STUART REES Visa for Remi Kanazi, Poetry for Australia

Apr 2, 2019


In denying the American/Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi a visa to enter Australia, what on earth was the Australian government thinking? What stereotype assumptions about the word ‘Palestinian’ influenced that decision?

It appears that the anti-Palestine lobby has mounted their usual accusations of anti-Semitism against anyone who speaks truths about Israel/US government oppression of the Palestinian people.

Robot-like use of charges of anti-Semitism should be debunked, whether against Kanazi or anyone who refers to the cruelties, violence and racism so central to Israeli policies towards Palestinians. Australian politicians and public servants should do the debunking and grant a visa to this poet.

As with prejudice against any ethnic group, anti-Semitism should never be tolerated. But poetry or prose which identifies massive human rights abuses against a mostly powerless people is not anti-Semitic. Please let us end the political cowardice and intellectual laziness inherent in automatically accepting that criticism of Israeli oppression must be anti-Semitic.

The terrorist smear against Kanazi is equally insulting. The word terrorism is being used by several authoritarian governments to justify silencing and punishing critics. How far does the Australian government have to look to see which dictatorial administrations they appear to be imitating? Turkey, Russia, China, Hungary, Saudi Arabia? Which bedfellows does brave, fair go, human rights respecting Australia choose?

A reflective erudite poet is smeared as a terrorist by the Victorian Anti Defamation Commission, an organisation which, ironically, opposes hate by generating its own version. They have stooped as low as possible by trying to bolster their opposition to Kenazi by connecting his possible appearance in Australia to the Christchurch massacre.

Were politicians in Canberra so influenced by this crude invective that they decided to deny Kenazi’s visa? Or, on second thoughts, could they be so repulsed by the Commission’s behaviour that they will reverse the decision and grant the visa?

If terrorism means unlawful use of violence and intimidation, consider the practices which Kenazi opponents represent and which he, in common with millions around the world is opposing. The UN has just reported that as many as 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli snipers since the March of Return protests began a year ago. At that Gaza/Israel fence, over 20,000 Palestinians have been maimed, many for life. The fatalities included 35 children and easily identified journalists, paramedics, nurses and a wheelchair bound onlooker. The UN has concluded that this murderous violence almost certainly constituted war crimes.

Protests against oppression refer to atrocities, including the siege of Gaza into its eleventh year. In making this criticism I am not supporting the Hamas government of Gaza, with whose leaders I have at least engaged in face to face dialogue. Neither am I underestimating the endless fear which affects the lives of Israel citizens as well as Palestinians. But in the same reflection, don’t forget the 1,400 Gazans killed in 2009 in Operation Cast Lead or the 2,200 fatalities, including almost 500 children killed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Please, would someone in the Canberra visa granting culture ask and answer the following questions: Who are the terrorists? Who is responsible for oppression? Which arms trading governments facilitate human rights abuses? Why can’t Australian authorities respect the philosophy and language of non-violence by granting a visa to Kenazi?

It is an historical nonsense to even suggest that poets could threaten a state’s security.

Over centuries, across countries and cultures poets have pictured the benefits of civility, rights and justice. In ‘The Mask of Anarchy’, in response to government killings, the English poet Shelley advocated non-violence. In ‘All One Race’, Australian Aboriginal poet Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Nunucaal) argued for the interdependence of all people. For writing her poem ‘Resist My People, Resist Them’, the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour was last year sentenced by the Israeli occupying power to five months jail.

Does an Australian government really wish to be seen in the same league as a punitive human rights abusing government just because a toxic lobby has made the usual accusations against a prospective Palestinian guest?

Consider the record and writings of Kanazi. There’s so much to be grateful for.

Through poetry he has described human rights abuses in Palestine and Iraq. He has considered the consequences of prejudices such as Islamophobia. He has toured North America and the UK but can’t come to Australia?

Post Christchurch, it would be a wonderful fillip for a newly tolerant and visionary Australia to have a chance to reflect on the essence of Kanazi’s work. He once wrote, ‘I don’t want to co-exist. I want to exist as a human being. And justice will take care of the rest.’

Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus, University if Sydney and recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize.

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