LETTER: Israel and settler-colonialism

Submitted by SJW on 22 May, 2018 - 7:54 Author: John Cunningham
We will return

More debate on the Right of Return here.

I would like to take up just one issue – “settler colonialism” — in Ashok Kumar’s lightweight and hardly coherent “Response to critics” (Solidarity No. 469).

If you criticise Israel as a settler colonialist state (let’s assume you think this position is correct), what exactly are you saying? Does this somehow make Israel uniquely bad? If settler colonialism is to be condemned then what about the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina (probably) and the French in Algeria, up to the war of independence in the 1960s or the polices of the Soviet Union in some of their “Republics” (Kazakhstan for example) which, in essence, were settler colonialist.

All these countries were broadly settler colonial in the sense that Ashok Kumar is talking about and in many of these places the policies of the settlers towards the indigenous people was brutal in the extreme — I understand that on the island of Tasmania for example, the entire indigenous population was slaughtered, every man, woman and child. But does it mean anything concrete to be against settler colonialism?

It existed, yes; it was racist and at times verged on the genocidal, yes — but today we need to concern ourselves with its legacy by, for example, supporting the fight for the rights of the remaining indigenous people and certainly part of that fight is understanding what happened in the past, but condemning settler colonialism is a bit like condemning the Dark Ages. It was a brutal period in human history as we all know but what earthly value is there in denouncing it?

In a general moral sense we condemn all inhumanities but practically speaking you might as well carry a placard around the streets saying “NO sacking of Rome! Visigoths out!” The states I have mentioned are all legitimate entities regardless of their origin and what is the point of criticising their beginnings as settler colonialist states, as if this somehow raises questions about their status today.

No one would think to criticise the legitimacy of Canada, to demand that it shouldn’t exist. Yet Israel seems fair game for this type of invective. Actually Israel isn’t a settler colonial state but I won’t elaborate on this as Sean Matgamna has already replied to this point.

Even if you accept the parameters of this argument, shoddy as they are, it still doesn’t make sense. Israel exists — check it out on a map — and if you don’t like this fact, tough. Whether or not you like the policies of the Israeli government is a different question. As Chernyshevsky once remarked “the truth is concrete”. The alternative is what? To drive the Israelis into the sea (I am sure Ashok Kumar doesn’t agree with this) and if this is your position you’d better have a large, well-equipped army to back it up.

As good old Labriola once remarked “ideas do not drop out of the sky”, any analysis of present day Israel has to start from the concrete realities on the ground not meaningless — and misapplied — abstractions about settler colonialism.

John Cunningham

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.