actually acknowledging the colonialist history of this country and it's revisionism. Or as my native American mom used to say, why are white people's creationism beliefs considered a religion and ours are just considered myths? Leave us out of your issues, you are not our allies in any meaningful way, while I might point out that many native Americans from my state of Arizona fought in WWII to free those who survived concentration camps, including code talkers who still did not have the right to vote in our state, it was not ratified until after that war. We also technically did not legally have the right to practice our own religions until the late 1970's. And let's remember that Hitler developed his ideas about how to conduct his holocaust by studying the American eugenics movement, and in particular, how native Americans were dealt with. He really admired that. So leave us out of your disputes, if you do not support all nonindigenous people leaving the US, and giving our lands back to us.

Honmana
Honmana

My apologies RiverWind, I reread your comment and realized that you probably are First Nations, after rereading that last sentence, and I mistook who you were.

RiverWind
RiverWind

Taiguey Honmana, no apologies needed. It is often easy to misinterpret what a person writes especially when discussing a subject matter that is traumatically embedded within our DNA. I have lived in Israel and the people there love First Nations. I have walked and talked with Jews and Arabs who love our people and some Arabs (Palestinians) will admit they are not indigenous to "Palestine" even going so far as to share how their last names reflect the country of their Arabic origin. It is awful how their government is using and abusing their people for political and financial gain. I have taken videos of squalid Palestinian refugee camps run by their own government (HAMAS, not Israel) while their leaders live in lavish mansions. Its all a terrible mess but there is a true rendition of history and who the indigenous people of Judea are verses the revisionist history political propaganda is trying to say is indigenous. Just send up prayers for all the people who are hurting and that Creator will make things right again after the fires come. Seneco kakona ituao (many blessings sister)

renegademax
renegademax

I followed the clickbait link, read the anti-Semitic article, and wasn't surprised by the lumping of some vile Jewish people involved in murder and exploitation toward American Indians to then be spread across all Jews - very slick of you - very wrong - very vile. Clearly Richard Boyden hates Jews as much as he hates himself. Truly an interesting confession of Semitic hatred.

renegademax
renegademax

Further, I just looked at the site and holy moly, multiple articles about how us Jews drink human blood from living victims, inspired Hitler to murder our family and blah, blah, blah, blah. Truly, what a joke you are, Gall.

Honmana
Honmana

As a registered NA tribal member, I have debated for days on whether to say anything here. I do not want to seem to set myself up as a spokesman for my tribe, they communicate through their own approved communication methods, and my opinions are nothing but that, my own opinions. But, I am angry. This opinion piece was written by someone who obviously has a shallow knowledge of NA history, including intertribal disputes over land. And who I think is using that shallow knowledge to try to shame a NA congresswoman, and by extension, all NA's by suggesting that if we do not denounce someone who she, and by extension, those who she identifies with, find antithetical to their own interests, then we are hypocrites, as indigenous people. It takes a lot of nerve for someone who is living on stolen land, and doesn't back up their rhetoric by self-deporting to their own ancestral lands, to try to shame other indigenous people into supporting her peoples cause. e.g.,what about the "right of return" for all NA's (all non-indigenous people leaving America and letting NA's take back their own ancestral lands, instead of having to share with people who took that land over the centuries?). One example she used showed me she has no understanding of the complex history of land disputes among tribes, and I don't want to go into that and re-open old wounds for my tribe, or another's. But she makes the same mistake that many outsiders do, thinking we are a monolithic people, and should all think the same way. When I was a child, in the 60's, one of the first movies I remember seeing on our old black and white little tv, was Exodus. I felt so bad for the Jewish people. As a child, I didn't yet understand the issues of a people who had been holocausted in Europe, and just wanted their ancestral lands back to establish a base for their peoples, and to protect themselves from that ever happening again. And I believed that for many years. And I was a racist, I think for years, believing that Palestinians were savage Arabs who just wanted to destroy those people, using terrorism. I thought as a child, believing the ideas brought on by the guilt of white people who thought that the Jewish problem could be solved by giving them back their ancestral lands that they claimed, while putting NA's on reservations, and trying to wipe out their languages (which saved America during WWI and WWII), and their cultures. I would challenge this person to post links to any opinion pieces over the years which she wrote to admonish a Jewish American owner of a professional football team to abandon the racist name of a team, and also to a Jewish American congressman who voted against VAWA because of the NA provisions in it, to be able to prosecute outsiders who came onto NA lands and murdered and raped NA women, because he, in my opinion, didn't think that we brown people were good enough to sit in judgement in our tribal courts of outsiders who committed crimes in our lands. This person has solidified the opinion I have developed over decades, that the enemy of my enemy, is not necessarily my friend. Don't try to weaponize your shallow and puerile knowledge of our NA history to portray us as hypocrites if we do not side with you in your fights with your neighbors in the Middle East. Leave us out of it. She did not provide any information about Deb Haaland accepting money or publicly siding with that group. And if she did, so what? Israel has accepted tons of taxpayer money over the years from the U.S. and evangelicals to support their state, while NA's suffered the most under sequestration than any other group in the U.S. AIPEC. I want to see us quit giving that money to Israel, and redirect it to NA's. I don't advocate for the destruction of Israel, I wish them luck, but we have supported them enough, and I want to see that money used to fulfill contract costs, economic development for tribes, and protection of NA homelands. I don't think Israel is our friend, anyone else remember Jonathan Pollard? My support ends where our interests diverge. Fight your own fights and don't try to engage us as allies when our own people are left in want.

