Calling all US Jews: starting this September, after decades of lobbying efforts by Arab-American organizations, the United States Census Bureau will begin testing a new category for Americans of Middle Eastern and North African origin. In conjunction with this new listing, no less than 19 subcategories will be made available, including 'Israel.'Writing in the Huffington Post, Benjamin Arazi urges American Jews to tick the 'Middle East and North African' box:
So where does this leave Jewish
Americans? Should diaspora Jews follow the example of their Israeli
co-ethnics and mark "Middle Eastern/North African," or should they take
the easy way out and mark "Other" or even "White," as most Middle
Eastern and North African Americans have done up to this point? Should
there be a separate "Jewish" category?
These questions are likely
to confuse many readers, particularly those who are more inclined to
perceive "Jewishness" as a religious identity rather than an ethnic one.
Nevertheless, contrary to the widespread belief that we merely
constitute a religious faith, the Jewish people are an ethnic group/tribe of Southwest Asian origin, and one of the oldest extant native peoples of the region.
term "Jew" itself was a name given to us centuries ago by foreigners,
denoting our country of origin (Judah/Judea, which is located in present
day southern Israel). (1) A Jew can be an atheist, a Buddhist, an
agnostic, or a follower of any other faith and they will still be
recognized as members of the tribe. (2) And as far as genetics and race
are concerned, contemporary ethnic Jews (including European/Ashkenazi
Jews) share a stronger kinship with other Levantine populations
than with the autochthonous European and North Africans they lived
African, East Asian, and Indian Jews tend to be closer
to their neighbors, although they too have ancient Jewish descent
and cultural continuity with their Middle Eastern source population.
Overall, much of the confusion surrounding Jewish identity is the result
of our unique historical circumstances, and our status as a nation that
had been displaced by colonizers centuries ago and remained in exile
until relatively recently.
course, bringing these facts to light is guaranteed to ruffle a few
feathers, not just for anti-Semites, but for a decent amount of Jews
themselves. The majority of it can perhaps be attributed to
post-Holocaust anxieties. Less than a century ago, Jews living in Europe
were specifically earmarked for extermination on account of their
non-white, non-European, Oriental origins. As a result, some Jews prefer
to downplay the ancestral and genetic nature of Jewishness, out of fear
of drawing too much attention to themselves or being "too different"
from the surrounding society. There is, however, a nascent movement
among Jewish Americans to shed these insecurities and reassert ourselves
as a proud indigenous Middle Eastern nation. Doreinu and New Zionist Vision are just two fledgling groups at the forefront of this new campaign, in addition to the "We're Not White, We're Middle Eastern" Facebook page.
in light of the increasingly aggressive attacks on Jewish identity from
anti-Semites and denial of our indigenous roots, checking the Middle
Eastern box on census forms is a fine example of symbolic resistance
against critics who wish to deny us of our collective heritage and
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New book: Occupied Territories by David Marc:
When people think of the “Arab world”, they tend to think “Jews and
Arabs”. This is totally wrong (and for those people who should actually
know better, it is totally racist). This booklet was written, therefore,
to create awareness that in fact, most of this “Arab world”, i.e. the
member countries of the Arab League aside from those on the Arabian
peninsula, has been for many centuries, and is at present, Arab-occupied
and, -colonized, territory, inhabited by a kaleidoscope of minority,
indigenous, non-Arab, peoples, some of whom are even mentioned in the