Eliezer Finkelman

White Colonial Settler Decolonization

Some of the analysis of Israel-Palestine depend on the classifying Israel as a White Colonial Settler oppressor entity.  In that analysis, Israel fits into the category, and so the Palestinians may, and should, oppose Israel “by all means necessary.”  Enlightened allies of the Palestinians can join in those “by all means.”  The actions of Hamas and other Gazans on October 7 count as justified decolonization.

To fit Israel into the “White Colonial Settler oppressor” category, one needs to adjust the definition in significant ways.  Israel does not easily fit into the category “White.”  A majority of Israeli Jews trace their roots to North Africa, the Arab countries, and further to the East in Asia.  They generally resemble their Arab neighbors.  A substantial number of Israeli Jews stem from Ethiopia in West Africa, and would count as Black. In any case, counting a person’s moral worth according to their “race” should be problematic.  We have a good word for that: “racism.”

Israel does not fit into the category of “colonial,” either.  The imperial power that proclaimed the Balfour declaration, England, worked hard to prevent the founding of Israel, and to prevent Jews from immigrating to Israel when Jewish lives were endangered throughout Europe. Most of the Jews of Israel did not come from the supposed “Mother country.”  And no other country became the mother country of Israel.  Nor can Israeli citizens, in general, return to where they (or their great-grandparents) came from.  My neighbors, who immigrated or whose ancestors immigrated as refugees from Yemen, Syria, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Ethiopia, and so forth, cannot go “back.”

Even the category “settler” does not fit easily on Israel.  Jews, after all, lived in Israel centuries ago.  We are returning to our ancestral homeland.  Palestinian Arabs also live in Israel, and, at various times, formed the majority here.  Neither community should count simply as foreign settlers. Anyway, it seems perverse and problematic to judge a person’s moral standing by where her ancestors lived.

So if Israel fits rather awkwardly into the White Colonial Settler oppressor category.  What country fits more precisely into that category? The United States of America.  The USA was formed as a colony of England. Its early rulers have come from the class of men who immigrated, or whose ancestors immigrated, from England, Scotland, and Holland; later the ruling class expanded to include men whose ancestors immigrated from Germany and Ireland. Until Barak Obama, all the presidents counted as White.

The indigenous people of the territory of the United States, the First Nations (misnamed “American Indians”), have suffered terribly under White rule.  White rulers disposed First Nations of their ancestral lands, and sent them to live on far-off reservations. White rulers occasionally enacted frankly genocidal policies.  Even Black Americans, who generally descend from people brought to this country as slaves, were brought to supplant members of the First Nations.  Compared to members of the First Nations, Blacks do not belong here any more than Whites do.

According to the doctrine that commends “decolonization by all means necessary,” Hamas and its allies performed laudable deeds by taking hostages, torturing, killing, and perhaps even by raping Israelis and others as a step towards achieving decolonization.  Israel, however, does not fit well into the category of colonizer.  How much more appropriate would it be for members of the First Nations to take hostages, torture, and kill White or Black Americans!  Enlightened allies of the First Nations could, by the same logic, take hostages, torture, or kill White of Black Americans as a gesture of solidarity with the First Nations.

I wonder why I have not seen the decolonization argument focused on the United States of America.

About the Author
Louis Finkelman currently resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Until recently, he taught Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, and served as half the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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