Posted by: Steve Coplan | February 23, 2006

Still no apology from Christopher Hitchens

I somehow come across an op ed in the LA Times that Christopher Hitchens wrote about the African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates inadvertently turning up a Jewish great great grandmother (Shalom, Professor Gates, registration required) through a genetic test, and relating his own experience of discovering some Semites lurking in the shadows of the Hitchens family line. Unfortunately, in the same piece he also mistakenly located the BaLemba in Namibia — about 1,000 miles where the majority of the people once known as Kruger’s Jews live.
They have a fascinating story about their origins, but the incontrivertible evidence was delivered in the form of a genetic study that indicated a higher incidence of the ‘Cohan’ or priestly descent haplotype amongst the BaLemba than the general Jewish population- Y Chromosomes Travelling South. The priestly clan had an even higher incidence.

As an aside, the study was based on the conclusions of a study performed earlier on Jews across the world that turned up consistent genetic distinctions between Cohanim (the paternally inherited priesthood), Leviim (non-Cohen members of the paternally defined priestly tribe of Levi), and Israelites (all non-Cohen and non-Levite Jews).

Since I was mildy offended as someone who is familiar with the Lemba’s situation on a personal basis, is from South Africa and was once a journalist, wrote this email over a week ago to the person who is presumably his assistant:

“In the LA Times column of Feb 9, Shalom, Gates, Christopher Hitchens incorrectly identifies where most Lemba currently live. The BaLemba are spread between the Limpopo Province of South Africa and southern Zimbabwe, some hundreds of miles from Namibia. This may be of interest if there ever is further occasion to mention the Lemba —”

Not a single, bloody word in reply. Nothing.



  1. I am a 27 year old Lemba. I am facsinated by my history and my connection to the Jewish state of Israel. I have reason to believe that I am one of the most zealous amongst my age group.

    Currently I am doing my 3rd year at the University of the Witwtersrand, Johannesburg. I have participated in numerous SAUJS events and had a lots of people pulling faces when I walked around campus putting up related posters.

    I am not ashamed of who I am and would do it over and over again if I had to.

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