Fundamentally Freund: All in the family

As Jews, our claim to this land is rooted in the Bible, in history and in our heritage. To that list we can now add the laboratory.

laboratory 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
laboratory 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
This past week, the ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism may have added a powerful new weapon to its arsenal from the most unexpected of places: the Petri dish.
In a remarkable set of findings, two genetic studies have confirmed what all of us knew emotionally and anecdotally to be true: that the Jewish people are an extended family in every sense of the word. A broad genome analysis of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews from across the wide belt of the Diaspora found unquestionably strong genetic links between the two seemingly disparate groups.
“The Jewish communities share much more [genetic information] between Jews rather than with non-Jews in the same geographic area,” noted Gil Atzmon, a genetics professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and the coauthor of one of the studies.
“We found that Jewish communities created their own genetic clusters,” he said, adding that Jews in any community are related to one another as closely as are fourth or fifth cousins in a large population.
This, Atzmon told The New York Times, is nearly 10 times greater than the relationship between two people chosen at random off the streets of New York.
The findings, which were published in the prestigious American Journal of Human Genetics, appeared in a paper entitled “The Children of Abraham in the Genome Era” that Atzmon wrote together with Harry Ostrer of New York University.
Meanwhile, a second study, authored by Doron M. Behar of Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus and Richard Villems of the University of Tartu in Estonia and published in the British journal Nature, provides still further proof of the compelling veracity of the Jewish historical narrative.
In addition to finding that Diaspora Jews have maintained a strong genetic continuity despite being cast off to the four corners of the earth, the research confirmed that Jews have been turning to face Jerusalem in prayer for two millennia with good reason.
“We found evidence that Jewish communities originated in the Near East,” Behar told Agence France-Presse, noting that “our genetic findings are concordant with historical records.”
SO THERE you have it: proof positive that the Jewish people hail from the Middle East, even if Helen Thomas and various pro-Palestinian activists would like to believe otherwise.
At first glance, it might seem strange to be getting excited about all this, as we generally take for granted the fact that the Jews constitute a distinct people with clear historical and geographical origins. Indeed, one could be forgiven for initially assuming that these two studies fall into the category of “silly science,” where academics spend time and money proving things that we already know.
Classic examples of this phenomenon notably include a 1998 study at the University of Bristol in England which “revealed” that people dunk biscuits into hot drinks because this releases more of the flavor in their mouths. Or there was the 2007 study by a French university that shocked the world when it informed us that blondes make men act dumb.
Reading such items, we naturally want to shout out loud: “I could have told you that!”
But in this instance, at least, it would be wrong to do so, because what seems so patently obvious to us is rapidly becoming less apparent to many others.
For in recent years, a growing chorus of Israel’s foes has sought to undermine the legitimacy of Jewish claims to the Land of Israel as well as our basic right to call ourselves a “people.” After all, what better way could there be to attempt to undermine Zionism and Jewish nationalism, than by casting doubt on whether the Jews are really a nation in the first place?
Perhaps the most egregious example of this came in the form of a book called The Invention of the Jewish People by Tel Aviv University professor Shlomo Sand. As its name suggests, it aimed to tear down the “myth” of Jewish peoplehood by asserting that most Jews are descendants of converts.
Based on Sand’s conclusions, one could argue that most Jews would be unable to assert that their ancestors had been exiled from the Land of Israel, thereby pulling the plug on the Zionist narrative of return.
And that is precisely what many of our foes have begun to do, and this idea has unfortunately started to gain currency among various antagonists of the Jewish state, who love to portray us as little more than a bunch of invaders, occupiers and interlopers.
That is what makes the two recent genetic studies on the Jews soimportant: In one fell swoop, they have blasted our critics’ argumentsout of the water. By proving that Jewish communities in places as farafield as Europe and the Caucasus are genetically linked, and thattheir DNA ancestry traces back to the Middle East, these studiesdemonstrate conclusively that the theories propounded by Sand andothers ring visibly and unmistakably hollow.
As The New York Times reported, the findings “refutethe suggestion made last year by the historian Shlomo Sand in his bookThe Invention of the Jewish People that Jews have nocommon origin but are a miscellany of people in Europe and Central Asiawho converted to Judaism at various times.”
Of course, it is distressing to think that we have reached a stagewhere even our nationhood and basic history are coming under attack,and it says a lot about those who seek to delegitimize Israel that theywould resort to such disgraceful calumnies.
As Jews, we have always known that our tradition is true. Our claim tothis land is rooted in the Bible, in history and in our heritage,regardless of what others may think. But to that list we can now addthe laboratory as well, for those who require further convincing.
Thanks to science, we now have compelling evidence with which tosilence the deniers and fight back. And that is exactly what we need todo.