The Eternal Settler, by Benjamin Wexler – 20 June 2024

From K. The Magazine

“What did y’all think decolonization meant?,” reads the hyper-viral tweet that circulated after October 7.

As antisemitic violence erupted in Canada, I could not help but wonder if this, too, is “what decolonization meant.” When Jewish schools are shot at, is that decolonization? (There have been five gunfire attacks against Canadian Jewish schools since October 2023.) How about when a synagogue is firebombed? After all, I can think of no measure by which a Jew in Canada is less a settler than a Jew within Israel’s 1948 borders. And it must be admitted that most Canadian Jewish institutions are Zionist, so if “Zionism” is the threshold justifying murder, then those lives are equally forfeit.

Phoebe Maltz-Bovy, an editor at the Canadian Jewish News, has already asked “Where, on planet Earth, would a Jew not be considered a settler?” The people attacking synagogues in Montreal consider the Jews here a foreign element, just as Hamas considers Jews in the Middle East a foreign element. Indeed, a good portion of Jewish history consists of Jews persisting in places where the local population reviles them, a truth that coexists uneasily with the Manichean division between settler and indigene. Jewish settlement in Europe during the Middle Ages was in the gift of the ruler. In periods of peasant, noble, or burgher rebellion, Jewish presence itself became an instantiation of the sovereign’s oppression. 

References to Jews as colonists long predate Zionism. During the French Revolution, politicians and pamphleteers warned that granting Jews equality would transform Alsace into a “colonie des juifs”. Lorenzo Veracini – a leading scholar of settler colonial studies – argues that “vampire stories are inherently settler colonial stories…vampires, after all, are pale and exotic beings that empty the land and are obsessed about owning it [sic].” Not coincidentally, the vampire—unholy, avaricious, immortal, atavistic, parasitic, mystical, blood-drinking, lustful, “pale and exotic”—approximates a clear set of antisemitic typologies. So does the common notion of Israel as a fundamentally artificial society, appropriative rather than productive, international rather than rooted, a vampire among nations.

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Benjamin Wexler is a writer based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and a recent graduate of McGill University.