Despite University opposition, students offer Palestinian-American poet public venue

| Senior News Editor

Sahil Patel | Student Life

Slam poet Remi Kanazi performs in Brown Hall Wednesday night to a packed room. Kanazi's apperance was organized after his intended appearance on a panel discussing boycott, divestment and sanctions in the Middle East was canceled by the IAS department.

Though the International and Area Studies department tried to prevent him from addressing the public, Palestinian-American slam poet Remi Kanazi nevertheless performed at an open “solidarity” slam Wednesday night.

IAS honorary Sigma Iota Rho (SIR) planned to host its semesterly town hall on the topic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a movement founded in Palestine that intends to combat Israeli presence in contested land with economic sanctions. The panel was to feature Washington University professors and Kanazi discussing the campaign.

Shortly before the panel was to take place, however, the IAS department informed members of SIR that they would not be able to hold the event as planned. Instead, only Kanazi would be able to speak at the event and only SIR members would be able to attend, and, according to SIR members, Kanazi would only be able to discuss his poetry, and not his politics.

Honorary members voiced concern that the department’s decision was inspired by anti-Palestinian sentiment.

Some felt this aligned with an official University statement Chancellor Mark Wrighton sent to all students in December, where the school condemned the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions as contrary to the intellectual philosophy of Washington University, which is centered on “freedom of inquiry.”

“The reason that we’re here today is we feel that [IAS’ decision] is sort of an ironic violation of academic freedom. We put on this event to give Remi [Kanzaki] the chance to express himself,” junior Raja Krishna said at the slam.

In a written statement to Student Life, IAS professor Jeremy Caddel said the department decided to alter the event because they felt the planned panel might not have been as balanced as SIR members had initially suggested it would be.

“SIR is an academic honor society associated with an academic program, IAS. As such, the intent of any public event sponsored by SIR/IAS is to ensure an informed, expert, and balanced campus discussion of the topic. In this case, after consultation with student groups, faculty, and community members, we did not believe that the planned town hall format was conducive to that original intent,” Caddel wrote.

The event opened with student slam poetry performances, junior Sam Lai reciting a poem titled “Dear Mr. Boyce” that he wrote about Peabody Energy. Kanazi then performed several of his poems, interspersed with a discussion of BDS and his experiences as a Palestinian-American. The performance was followed by a brief questions and answer session.

In response to a question about how Kanazi reconciled supporting both BDS and academic freedom, the artist said that the movement does not seek to limit individual scholars’ speech and movements.

“It doesn’t actually stop Israeli academics from traveling, from speaking,” Kanazi said. “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions call, particularly the academic and cultural boycott call, is incredibly nuanced because we don’t want a witch hunt, we don’t want to go after individuals, and we want to have maximum target[ing] of the institutions themselves.”

Students said they enjoyed the event, punctuating Kanazi’s poetry by snapping their fingers. But many were upset that the University attempted to restrict Kanazi’s performance to only SIR members.

“I wish we could have gotten more people [to come out,]” freshman Sam Wexler said. “I think he represents a perspective that’s not often expressed on this campus.”

“To put a speaker with such an incredible voice…in a box makes me upset,” sophomore Olivia Robinson said. “It makes me upset to see that we as an institution would [do that,]”

  • Arafat

    I think Washington Univ. should boycott and divest from the Islamic world.

    This holiday season witnessed a large increase in Christians being killed, raped and forced into refugee status throughout the Islamic world.

    This past year witnessed ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Pakistan and Buddhists from southern Thailand.

    This past year witnessed Palestinians further destroying their own people’s freedoms with Palestinians being tortured for speaking out against their leaders, be it Hamas or Fatah.

    This past year witnessed Syrians starving Palestinian children to death in Syrian refugee camps, in addition to the creation of two million refugees and the death toll skyrocketing towards 200.000. And this IS another Sunni/Shiite rift make no mistake about it.

    This year witnessed another several hundred thousand refugees being created in Mali thanks to Islamic aggression.

    This year witnessed increased attacks against Southern Sudan by Muslim jihadists. This after all the Animists and Christians in Sudan proper.

    This year witnessed endless attacks against Christians and their property in Nigeria.

    This year witnessed relentless persecution of homosexuals throughout the Islamic world.

    I could go on if there are any requests.

  • Arafat

    From the river to the sea, eh?

