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When identity politics is not enough: Liberation struggle comes to Minnesota

Police shootings of black men and the heavy-handed clearing out of the protesters at Standing Rock show that old attitudes are very near the surface.

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the proclamation made by British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour promising a national home for the Jews in Palestine, then part of the worldwide British Empire. In the words of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, it was a move that “opened the door to endless conflict … and clashed precipitously with both the aspirations and natural rights of the Palestinians for nationhood and independence” ("The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," Oxford, 2006, p. 13).

Robert Kosuth

Lord Balfour’s decision served British domestic and imperial interests. Needless to say, non-Jewish Palestinian residents, “the vast native majority,” as Pappe noted, were not consulted. Though far removed in time, place and consciousness from present-day Americans, the Balfour Declaration was hardly an exceptional event in world history. United States history has its parallels in the Native American genocide and black chattel slavery.

Yet despite the depth and persistence of such kinds of violence — or perhaps because of it — they have often been buried, overlooked, swept under the rug, rationalized or explained away by mainstream society and establishment historians. In Israel Palestinian villages have been bulldozed, renamed or planted over with forests. Of late, in the United States, there is more verbal attention to Native and African-Americans, but police shootings of black men and the heavy-handed clearing out of the protesters at Standing Rock show that old attitudes are very near the surface.

Out of all these experiences comes resistance, with the result that these historical events and their consequences are still with us. Those not directly in the line of fire — literally — might take occasional refuge in what is usually termed identity politics. However, identity politics is not a solution to long-lasting, deep-seated structural injustice. Feeling positive about who you are does not right the wrongs of the past or eliminate the chance that you might again become a direct victim in certain circumstances. It might work for a middle-class American minority but it’s not an option for underclass political or economic victims or for Palestinians in Gaza or the Occupied Territories.

This Saturday, Oct. 21, there will be a daylong conference at the University of Minnesota entitled “Parallel Liberation Struggles: Lessons in Resistance” (Keller Hall, Room 3-210, 200 Union Street SE, Minneapolis). The focus will be to examine the themes of structural, direct and cultural violence and methods of resistance in the context of the Palestinian, African-American and Native American experience. Speakers and panelists are drawn from various communities as represented by the Adalah Justice Project, the American Indian Movement, American Friends Service Committee, the Black Panthers, Jewish Voice for Peace and Mondoweiss.

The conference is free and open to the public, though advanced registration is requested. Lunch will be provided. Details are available at

Robert Kosuth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He is the former director of the International Programs Office and Superior English as a Second Language Institute. Kosuth is active in various progressive organizations, most notably Minnesota Break the Bonds.


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Comments (34)


Do you know what it not going to bring about peace in Israel/Palestine? Anyone on either side who takes a one-sided, selective approach to understanding the problem/assigning blame. This is worthless.


Anyone who rejects an Israeli-centric perpsective is being "one" sided? Here we have a multi-cultural-ethnic conference and THAT'S a "one-sided" approach?


Anyone who takes a one-sided approach is being one-sided, be it Israeli-centric or Palestinian-centric. This guy and this conference is very much a one-sided approach.

If you want to get together and have a conference and talk about how terrible Israel is and all the bad things it has done and ignore the complexities (or do the same talking about Palestinians, if you feel that way) that's fine, but don't pretend you are interested in peaceful solutions.


That's a side that hasn't been heard. Those who pretend they want to hear "both" sides aren't exactly interested in any solution, cause they have one. I think they should quit pretending they're really interested in any solution.

“That's a side that hasn't

“That's a side that hasn't been heard.” If they were not heard, they would not be getting billions in foreign aid…

Based on the participants

Based on the participants list, I highly doubt there will be a fair approach. I also wonder if resistance is justified, is any form of it acceptable, including violence and terrorism or violence and terrorism will be condemned…

The Balfour Declaration

was one moment in a maelstrom of them among people who live, or wish to live in peace, in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Here's a nuanced discussion:

Neither Master Nor Subject: Zionism, Empire, and the Balfour Declaration, by Susie Linfield

"the Palestinian, African-American and Native American experience" is not "one-sided." It is a perspective of those who live it. I assume Pat Terry has one as well.

Good read

I really liked the very end:

"Mahmoud Abbas’s demand that Britain apologize for Balfour is a useless, pathetic act—but no more useless and pathetic than Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The British will not repent for Balfour any more than the Arab states will repent for the 1948 invasion of Israel (which they hoped would be, in their words, a “war of extermination”) or the Israelis for the Nakba. Such demands reflect the hopeless wish that history can be undone, which is always an evasion of the challenge to face the future. That is the only place where hope—and politics—reside."

Its a complex, maybe intractable situation. And if there is a peaceful solution, it is going to come from compromise and looking to the future and not the past.

I just want to point out that

I just want to point out that the UN resolution creating two states called one of them “Jewish” so I don’t see how requesting that Jewish nature is recognized may be called useless or pathetic… So Israel’s creation was lawful while the “war of extermination” was, obviously, not.

