— Mira Bar-Hillel (@mirabarhillel) July 12, 2018
I’ve just published a new piece at Middle East Eye. It offers a historical context to the rise of Birthright in the American Jewish community.
A few stray thoughts related to this:
Mira Bar Hillel’s tweet above also adds a factor I’d forgotten in relation to the term “birthright.” The original birthright was the blessing offered by Isaac to his eldest son. Esau was supposed to receive that blessing, as he was the oldest. But Jacob, knowing Issac was blind, put animal skin on his arms to imitate the hirsute Esau and tricked his father into giving his the birthright instead. Thus Jacob cheated Esau out of his rightful inheritance. Sound familiar?
So one of the most elemental episodes of Jewish history shows a founding father was a liar and a cheat. Someone who reaped success by cheating his brother out of what was his.
Esau, in classical Jewish texts, became the progenitor of the Edomites, a tribe which had a long, contentious relationship with the Israelites, involving several wars. Though the Israelites attempted to vanquish the Edomites they never did. Just as latter-day Israel has not, will not, and cannot vanquish the Palestinians.
Birthright as a program is also based on a lie. First, Israel is not the birthright of Diaspora Jews. Our real birthright is our Jewishness. Certainly, Israel is part of our identity. But there is no “right” bestowed on us to “own” Israel in perpetuity (unless we do justly and walk humbly with God).
But if Israel is a Jewish birthright, then it should also be the birthright of Palestinians expelled during the Nakba as well. Because they too are inhabitants of the land. Birthrights must be earned and Israel has no more right to this land than its indigenous inhabitants.
The Bible tells us that the Israelites do not ‘own’ the land. They live in it under a long-term lease agreement only because it has been lent to them by God. The Biblical Prophets preach that if the Israelites behave unjustly, then they will lose that right. And they are in the midst of doing that now.
Finally, Israel has always lived amidst other nations, tribes and peoples in this region. Historically, when it has warred against them, Israel has not fared well. Yes, you may win a battle. You may even rule for generations by dint of force and power. But that does not earn longevity. In fact, the opposite. There is a lesson there.