In 2008, the Sovereign Nation of the Coushatta Indiana Tribe of Louisiana was
the first Native American tribe to establish a formal relationship with Israel,
hosting an affirmation of friendship event with Israeli consular officials and
issuing a proclamation that May 14 would be “Stakayoop Yanihta Yisrael” or “the
day to honor Israel.”
The following year the tribe took a delegation to
Israel which resulted in their first Israel-related venture, becoming the
exclusive distributor of Aya Natural, an Israeli start-up skincare company based
in the Druse community of Beit Jann in the Galilee. David Sickey, the head of
the tribe, has made a number of visits here since as well to promote additional
cooperative business activity.
In late 2009 Virginia Native American
leader Chief Annie Richardson met with Minister of Infrastructure Uzi Landau and
told him the American Indians support the State of Israel and its right to the
land of Israel. In presenting Landau with a traditional Indian headdress at that
time she said, “We believe that God has given you this land and we want you to
fight for it.”
More recently, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and his
wife Martha visited Israel to learn about issues from agriculture to tourism. On
his arrival here on December 8 he said, “We set out on this mission to look at
how Israel has advanced in growth in some of the same areas we face in the
Navajo Nation.” The trip, funded by Navajo faith-based organizations with
non-governmental ties, was designed to draw inspiration from Israeli methods in
agri-tech, tourism, capital infrastructure and offering government services to
rural areas, according to Shelly’s adviser, Deswood Tome.
criticism of Shelly’s visit and one by Indian literary diva Joy Harjo (who was
scheduled to speak at Tel Aviv University) was anything but supporting of
Israel. In truth there has been an upsurge of anti-Israel sentiment by a very
small but very vocal contingent in “Indian country” within the past two weeks,
most notably in opposition to both visits.
The response has included very
negative, vitriolic letters to The Navajo Times against President Shelly’s visit
and a similarly negative and vitriolic op-ed piece in Indian Country Today
opposing Joy Harjo’s visit, sponsored by supporters of the BDS (boycott, divest,
Janene Yazzie, CEO of Sixth World Solutions in
Lupton, Arizona, writes in the Navajo Times: “It should not shock or surprise us
that our Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has taken an unexpected trip to
visit Israel, a government that has committed itself to carrying out genocidal
practices against its population of indigenous Palestinian peoples. To hear that
our president believes the apartheid government of Israel has more to offer than
the Diné people in his homeland fighting against his policies is hurtful and
unbelievably ignorant. I stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine and
those indigenous nations and non-indigenous peoples fighting against continued
corporate, religious, and political exploitation.”
Or how about this
piece by Dina Gilio- Whitaker in the largest circulation weekly, Indian Country
Today: “This week Muscogee Creek scholar and literary diva Joy Harjo ignited a
firestorm of controversy when she announced on Facebook that she was leaving for
a trip to Israel where she was scheduled to perform on Monday, December 10 At
Tel Aviv University.
The controversy came when friends and fans
challenged her decision to go in light of the US Academic and Cultural Boycott
of Israel (USACBI) and the Palestine Campaign for the Academic and Cultural
Boycott of Israel (PACBI), as part of a larger boycott, divestment and sanctions
“Critics contend that her actions are equivalent to
crossing a picket line and are tantamount to tacit support of the Israeli
apartheid state. It is hard to know what Harjo is thinking and where her
loyalties lie in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It is also hard to know how
President Shelley would justify his alliance with Israel in light of its ongoing
genocide and theft of Palestinian lands.
“The problem with someone as
high profile as Joy Harjo collaborating with an institution like Tel Aviv
University (which is built on top of an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village)
is that it sends a message that she as a Native American represents all Native
Americans in support of apartheid Israel’s domination of Palestinians. I, for
one, don’t want to be associated with that.”
Dr. Harjo received so much
vile commentary on her Facebook page that she considered shutting it down.
However, she did take the opposition into account, writing both an eloquent
response to her critics and taking an overnight visit to Ramallah. As a result,
she now opposes the security fence.
Oftentimes when the subject turns to
“the whole world is against us” people tell me that the core problem of
maintaining such a perspective is that it often becomes an excuse for eschewing
self-evaluation and introspection.
Yet when it comes to self-evaluation
and introspection, there is probably no nation on earth that engages in these
two activities more than Israel as these traits are ingrained in us with our
mother’s milk. After all, most of us grew up being constantly evaluated by our
parents, encouraged to achieve more, to do better, to be a mensch and to
remember who we are and where we came from.
Internalizing those traits
has made us question everything we do, both individually and communally, and is
probably one of the major reasons this society is as dynamic as it is, in spite
of the continuous threats to our survival. So while there is, of course, always
a risk that thinking that the whole world is against us will cause us to act a
bit irrationally, given the facts as we know them, who could blame us?
As far as
American Indians are concerned, that nation certainly knows the risks of
yielding land for peace. It has itself been discriminated against and confined
to “reservations” to the eternal shame of both the United States and Canada,
and, as such, they should be the last ones to accuse Israel of being an
apartheid state. But then again, why let facts get in the way of emotions? To
insure against that one also has to think.
The writer, a 29-year resident
of Israel, is president of Atid-EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based economic development
consulting firm and a former national president of the Association of Americans
and Canadians in Israel.