Same problem, other side

In Kosuth's world, Israel can do no right and Palestine can do no wrong. You take the opposite approach - driving the Palestinians out was lawful, but the Palestinians trying to drive the Israelis out was not. My point - and the point of the passage I cited - is that in this case, trying to re-litigate those kinds of questions is not productive. The two sides have a fundamentally different view of what happened, and neither side is going to be convinced of the other, no matter how hard you or Kosuth tries to make their case. Equally useless in the sense that neither contributes anything to finding a peaceful solution.

I would never say that Israel

I would never say that Israel can do no wrong – of course it can and did. I would also agree that driving Palestinians out was wrong and unlawful. So as you can see, there is a big difference between me and Kosuth. However, in most cases, Palestinians were not driven out but left on their own, in part, because Arab countries promised them that Israel would be exterminated very shortly and they do not want to be on the way.

I agree that we need to face the future and asking for apologies from the past is not very productive. However, we should not forget that past either, and not to get revenge but to make the future fair.


I'll give you credit for being a little more reasonable than Kosuth. But as far as being driven out/leaving on their own, even taking your explanation at face value, the Palestinians leaving was strategic and not intended to give up their land.

And you are right, we shouldn't forget the past. We just can't get hung up on in to the point where it impedes any progress.

Of course Palestinians’

Of course Palestinians’ leaving was strategic (which proves that Arabs intended to destroy Israel) but the main thing is that Israel is not to blame for that…However if I throw something in the garbage, for whatever reason, I can’t demand it back later.


I wouldn't characterize it as throwing it in the garbage. The plan was not to abandon their land, but to - yes- wait for Israel to be destroyed. It was a bad strategic move that didn't work out and it has made it hard to demand it back. But throwing it in the garbage implies they didn't want it, which isn't true.

I have to agree with you – my

I have to agree with you – my analogy is not working. So let me try another one: two siblings are told that they would have to split the inheritance; the brother throws all the papers into the judge’s face and storms out of the room screaming that everything should be his and hoping that his sister dies. The next day he ambushes his sister in the woods but she miraculously survives and he is arrested but now demands his portion of the inheritance…

Reasonable !!!!

"I'll give you credit for being a little more reasonable than Kosuth." - Lets parse what is being proposed as reasonable here. A civilian population leaving during war and Illya making the argument that somehow that's tantamount to treason.

The same old false narrative put forth every time and people pretending its true. And reasonable !!!


I said it was "more reasonable" than Kosuth. Kosuth is totally unreasonable and dishonest, and Ilya at least acknowledges the complexity of the situation. I'm also not sure where you got treason from.

Raj, what is your answer here? Eliminating Israel? 1967 borders?

More of the same

"I said it was "more reasonable" than Kosuth. Kosuth is totally unreasonable and dishonest" - So Kosuth highlights the treatment of Palestinians. And you call them dishonest. Which statement of his was dishonest. ?

"and Ilya at least acknowledges the complexity of the situation." - Thats a dishonest assessment. Illya pretends thats there's no such thing as a Geneva convention. And you want to call that a more honest assessment.

"what is your answer here" - For starters, how about you stating what rights the Palestinians have on that land ?


You answered my question with a question. But I'll answer your question. Well, actually I'll tell what I think is my optimal resolution.

Two separate states - Israel and Palestine, with land swaps to accommodate the large Israeli settlements in the West bank. Or alternatively three states, since Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank do not get along and the land isn't contiguous. Does that help?

What is your ideal resolution?

It is revealing that Mr.

It is revealing that Mr. Maddali didn’t answer your question. Yes, two or three separate states with no right of return (those who can prove that they were forced to leave will get compensation) and Jerusalem as Israeli capital with Arab portion as Palestinian capital. This is looking forward while remembering the past: an aggressor lost a war. East Prussia was annexed by the USSR and hundreds of thousands of Germans were either driven out or fled – do they insist on coming back? And that doesn’t even consider all the Jews who were expelled from the Arab states…

“Kosuth highlights the

“Kosuth highlights the treatment of Palestinians” Sure, while ignoring their treatment in Lebanon. Or treatment of anyone in Syria. Why?

Yes, there is Geneva Convention. It states that terrorism is illegal.

“how about you stating what rights the Palestinians have on that land?” Which land do you mean?

Pretending theres no problem

" Palestinians trying to drive the Israelis out was not. " - What was the end result after each side tried to drive the other out. Who has created an entrenched and deliberate and systematic dispossession of the other people. I think people should quit pretending they are some kind of neutral dispassionate observers all for a supposed peaceful solution, while ignoring basic aspects of what is happening there.


What was the end result after each side tried to drive the other out? One side mostly succeeded. That's what happens in wars - sometimes one side wins. And things usually work out a lot better for the winners. That isn't unique to Israel/Palestine.

Again, what is your solution?

