Politics

Settler Colonialism: A Guide for the Sincere

A former colleague of mine liked to say that there are certain ideas that vanish in the presence of thought. Among those ideas is settler colonialism — or rather, the invidious, hypocritical and historically illiterate way in which it is often denounced in anti-Israel polemics and protests.

What is settler colonialism? The Legal Information Institute offers the following definition: “A system of oppression based on genocide and colonialism that aims to displace a population of a nation (oftentimes indigenous people) and replace it with a new settler population.” What is settler colonialism as it applies to Israel? The idea that Israel is a British colonial scheme that aimed to create a Jewish ethno-state by eliminating the native Palestinian society and, crucially, that the only way to right this wrong is to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.

It’s hard to know where to begin, but here’s a thought: If settler colonialism needs to be eliminated, why not get rid of all settler colonialism?

That would start with the United States, which began as a settler-colonialist enterprise under British, Dutch and Spanish rulers, and continued as one under American rule. Some progressives try to nod to this fact with land-acknowledgment statements, which are now common on college campuses, but that’s a remarkably cheap and performative form of atonement.

Real atonement — of the type that’s now being demanded of Israelis — would look quite different. If you’re an American citizen of non-Native American descent, leave. Leave Hawaii. Leave California. Leave Massachusetts, too. Return to the lands of your ancestors — if they will have you. If not, that’s your problem.

If you are allowed to stay, do so under an entirely different form of government, one that isn’t based on the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Sign over the deed of your property to the descendants of those dispossessed by past generations of settler colonialists. Live under new rulers, not of your own choosing.

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