Could DNA Tests Be the Cure for Racism?

This Friday, January 27, will be the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the notorious concentration camp - Auschwitz. Between the years 1940-45 more than one million people were murdered there because of racism. The victims were people who weren’t “lucky” enough to be born to the Aryan Race that the Nazi regime considered to be superior to the rest.

Many times I wondered if the Holocaust could have been prevented had back in the 1930’s we had the technology and scientific knowledge that we have today. If only DNA tests were available back then. What if Hitler had found out that he had some Ashkenazi Jewish DNA? Would he have sent himself to the gas chamber and salute “Heil Hitler!”?

It’s too late for all those victims, but today we have a chance to really understand that there is no such thing as a race, not to mention a pure race. There are origins; but they keep on changing as people keep migrating to different places and climates. A simple DNA test can track down your ancestry and show you exactly all the mishmash of origins you are made of.

I recently had a DNA test done. The results were surprising, even shocking. But before I share with you the results, let me give you some background about my recognized origin. Both of my parents are Yemeni Jews. The Yemeni Jews are considered to be an ancient Jewish community. It is believed that they are the descendants of the Biblical Tribe of Judah who settled down in Yemen after the destruction of the first temple in 422 BCE.  Many religious Yemeni Jews pride themselves to be pure original Jews. 

When I received my DNA test results it said that I’m 99.3% Middle Eastern & North African. That wasn’t a big surprise. The big surprise was when I looked deeper into my composition and found out that I’m 76.9% North African (between the years 1910-1940) and only 20.6% Middle Eastern (1820-1880). That is strange, considering the fact that my family came to Israel from Yemen in 1950, and they were as Yemeni as Yemeni could be. They were never mistaken to be Moroccan or Tunisian Jews, for example. So that you can understand the gravity of this news let me explain something about ethnicity in Israel. Being a country founded by immigration, there are many ethnic groups in Israel. For some unexplained reasons, each group considers itself to be superior to the rest, even though they are all Jews (and as far as Hitler is considered, they should all go to the gas chambers). A Yemeni Jew would not like to find out that he is actually Moroccan and vice versa. Such a discovery could cause people a serious identity crisis. One of my aunts, for example, didn’t take the news well at all; she told me that the scientists don’t know what they are talking about. 

But the most interesting and entertaining facts were in the small numbers, where I found two other very unexpected origins: The first one was finding out that I’m 0.5% European (1700-1790), but only 0.1% of it is Ashkenazi Jewish. To begin with, I had no clue that I have any European blood in me.  Then, looking closely at the numbers, it means that 4/5 of my European ancestors were not Jewish – that will definitely shock my aunts (but I didn’t have the courage to tell them that part yet). The second funny revelation was to find out that I am 0.1% Native American (also 1700-1790) – how did this DNA get to Yemen?

Laughs aside, this is serious. Imagine if countries will start demanding to have public records of all their citizens’ origins based on their DNA. Would anyone be able to be racist? Would anyone dare to be racist? What if a member of the KKK finds out that he has some African ancestors? Would he still be able to stay racist? What if an anti-Semite finds out that she has some Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors? Would she still be able to stay anti-Semitic? And what if a person from a Western country who opposes the emigrants from the Middle East finds out that his or her ancestors also came from there?

Maybe all those years we were looking for the wrong people to bring peace. Maybe instead of politicians, no matter how good their intentions are, we should look for scientists to find ways to bring world peace.

A few weeks back I had a conversation with my aunt Mazal. As usual, she pleaded with me to come back to Israel. Aunt Mazal believes that all Jews should live in the Holy Land. “You should live in the land of your ancestors,” she said adamantly. “Since I have Native American DNA,” I told her, “I’m actually living in my ancestors’ land.” She laughed, but her response was expected, “That is not from our side of the family.”