Israel is NOT a ‘settler colonial’ state

Third Narrative colleague, Prof. Steven Lubet of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, has shared the following with us:

Jonathan Zasloff and I have an essay at explaining why the “settler colonial” trope is tendentious and wrong, even though it has become routine in academia and has increasingly shown up in the mainstream media. You can read it here in its entirety.  Here is the gist:

When academics call Israel a “settler colonial” state, it is not meant as a mere descriptor. Rather, the phrase is a deliberately pointed charge, part of an ongoing campaign to undermine Israel by challenging its very founding – akin to the now-revoked UN General Assembly declaration that “Zionism is racism.” Its aim is to isolate the Jewish state from the legitimate family of nations. 

One might expect the mainstream media to avoid presenting such a controversial and politically charged theory as historical fact. Unfortunately, it has long been all too tempting to blur the crucial distinction between fact and opinion when writing about the Middle East, and the temptation is only intensifying now. 

When applied to modern-day Israel, advocates of “settler colonialism” do not engage in scholarly analysis but rather the political contention that Zionism is morally illegitimate. That is their right, but the mainstream press must not be fooled (or intimidated) into presenting it as a purely scholarly conclusion.

Consider [North Carolina State University Professor Kristen] Alff’s justification that “the Jewish Colonization Association was the first major land purchaser.” This not only erases the crucial difference between “colonization” and “colonialism,” but it also ignores the historical context of terms and the way they have been used over the years.

The “Amana Colonies,” for example, comprise seven Amish villages in Iowa, founded in 1856 by pietists who escaped persecution in Germany. The “Oberlin Colony” was the original name for both the college and the town, founded in 1833 by Presbyterians seeking to establish a utopian community of “selected, consecrated souls.” Wikipedia lists 65 “Arts Colonies” in the United States, dating back to the MacDowell Colony, established in Peterborough, Vermont, in 1907. The escaped slaves Henry Bibb and Josiah Henson founded the “Refugees’ Home Colony” in Canada in 1851.

The “Jewish Colonization Association” – founded in the 1890s in response to Russian pogroms – had no more connection to the colonialism of empires than any of these other nominal colonies. Prof. Alff singled out one word – which in fact, meant “refuge” rather than outpost – to make a political argument.

That is how the corruption of language works, embedding false characterizations one small step at a time, and it is a bad precedent for American journalism’s future coverage of the Middle East.