caniscandida
caniscandida

I strongly support Jewish Voice for Peace, in its mission to achieve justice for Palestinians and to achieve the learning of just ways by the people of Israel; I am glad that Representative Deb Haaland also supports Jewish Voice for Peace; I do not recognize any anti-semitism in the statements and actions of Jewish Voice for Peace; and I am very disappointed by this letter by Samara Brill Alpern.

On the matter of the alleged "indigeneity" of the Jewish people (or of the Israelite people of which the Jews are the sole extant part) in the land between the Jordan valley and the eastern Mediterranean historically known as Palestine: OK, so yes, Jews lived there for many centuries in antiquity. But it should be noted that they lived there alongside other people. It should also be noted that according to their Scriptures (the Book of Genesis in particular), they acknowledge themselves to be descendants of Abraham, who himself was from Mesopotamia (the city of Ur), who was directed by the God of Israel to move with his extended family to what was then called the land of Canaan, and who needed to negotiate among the people who already lived there for his place there. This is not at all the sort of "indigeneity" that we mean when we say that Native Americans are indigenous to the Americans. And it is rhetorical and mischievous on the part of any right-wing Jew or defender of right-wing policies in Israel to argue that on the grounds of protecting indigenous rights everywhere, Native Americans ought to be supportive of the harsh anti-Palestinian practices and de facto imperialist and apartheid measures of the Israeli government and many Israeli ciizens.

Moreover the circumstances in which Jews moved to Palestine in the early 20th century and made for themselves a country there by 1948 are not at all comparable to any proposal of Native Americans to win back rightful sovereignty over territory in North America. For the many centuries when Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, Jews lived there alongside other peoples. The peoples of the Levant (the countries of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean) were mostly descendants of the inhabitants of those regions in the last centuries of the Roman Empire many centuries earlier; we may refer to them as "Arabs" because most of them adopted Arabic, the language of their 7th-century conquerors, as their own, and took Arab names, and converted to Islam -- not failing to remember that a large minority were Christians, and of these many retained connexions with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. These are people whose families had been living there for many long centuries, maybe millennia, when starting in the late 1940s they were uprooted and cast out of their homes and turned into a population of refugees. It makes no sense whatsoever to say that people were turned into refugees for the sake of an assertion of "indigenous rights." And it is a most wicked and unworthy argument to demand that Native Americans join assertive self-righteous Zionists on the basis of a false argument about common indigeneity.

Gall
Gall

The Ashkenazi and Khazarian Jews who invaded Palestine are not Indigenous! They like Columbus were invading a land that they believed was "a land with no people for a people with no land". Seem familiar?