"And things usually work out

"And things usually work out a lot better for the winners. " - So stripping people of their rights (cause they lost a war ) is kinda ok. Great. Would that argument of yours justify South Africa ? After all the side with the better guns won ?


Human history is pretty much a story about the side with the better guns winning. Again, nothing is unique to Israel/Palestine.

Well nothing except

That the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has served as a proxy battle for larger global powers' regional gamesmanship. Particularly during the Cold War era. Peace will always be a dicey prospect due the religious conflicts involved, more so when each side fills the role of pawn (directly or through allied regional concerns) for a global superpower. Not a lot of precedent (at least in modern times) there.

Again with the white privilege?

Yeah, we can't have a conference about colonial aggression, oppression, slavery, and racial inequity without inviting the aggressors, slavers, and oppressors to participate... how one sided is THAT!

When was the last time the Center for the American Experiment invited a Palestinian, Black Panther, or anti-Zionist to a conference? I guess "one-side" is just fine for white folk eh?

Look, it's a free conference open to the public, they'll even feed you. You want to provide more "sides", go.

“When was the last time the

“When was the last time the Center for the American Experiment invited a Palestinian, Black Panther, or anti-Zionist to a conference?” Never… because they do not organize conferences, so far as I could find.

By the way, it is logically impossible to support creating a Palestinian state and be anti-Zionist because Zionism is just an aspiration to create a Jewish state.

Never eh?

Ilya, here's a link to upcoming events sponsored by the Center for the American Experience:

Ok, I was wrong on this. So

Ok, I was wrong on this. So if they do, they should invite someone with the opposite point of view… and maybe they do because I remember that Mr. Black commented on their event with Heather Mac Donald which he attended, I think. However, it is really irrelevant because I think you always say that if someone does something wrong, it doesn’t absolve the other side of doing a wrong thing…

OK, so you were wrong...

"Ok, I was wrong on this." Should have stopped right there Ilya :)

You're effort to mimic my morality fails because I'm not saying it's "wrong" for organizers to decide who speaks in their panels, I'm simply pointing out the fact that all organizers make these decisions and have their own reasons for the decisions they make. It's the expectation that people you want to hear from are entitled to be invited to someone else's forum that reveals the sense of privilege. I don't care who the Center for the American Experience has on their panels, I don't presume to tell them who they SHOULD have.

Now if we want to evaluate the legitimacy of a conference, panel, point of view etc. we need to engage on an intellectual level, not simply throw ad hominem's at organizers and participants. This is another feature of the "conservative" intellect that's become a dominant feature in the last 40 or so years... they seem to think the mere detection of "bias" is an intellectual accomplishment in-and-of itself. One reason conservatives are soooo ill informed is this belief that their own bias determines credibility, and their demand for the absence of bias in those they disagree with negates contrary information. Again, it's just white privilege, a way of putting oneself at the center of the intellectual universe and pretending that no one outside that perspective can be credible.

“I'm simply pointing out the

“I'm simply pointing out the fact that all organizers make these decisions and have their own reasons for the decisions they make.” OK but my point is that listening to the opposite point of view is always good and productive.

“we need to engage on an intellectual level, not simply throw ad hominem's at organizers and participants. This is another feature of the "conservative" intellect that's become a dominant feature in the last 40 or so years.” Aren’t you throwing ad hominem’s at Conservatives by calling a bad thing a “feature” of them?

But getting back to the conference, of course everyone has the right (in America, that is) to invite anyone they want and keep others away. However, it is not productive for solving any conflicts, as Mr. Terry correctly pointed out. My reaction to that conference is that its organizers and participants are totally illogical and hypocritical. I pointed lack of logic in one of my previous posts and the organizers, while accusing Israel of everything, also fail to recognize Palestinian terrorism and multiple rejections of peace in the past AND that Palestinians have been treated worse in some other places and many Arab states treat their citizens much worse than Israel.

By the way

When I talk about the "white male" sense of privilege I'm not literally referring to the white male demographic, I'm referring to the general mentality. Much the same way a woman can be sexist, anyone can manifest the "privileged white male" mentality, it doesn't HAVE to be an actual white guy, it's not about race, it's about intellect. I guess another way of putting is: "Euro-centric" or something but people seem to get-it more easily when we say: "white male" for some reason.

“people seem to get-it more

“people seem to get-it more easily when we say: "white male" for some reason.” It’s an interesting (and correct) observation. Yes, people get it more easily – they either get mad or jump in support without understanding that you don’t mean it to be about race which is good for you. Unfortunately, many others make it about race and take it literally. But, as you said, a woman can be sexist and a non-white person can be racist. So for the sake of our country, let’s stop using this “white male” thing.

“Euro-centric” is at least sounds better but it is still incorrect. As I said many times, history is about facts and their explanations from economic, social, psychological, etc. points of view. Facts are facts and hiding or distorting them makes bad history but otherwise there is no “Euro-centric” or “Afro-centric” history…