On Remi Kanazi: A call for responsibility in conversations on Israel-Palestine

“Don’t ask me to engage in dialogue. You don’t want dialogue, you want domination.” Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi spoke these words last week at an event sponsored by Macalester Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (MacSUPER). Kanazi shared brave and important experiences that people on this campus concerned about the future of the Middle East need to hear. His stories remind us that, as Zionists, we have a responsibility to reckon with the injustices Kanazi and other Palestinians have faced and continue to face. For much of our lives, we had not encountered this narrative, and by speaking with Palestinians both on and off campus about issues many would consider thorny or too controversial, we have learned and relearned the importance of bringing an end to the occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

We see dialogue as an important beginning for action based on understanding. Kanazi disagrees with this by advocating for the tactic of anti-normalization. Anti-normalization believes that collaborating on events or discussions with organizations that support—or sometimes even simply recognize—the state of Israel is anathema to the belief in Palestinian human rights. Anti-normalization believes that such dialogues or collaborations provide cover for continued oppression in the region, rather than as a way of action aimed at ending this conflict.

At the event, SUPER co-Chair Muath Ibaid ’17 cautioned the audience against taking everything Kanazi said at face value, calling upon everyone to critically engage his perspective. We are answering that call.

Anti-normalization runs counter to Macalester values. Macalester constantly asks us to engage across differences and learn from one another not just as an end in and of itself, but as a way of being better equipped to solve the problems this world faces. Those who adopt anti-normalization deprive themselves of the opportunity to learn from others and deprive others of the opportunity to learn from them.

It is also an irresponsible way of advocating for Palestinian rights. Engaging with Palestinian voices is what led us to care deeply about the rights of Palestinians, and work for self-determination for Palestinians in a state of their own alongside Israelis. Hearing about the injustices faced by those living under occupation continually reminds us of the urgency of solving this conflict, and our responsibility to play a role in ending it. Without intergroup dialogue that fosters mutual humility, this kind of change is not possible.

Activist organizations have a responsibility for how they shape the conversation on their issues. As a campus, we should choose to invite speakers who will present perspectives we are interested in learning from. All groups—from Mac SUPER, to J Street U, to Mac CARES need to feel this responsibility. A speaker who advocates against hearing more than one side of this issue does not help build the kind of community we know MacSUPER and other groups on this campus are trying to create.

Kanazi advocates for one way of engaging on Israel-Palestine, and dismisses all other alternatives. Since hosting a speaker such as Kanazi without taking a stance on anti-normalization risks implicitly endorsing it, MacSUPER and groups like them on other college campuses face a choice: to normalize, or not to normalize? To engage with those who support Israel’s existence and oppose the occupation, or to ignore many who want to see a more peaceful future in Palestine and Israel?

We envision a Macalester where opinions such as Kanazi’s are not the only acceptable option. Having Kanazi share the stage with other voices could have better served SUPER’s goals of education and thoughtful engagement, which were their reasons for bringing Kanazi.

A day after Kanazi’s event, Mac SUPER, J Street U and the Multifaith Council co-sponsored a vigil to honor the lives of those affected by the violence in Israel and Palestine this summer. Kanazi would criticize this as normalization. But we brought these voices together not to homogenize them, but rather to demonstrate a shared commitment to finding an end to this conflict. There are a multitude of narratives on this issue, many of them involve struggle and strife, and they all must be heard.

Loving Israel as Macalester students forces us to live in complexity every day. We feel called to reckon with injustices caused by the occupation, to hear the brave stories of people like Kanazi. And, when Israel and Palestine come up in campus conversations, it is deeply personal, connected to our families, histories and identities. We call on our peers to step into this complexity with us, rather than away from it. We are not asking you to agree with us. We are simply asking that you reject Kanazi’s notion that our stories are not worth hearing.