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The Myth of the Homeless, Cultureless, Ahistorical Jew

At its core is a simple message: Jews don’t belong anywhere. At least not on earth. 
[additional-authors]
February 29, 2024
Photo from X/Oil London

At a protest in London, scrawled on a small piece of cardboard and written with fewer words than a haiku, a masterpiece of antisemitism was lifted on high. 

“The only place you’re indigenous to is Jahannam!” 

Turn it and turn it, as Ben Bag-Bag said of the Torah, for everything is in it. The idea that Jews belong in “Jahannam,” or “hell” in Arabic, is part of the venerable tradition of religious antisemitism, whether Christian or Islamist, while the reference to indigeneity is a nod to left-wing university-style antisemitism. 

At its core is a simple message: Jews don’t belong anywhere. At least not on earth. 

And since we don’t have a natural, authentic connection to any place in particular, it’s perfectly justified to try and expel us from every place in general. Before the Holocaust, it was common for German Jews to be told to go back to where they came from. Today, after being slaughtered in Europe and chased out of the Middle East and Africa, we are still being told to go back to where we came from, but now they say it was Europe all along.

Like the myth of the wandering Jew, who was cursed for taunting Jesus on the cross, our foot can find no rest as we drag ourselves over the horizon. We are conceived of as unwanted guests at best, dangerous infiltrators at worst. 

Like the myth of the wandering Jew, who was cursed for taunting Jesus on the cross, our foot can find no rest as we drag ourselves over the horizon. We are conceived of as unwanted guests at best, dangerous infiltrators at worst. 

Just as we have no true home, so too we have no true culture or history. Just last May, in a speech to the U.N., Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asserted that there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 

“They dug under al-Aqsa … they dug everywhere, and they could not find anything,” he said. “They lie and lie just like Goebbels.” 

In this reimagined ancient Levant scrubbed clean of Jews, Jesus is recast as a Palestinian. Even Tel Aviv — the first Hebrew city — is given a fabricated Palestinian pedigree. In a video uploaded to YouTube by “The Ask Project,” a young Palestinian woman is asked if she believes Jews have a right to live anywhere in the land. She shakes her head. 

“What about Tel Aviv?” the interviewer asks. 

“There is no Tel Aviv,” she responds with a laugh. “It’s Tel Arabya.” 

Most virulent of all is the charge that Israeli cuisine is stolen from Palestinians — a claim which has gained major traction among American leftists because of its consonance with Western ideas about cultural appropriation. 

Hence, Israeli restaurants in the U.S. have been targeted by protesters not only for their ties to Israel, but also for being culture thieves. In one widely shared video, a woman tears down an Israeli flag from a New York restaurant called “Hummus Kitchen” while shouting that hummus “isn’t even Israeli.” 

“There is no such thing as Israeli cuisine,” writes one user on X. “It’s all stolen/appropriated from Palestine/Egypt/Lebanon/Morocco/Syria/Turkey/Iraq/Iran/Armenia …” 

Note that these countries are all places where Jews have lived for centuries. If Jews don’t live there today, it’s because they were aggressively expelled from those regions. Many of them resettled in Israel, and naturally they took their recipes with them. Had this X user done his research, he would have realized this. 

Similarly, had our protester done her research, she would have learned that “Jahannam” is an Arabization of a Hebrew word found in the Torah. “Gei-Hinnom” originally referred to an area in Jerusalem. It is a beautiful place just outside the Old City, and for a single year I had the great privilege of seeing it each day when I looked outside my bedroom window. 

In the ancient world, it wasn’t so scenic. It was a place of ill-repute. “Gei-Hinnom” thus became a watchword for all that was bad in the world, and by the time Jesus was preaching, the word had come to signify a supernatural netherworld instead of a bad neighborhood. This concept of hell was then adopted by Islam as “Jahannam.” 

There is thus a profound irony in our protester’s sign. The very words she uses to try and sever the Jewish connection with the land conceal an etymological link to our ancient presence in Jerusalem. In her effort to call us thieves, she utilizes an Islamic concept which turns out to be derived from the Torah. 

This isn’t so unusual. Those most eager to erase Jewish history are those who have been most profoundly shaped by it. For most of history, it was primarily Christians who — having built their religion and society on Hebraic foundations — scorned and abused Jews, claiming the Holy Land as their own and dubbing themselves the new children of Israel. Today these ideas are pushed by Palestinian leadership and activists. 

Which is to say that the erasure of Jewish history, culture, and connection to the land is best understood as an act of projection. 

Hence those whose mosque sits on the site of an ancient Jewish Temple accuse the Jews of being foreign colonizers with no historical connection to the land. 

Those whose sacred book is filled with stories and ideas taken directly from the Hebrew Bible accuse the Jews of stealing their falafel. 

Increasingly, this campaign of erasure is winning hearts and minds in America and Europe. They believe that Jews have no culture, no history, and most importantly, no place where we belong. 

Nowhere except “Jahannam.” 

Luckily for us, we know where that really is. 

Jerusalem. 

AKA Zion.


Matthew Schultz is a Jewish Journal columnist and rabbinical student at Hebrew College. He is the author of the essay collection “What Came Before” (Tupelo, 2020) and lives in Boston and Jerusalem.  

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