An Open Letter to Nick Estes: Honor the Indigenous Rights Movement and Support Israel

Dear Nick Estes,

In an open letter published in Indian Country Today, you urged Professor S. James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, to “honour” the goals of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement and cancel his trip to Israel on the grounds that it is a “settler colonial” state.

I understand that Mr. Anaya did not heed your calls, and I believe that I can shed some light as to why.

Since you are a doctoral candidate in American Studies, I was surprised to find your letter filled to the brim with inaccurate details and lies. Rather than argue in support of any tangible principles, you present falsehoods as facts, repeat the same misleading and ambiguous talking points you’ve made in previous articles, and hide behind the appeal to authority argumentation that comes from being a descendant of the Lakota tribe. May I remind you, Mr. Estes, that while the Lakota do have experience in regards to colonization, that does not grant them expertise on Middle Eastern history.

I will also remind you that BDS is actually antithetical to the goals of indigenous peoples everywhere, as it seeks to take away the self-determination that Jewish people have reclaimed on their ancestral lands. As it stands, the Jewish people are the only indigenous people to have accomplished this.

In a bid to illustrate your real agenda (which appears to be synonymous with that of the BDS movement: to delegitimize and eliminate the State of Israel), I will simply go through your letter point by point and refute it.

Point 1: BDS

The only part of your first argument that has any validity is that the BDS movement began in 2005. The other points you attempt to get across are built on the false claim that Jews are not indigenous to the State of Israel, and are therefore “occupying colonists.”

I wonder, if you are indeed a human rights “activist,” why you are so invested in the rights of Palestinian refugees who left Israel following 1948, but have nothing to say of the nearly one million Jewish refugees who were forced from their homes from across Arab lands and Iran? What about the rights of these refugees? Why are Jews so undeserving of your support and others who claim to seek justice for marginalized communities? Is it because Israel, then a new state that could barely stand by herself, absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees following her creation, while most Arab states (meanwhile) continue to refuse entry to Palestinian refugees? Surely, if this is the case, I can see why you hold such a grudge against Israel… Not.

You claim that Israel must “ends its occupation of Arab-Palestinian” lands but this statement in itself is paradoxical. You see, Jews can trace their presence in Israel for almost three thousand years, far before the first Arabs left the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century to conquer surrounding lands. If you claim that Palestinians are also Arab, you’ve made my point for me: that the Palestinians of today are descendents of Arabs from Arabia, while the Jews of today are descendents of the Levant.

If we were to follow the logic associated with BDS, then the U.S. government did indeed have the right to carve the faces of its presidents into the Paha Sapa, just as Arabs had the right to build a mosque atop the Temple Mount – a Jewish historical and biblical site – in Jerusalem. Let me ask you, Mr. Estes, who are the colonizers and who are the indigenous peoples here?

Point 2: Colonialism

In your letter, you write that the UN was “founded partly to end colonialism,” and that Israel “practices a form of settler colonialism, very much aligned with what the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia practice against indigenous peoples.” The UN, however, was founded to provide a governmental body for the world, and one could argue that, with it being controlled by colonial governments, it actually perpetuates colonialism. And it has.

For example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has officially granted titles to indigenous sacred sites to those who colonized them – sites like the Temple Mount and Western Wall. Since you are a doctoral candidate in historical studies, I will ask you, Mr. Estes, how the Arabs (who conquered the Levant in the 7th century) can be indigenous to it, particularly when Jewish people had already resided there for thousands of years? If the goal of “settler colonialism” is indeed to “seize native lands (often by force) and replace them with a settler population,” then wasn’t the Arabs’ conquest of the Levant and its surrounding area a form of settler colonialism? And then, wasn’t the return of the Jews in the 1800s a return of an indigenous people from exile?

As someone who supposedly struggles against settler colonialism, it would be incumbent upon you to not only study all forms of it, but to side with the actual indigenous people rather than those who colonized it and forced their language, religion and customs on indigenous peoples across the Middle East, including Israel. As you say, Mr. Estes, colonialism is indeed a crime. But it was committed against the Jews, not by them.

Point 3: The United Nations

Though you refer to the UN as some sort of unbiased arbiter, it’s important to note that it has actually been categorically biased against Israel from its inception. In fact, you admit yourself that the UN labelled Zionism as “racist” early on, something no other liberation movement has ever been defined as. Zionism, in its simplest definition, is the belief that Jews should have the right to self-determination on their ancestral lands. When the UN makes defamatory statements against Israel on behest of its many Arab member states but refuses to condemn any other actual abuser of human rights, it’s safe to say that it has an agenda. Why else would it put Saudi Arabia and Iran (a nation that executed roughly 437 innocent civilians in 2016) on its human rights councils? How is it that, during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the UN denounced Rwanda only once, but managed to condemn Israel a startling 13 times?

Point 4: Apartheid

In a recent speech that has since been etched into the memories of some three million viewers, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer asked Arab member states of the UN, after launching yet another anti-Israel resolution, “Where are your Jews? How many Jews live in your countries?” How, Mr Neuer asked, does Israel face accusations of “apartheid” when in the entire Middle East, not only has the Jewish population been essentially eradicated, but there are countries that explicitly have separate sets of laws for different peoples?

Muslim-majority countries currently count for 99 per cent of the landmass of the entire Middle East. The world’s only Jewish state (and the only state in the Middle East where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live harmoniously) counts for one. So where, again, is the apartheid?

Point 5: Academia

While there are indeed Palestinian scholars, it seems that those who are involved in the Israel-Palestinian conflict forsake their academia in lieu of promoting a political agenda. In the Palestinian Territories (and in UNRWA-affiliated schools), students are taught revisionist history where there is no trace of the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem or Israel. Palestinian “teachers” ignore archaeology, genealogy and even history in order to promote the facade that Palestinians are indigenous to the land.

Mr. Estes, I am calling on you as an actual indigenous rights activist to stop supporting the inversion of history and stop advocating for academic and cultural boycotts of the world’s only Jewish – and first indigenous – state. It is paramount to the indigenous rights movement that we identify BDS as what it is: cold, calculated, antisemitism.


Ryan Bellerose

A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football, reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.