The Old City of Jerusalem seen from Mount of Olives, Israel
A study has been misrepresented on social media. Image by EPA PHOTO

Study misrepresented in Jewish ancestry claim

Blair Simpson-Wise May 24, 2024

A study proves 97.5 per cent of Jewish people in Israel have no genetic ties to the region.


False. The study did not test the genetics of Jewish people in Israel.

A 2012 study proves 97.5 per cent of Jews living in Israel have no genetic ties to the land, social media users are claiming.

This is false. The study, which looked at the ancestry of European Jews, did not involve any Jews living in Israel.

The claim has appeared in dozens of Facebook posts amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas War.

Most versions contain the wording: “Johns Hopkins genetic study shows 97.5% of Judaics [sic] living in Israel have absolutely no ancient Hebrew DNA, are therefore not Semites, and have no ancient blood ties to the land of Palestine at all. Whereas 80% of Palestinians carry ancient Hebrew DNA and thus are real Semites”.

An image of one of the Facebook posts featuring the false claim.
 Many very similar posts have appeared on social media. 

Many of the posts link to an article published on a website called VT Alternative Foreign Policy.

The article’s headline reads “John’s Hopkin’s [sic] Genome Study Proves Jews ‘Interlopers’ in Palestine…no ‘Semitic Blood’ WHATSOEVER” and refers to a 2012 academic article in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

This article explores the controversial hypothesis that Ashkenazi Jews, who have significant European ancestry, descend from the Khazars, a Turkic people who lived in southern Russia, the Caucasus and Kazakhstan in the Middle Ages.

Article author Dr Eran Elhaik wrote that Ashkenazi Jews do have genetic links to the ancient Khazars, with roots also in the Middle East and Europe.

In an interview shortly after the academic article’s publication, he said his findings suggest only a small proportion of the genetic makeup of European Jews is linked back to Israel. 

However, he told AAP FactCheck the claim that his study proves 97.5 per cent of Jews living in Israel have no genetic connection to the area is false.

He confirmed his study did not look at Israeli Jews – or “Judaics (sic) living in Israel” as the claim puts it.

“I did not [include Israeli Jews in the study sample],” Dr Elhaik told AAP FactCheck.

Dr Elhaik’s study came in for criticism, in particular for his use of DNA from modern Caucasus peoples as a proxy for ancient Khazars.

Professor Emeritus Karl Skorecki, a genetics expert at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, co-wrote a 2013 paper refuting Dr Elhaik’s research, finding no evidence of a Khazar origin for Ashkenazi Jews. He also found Ashkenazi ancestry is primarily Middle Eastern and European.

Prof Skorecki told AAP FactCheck the social media claims are false.

Israelis walk by the Dome of the Rock Mosque
 The study did not look at Jews living in Israel. 

Notwithstanding his criticism, he said Dr Elhaik’s paper (on which the social media claims are based) only considered one component of Jewish Israelis – Ashkenazis – who he said comprise less than 50 per cent of current Israeli Jews.

A 2018 paper puts the figure at 32 per cent. 

“The post is yet another among myriad unsubstantiated and discredited claims that have been made regarding the genealogic and genetic affinities of Jews and Arabs in Israel,” Prof Skorecki said.

There have been various studies looking at Jewish ancestry over recent decades with varying results.

This 2020 study looked at ancient DNA samples in present-day Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. It found most modern Jewish groups, including those living in Israel, could draw more than 50 per cent of their ancestry from sources related to the ancient Middle East.

Study co-author Shai Carmi, a computational genetics researcher at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told AAP FactCheck that it’s impossible to precisely estimate the Middle Eastern proportion of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, but studies indicate it is between 15 and 50 per cent.

“I don’t see any citations in this post and, to the best of my knowledge, these numbers are made up,” Prof Carmi said of the claim.

The Verdict

The claim that a study proves 97.5% of Jewish people in Israel have no genetic ties to the land is false.

The study, which looked at the ancestry of European Jews, did not involve any Jews living in Israel.

It instead found that European Jews are largely descended from the Khazars.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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