JUNE 18, 2020

The issue of racism in the US and around the world is shocking. It has major consequences on the fabric of society and the political climate. Racism can manifest itself towards people’s skin colour, culture, ethnicity and religion. One particular discussion in our part of the world that has fuelled racism is concerning one’s DNA. In other words, a person’s DNA can determine their right, or lack thereof, to certain privileges. People are even searching for DNA results to enforce a certain identity and solidify belonging to a certain group. 

Like many people, I decided to conduct an ancestral DNA check. I was interested to find out where my ancestry heritage comes from, and by doing so, also discovering distant relatives who have also conducted the test. Sure enough, I discovered that 97% of my DNA comes from the Levant area. In addition, many of my friends who have conducted this DNA test, have found relatives they never knew they had and discovered how mixed their backgrounds are. But did this matter in terms of living in Israel and Palestine? Does your DNA determine your belonging and membership to a specific people group? Do rights and privileges transfer through your biological makeup?        

Recently, the rabbinical establishment in Israel have decided to carry out DNA checks for people in order to figure out if they are Jewish or not. This of course, comes with important social, religious and political implications. Another recent research study examined and compared between the DNA of Canaanite people from thousands of years ago with the DNA of people who live in Israel and Palestine today. This too, illustrates the political ramifications this type of study can have on the conflict and claims of people to the land.         

For in certain ideologies and theologies, one’s DNA defines one’s divine right to the land, spiritual privileges and role in God’s plan. Simply being born to a family decides your divine inheritance and calling. This exclusive understanding can indeed lead to different forms of racism. We see Jews, Christians and Muslims use this type of rhetoric in discussions among themselves and with each other. Most famous example perhaps, is the binary usage of the term to categorise the sons of Isaac and sons of Ishmael. Ironically however, with all of these discussions of differences between each other using DNA findings, we humans are only 0.1% different from each other. There are a lot more similarities than differences.  

For this reason, the biblical narrative insists that we are all the children of Adam and Eve. We are all created in the image of God. Not only do we have a common origin, but the bible never uses a language of divine privileges and rights on the bases of ethnicity or bloodline. Even the usage of holy seeds in the bible does not talk about the special quality of the seed, rather it focuses on the seeds as one element within the history of God. Jesus illustrates this point with the parable of the seeds, which should be judged by the merit of their fruit. He intentionally throws away DNA claims as legitimate.

Our DNA makeup will not determine who we are, but our love towards others will. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.


Musalaha Executive Director — Salim J. Munayer