Harley Eagle works with First Nations peoples with the Mennonite Central Committee in Canada. I was stunned to learn that he has been approached on multiple occasions by Canadian Jewish groups who identify as aboriginal. “They come to us and tell us ‘our paths are similar. We have gotten our land back. We hope the same for you. We are cut of the same cloth.’” (I wrote about former Canadian AG Irwin Cotler’s Jews-are-aboriginal formulation here.)
Harley says they tend to target Christian aboriginal people as well as inter-tribal political groups to form a larger political body. They invite people on trips to Israel.
But Harley’s group had already been doing an exchange program with Palestinians. “For we younger First Nations people who haven’t experienced colonialism and being put on reservations directly, the Palestinian program helps us remember what our people went through. It’s very powerful, but for the Palestinians, visiting Native American reservations is shocking because they see the future of their own people.”
Last night I went to a support Israel rally at the Plaza des Nations, the spot with the chair. Unlike the side-events inside organized by the UN Watch and Anne Bayefsky’s Eye on the UN/Hudson Institute, which have each escalated the rhetoric of demonization, this rally is a paragon of “positive messaging”. The message control is tight-no home made signs here. Nothing about Muslim terrorists. It’s all about wanting peace and democracy (versus, you know, them.) But I’m almost grateful. Nobody tries to whip up the crowd, a la Dershowitz, by declaring Palestinians Nazis and terrorists.
Everyone is crowded at the front, but when you stand in the back of the plaza, which isn’t that big, the place looks empty. I actually suddenly share a sense of communal anxiety for the Jews in the crowd (well, at least half the crowd, the others are Christians, it turns out). It’s a metaphor for living in Europe. There really aren’t that many of us left and it is easy to feel threatened and tiny, so we project bigger and scarier. My Jewish friend who lives here has been telling me about the anti-Jewish comments she has heard from the white Swiss- the Jews control this, we do that.
I get there just as former Canadian attorney general Irwin Cotler is speaking. He has been ubiquitous at the conference. I am rather astounded by what he is saying. Jews are aboriginal people. This is the first time I’ve heard this formulation, though it makes sense to try it at a conference where indigenous people are pressing for their rights. But I’m not sure the people in the crowd really go for it. Here is what he has written about the topic:
For Israel, rooted in the Jewish people, as an Abrahamic people, is a prototypical First Nation or aboriginal people, just as the Jewish religion is a prototypical aboriginal religion, the first of the Abrahamic religions. Continue reading