The opening of the Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem, Feb. 1, 2024. Photo by Yossi Zamir.
The opening of the Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem, Feb. 1, 2024. Photo by Yossi Zamir.
featureIsrael at War

Indigenous embassy in Jerusalem opens in unconventional ceremony

The embassy will act as an information hub and welcoming space for native peoples and counter the anti-Israel narrative that Jews are foreigners in their own land.

Wearing colorful traditional costumes, native peoples from around the globe made speeches, sang, danced, beat drums and, in one case, sounded a giant ram’s horn on Thursday to celebrate the inauguration of the Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem.

The embassy will serve as a much-needed antidote to the false claims by the Palestinians that there is no evidence of any Jewish life in Israel prior to 1948, when Jews ostensibly arrived as colonialist invaders.

The embassy is in part due to the efforts of the Indigenous Coalition for Israel (ICFI), a New Zealand-based group founded by native Maori to counter the false narrative about the Israel-Palestinian conflict that has “taken hold amongst indigenous peoples” and “has often bled into antisemitism,” its website says.

“We recognize that Jews are the indigenous people of this land, and we stand with you and your struggle,” ICFI co-founder Sheree Trotter told the 200-plus audience, noting that the Land of Israel is the place where the Jewish “nation was forged, its language and sacred literature developed, the beliefs, customs and traditions began. It is the most sacred place in the world to Jews. … This deep connection to a particular land and its ancestors are defining features of indigeneity.”

Trotter expressed her hope that the embassy would become an information hub and welcoming space for indigenous peoples visiting Israel, and act as a center to “galvanize” global indigenous support. The embassy will develop a digital production department to counter misinformation about Israel prevalent on social media and “to tell the story of our indigenous friendship.”

The embassy will also host academic symposia and become a tourist attraction. “We plan in time to have an NGO presence at the United Nations,” she added.

While not an embassy in the ordinary sense—it will not represent governments of the indigenous peoples’ host nations or the indigenous peoples themselves—it has been recognized as an embassy by the State of Israel. The audience cheered when they learned from Gil Haskell, Chief of State Protocol for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, that the Indigenous Embassy was the 100th embassy to be opened in the Jewish state.

The embassy will be hosted at the Friends of Zion Museum in the center of Jerusalem. Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, told JNS that when she was approached by  indigenous groups wanting an embassy she immediately knew where to go. “I called up the Friends of Zion Museum and said here’s an opportunity to change the narrative that Jews are somehow foreign occupiers of our own land.”

Mike Evans, founder of the museum and a well-known Christian evangelist, told JNS he agreed right way.

“I said yes, 100%. Our vision is to build bridges. And this was a huge bridge. There are almost a billion indigenous people in the world. This has great potential,” he said.

“The Bible says, ‘Comfort ye my people, saith your God,’ ” Evans told those gathered, quoting Isaiah 40:1. “You’re going to be an enormous comfort to the nation of Israel. And you are going to be the ambassadors to your nations.”

Many of the indigenous representatives present similarly were motivated by religious belief. Xami Thomas, a representative from the Khoi, an indigenous people numbering some 15 million and divided into 20 or so tribes spread throughout southern Africa, Botswana and Namibia, told JNS, “Remember, God said to Moses, ‘Go tell Pharaoh that Israel is my firstborn,’ so we regard Israel as our big brother. And we love the Jewish people. … We don’t just see this as a way of coming to support Israel but also to make sure to let Israel know that her enemies are far fewer than her friends.”

Addressing the audience, Thomas apologized for “the horrible thing that the ANC [African National Congress] government did to this glorious nation. We are sorry. They do not represent all the Khoi or all the people of Southern Africa. They did not consult us and the allegations are without any substance,” referring to the genocide case his country brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“Anybody who says that Israel is not indigenous doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Because if Israel is not indigenous there is no indigenous nation on the earth,” said Thomas.

Greg Motu, a pastor of a Baptist Church in New Zealand and a member of the Maori tribe, also spoke of the spiritual influences that brought him to support Israel. When the British missionaries arrived, they taught the natives “the word that Hebrew men had written over centuries, over  thousands of years.”

“Thank you for the culture and your history that you’ve preserved. It’s changed us,” he said.

Ate Moala, the representative from the Pacific archipelago of Tonga, described how in the 1700s Tonga’s king accepted the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “And [the king] said, ‘I give you my people for your protection.’ And he said, not only for him, but for every Tongan that comes after him,” she said.

Moala brought a message of comfort from the king and queen of Tonga, who said that the God of Israel who delivered his people before will do so again. “He will protect you during this difficult time in the war with Hamas and Hezbollah,” she said.

Among those in attendance were indigenous people  from Tahiti, Hawaii, the Cree of Canada, the Hopi tribe in Arizona, the Arawak Taino from Puerto Rico and the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee.

The event included  a blessing by the indigenous representatives over the Jews present, and the unveiling of the embassy’s plaque. There was a festive atmosphere with plenty of spontaneous dancing. The evening’s emcee, Channel 12 anchor Ofer Hadad, who frequently attends such events, said, “Let me just say that this is the most unofficial official ceremony I’ve been to.”

Indigenous people bless Jews at the opening of the Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem, Feb. 1, 2024. Credit: David Isaac.

However, the significance of the moment was not lost on the attendees, who felt they were taking part in something historic.

Ateret Shmuel, director of Indigenous Bridges, a group dedicated to advancing indigenous communities globally, said, “Many years now I’ve worked in some capacity for the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples around the world. But only relatively recently did I begin to work for the rights and well-being of mine.”

As a career activist, she continued, “I watched in horror as people that I have known for decades, people who claim to care about human rights and indigenous rights, saw the worst genocide against Jews since the Holocaust, and took to the streets to support it.” They chant slogans for Israel’s destruction claiming that it occupies someone else’s land, she added.

“We are called Jews because we are from the land of Judea. This land is a part of our basic identity and the soul of our people. It’s a part of us and we are a part of it,” said Shmuel. “It’s not about ownership. That’s a colonialist concept. It’s more about stewardship and responsibility. We are responsible for maintaining the well-being and perpetuity of the lands that we are indigenous to.”

After seeing so much hate, she said it was heart-warming to witness “representatives of your ancient and beautiful, rich indigenous nations take the time and energy to drop everything on such short notice and fly across the world to extend your hands in friendship and partnership and stand with us in this difficult, complex and pivotal moment in history. It’s clear that something powerful and epic, I daresay biblical, is taking place here.”

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