Reflections on Tribal and National Loyalty

Recently I saw a Facebook post by Ryan Bellerose. Ryan is an Indian of the Metis tribe who lives in Canada, an activist for indigenous (aboriginal) peoples – all of them, including the Jewish people.

He wrote:

I side with my people before everything else. I can count on one hand where I sided with a non indian over an indian (the indian had to be really really wrong) but I would never side against my people on anything of real importance and I will never stand with anyone who stands against my core beliefs. why is this so difficult for people to understand?

Family. Clan. Tribe. Nation. Country. in that order, no exceptions, that’s how loyalty should be. family first last and always. nuff said.

Most people today agree about loyalty to their family. The other stuff, it depends. When I was in school in the 1950s, we learned about Stephen Decatur Jr., the American naval officer and hero of the wars against the Barbary Pirates, who was reported to have said “Our country!  … may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” This was presented as an admirable example of patriotism. Later, in the late 1960s, it became for many an example of chauvinism or jingoism, something not at all admirable (and after the turn of the millennium, Barry Rubin reported that it seemed as though education in the US was aimed to develop precisely the opposite position, that America was always wrong).

Since 1945, tribalism and nationalism have officially fallen out of favor. The World Wars of the 20th century were blamed on nationalism, and the UN and EU were founded to keep a lid on it. Countless international institutions in those frameworks were created in order to erase or blur national differences and boundaries. Those who express sentiments like those of Bellerose, Decatur, and me, were considered throwbacks, pitied for their atavistic inability to grasp the equal value of all humanity, to understand that everyone has the same human rights. Zionism, which is nothing more or less than Jewish nationalism, got a bad rap.

Although the one-worldism of this period didn’t appeal to me, at least it was consistent. Every human had the same rights.

But then something else happened in the ideological space: post-colonialism appeared. Thanks to writers like Franz Fanon and Edward Said (and the KGB’s psychological warfare machine), it began to be popular to think that although in theory everyone should have the same rights, that entity known collectively as “the West” or “Whites” had for centuries systematically abused and exploited “the Third World” or “People of Color;” and now, in the name of human rights and fairness, it became necessary to compensate the formerly colonized peoples.

This compensation takes multiple forms, from actual monetary reparations to the descendants of slaves, to excusing violence on the part of “colonized” peoples. Because Palestinian Arabs are supposedly “occupied” by Israeli “settler-colonialists,” they are permitted – they will even argue (wrongly) that they are allowed by international law – to employ terrorism against them. When a 17-year old Jewish girl is killed by a remote-controlled bomb, as happened Friday, the PLO will not condemn the act, and Hamas will celebrate it. It is, they say, their right.

Indeed, the acceptance by the international community of systematic war crimes committed by “oppressed third world” movements like Hezbollah, Hamas, and other similar militias is, or should be, a scandal.

In the post-colonial model, tribalism and nationalism are still anathema, except for the formerly or currently “colonized,” particularly the Palestinian Arabs, whose own nationalism – not to mention misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, and extreme propensity for violence – are all excused as the legacy of the colonial past.

In its milder form, post-colonialism informs the political correctness that plagues American campuses. “People of color” have victimhood rights that “whites” do not, including the right to impose segregation, to decide what topics can be discussed and who can have opinions about them, and so forth. Violation of these “rights” constitute “racism,” which is punished severely by ostracism and often loss of employment.

The difference between the idealistic postwar emphasis on human rights and the postcolonial era, which dates more or less to the 1970s, is striking. The language, which often refers to human rights, is similar, but in practice the exercise of these rights is limited to favored groups.

The contrast between the two periods is illustrated by the 1947 UN decision to partition the Palestine Mandate in a way intended to be fair to both its Jewish and Arab residents, versus the later, biased decisions of the UN, of which the 1975 General Assembly Resolution 3379 declaring Zionism to be a form of racism was a prime example.

Today postcolonialism is firmly ensconced in international institutions in the academic world, and in the media. The contradiction between the emphasis on human rights – for some groups – and the denial of self-determination for the Jewish people (who are never included among those who are considered victims of colonialism) is especially evident in Europe. Zionism, despite the UN’s repeal of Resolution 3379, is still considered “racist” by many, even though they don’t bat an eyelash at Palestinian nationalism – which includes the explicit intention to ethnically cleanse a Palestinian state of Jews.

But there does not need to be a contradiction between human rights and the older conception of nationalism. Prioritizing family, clan, tribe, nation, and country, as Ryan Bellerose does, does not necessarily imply denying rights to others. You can believe, as is stated in Israel’s declaration of independence and her recently passed Nation State Law, that the State of Israel is a Jewish state – that is, a state of, by and for the Jewish people – without denying the civil rights of non-Jews that live in it. This is what it means to be a Zionist.

Those of us who feel this way also understand the concept of national or tribal honor, and its importance. We understand that perhaps Israel had a reason to refuse to permit her enemies Tlaib and Omar to enter the country over and above the calculation of whether it would be better or worse PR than letting them in: national self-respect.

President Trump’s remark about Jewish loyalty might have been unfair to all of the Democratic Party. It might have represented the kind of poor boundaries sometimes attributed to Trump. But it certainly wasn’t antisemitic. And it wouldn’t hurt for American Jews to engage in more than a little introspection on the subject.

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One Response to Reflections on Tribal and National Loyalty

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I thank you for this piece. I did not understand the difference between the first and second periods you write about, and especially about the post- colonial period.

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