    Let’s quit beating around the bush. The following is what SJP are really after.

    “In order to clarify my concerns, let’s take a look back in history to 1933 when Hitler rose to power and became Chancellor of Germany and the Nazis won a large number of seats in the German parliament. What followed was the notorious nationwide Nazi boycott targeting Jewish businesses and professionals directed by Nazi stormtroopers posting signs everywhere saying “Do not buy from Jews!” Widespread anti-Semitism mounted with the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 depriving Jews of their basic rights as citizens and banning them from all professional jobs in education, politics, academia and industry which escalated in severity ultimately concluding in the “Final Solution.”

  • Arafat

    While Muslims in Syria kill women, children, elderly indiscriminately – up to 150,000 people and counting – we devote our anger on Israel for we are anti-Semites in sheep’s clothing.

    While Muslims have killed up to one million in Sudan, and counting, we devote our anger on Israel for we are really just anti-Semites pretending we are humanitarians.

    While Muslims in Mali have forced 500,000 (and counting) people into refugee status – as they have done in the past year – we devote our anger on Israel for we are anti-Semites pretending to be for social justice.

    While Muslims kill off what remains of the ancient Hindu population in-and-around Pakistan we devote our anger on Israel for we are like the Germans during the 1930s – people who needed a convenient scapegoat to escape their own feelings of frustration.

    While Muslims have wiped out all the Buddhists from their ancient homeland in Afghanistan we devote our anger on Israel for it’s easy to pick on Jews and we are shameless hypocrites engaging in man’s oldest prejudice, anti-Semitism, while pretending to be holier-than-thou.

  • Robert Brooks, LAS ’59

    I am totally disappointed in the IAS decision to “alter” [read "censor'] this event and dismayed by the silly quest for “balance” in an inherently asymetrical conflict. And the Chancellor’s tired comment on “freedom of inquiry” conflicts with removing speakers from a program ,but it is consistent with the university’s alliance with Israeli institutions. I think the university has crossed a serious line here.

  • Mark Dally

    “In a written statement to Student Life, IAS professor Jeremy Caddel said the department decided to alter the event because they felt the planned panel might not have been as balanced as SIR members had initially suggested it would be.”

    How profoundly coddled do these professors think Wash U students are? Isn’t part of being a mature, educated person the ability to reasonably evaluate arguments whether they’re balanced or not (especially if they’re not)?

    This reflects very poorly on us as an academic institution. Pathetic.

  • anonymous3523423423

    How ironic. A radical racist (and his supporters) who thinks that every person from Israel should be prohibited from speaking at every university in the world is upset because he got a small taste of his own medicine. Don’t dish it out if you aren’t prepared to take it.

    • Jane

      you clearly don’t have any idea what the boycott entails. had you actually come to the event and listened to what he had to say, you would have learned that the boycott targets institutions, not people. in case you didn’t even read the article, i’ll copy this here:
      “It doesn’t actually stop Israeli academics from traveling, from speaking,” Kanazi said. “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions call, particularly the academic and cultural boycott call, is incredibly nuanced because we don’t want a witch hunt, we don’t want to go after individuals, and we want to have maximum target[ing] of the institutions themselves.”

      • anonymous3523423423

        Ah yes, and Kanazi wouldn’t lie would he?

    • WU Senior

      Hey anonymous! People with assumptions such as yours actually came to the event and asked him to clarify. Had you been there, you would have heard that he does not think (nor does BDS) that individuals should ever be targeted. BDS calls out institutional partnerships – they do not the prohibit or advocate the silencing of any individual and his ability to express his views (including those that are incredibly problematic).

      That is a far shot from what was done to him and the entire panel of professors (pro and against BDS) who were silenced as individuals.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think you read the article carefully. The BDS movement does not target individuals, only Israeli institutions that are complicit in the subjugation of Palestinians. It is Washington University administration that tried to hinder the freedom of speech of a Palestinian from speaking simply because he is Palestinian.

      • anonymous3523423423

        Well it seems the BDS crowd has swallowed Kamzi’s load about “we don’t target individuals.” Well, I have some Googling for you, friends:

        Andrew Wilkie

        Richard Seaford

        Jake Lynch

        Mona Baker

        They are all BDS supporters who tried to silence individuals Israelis as part of the boycott. So take your propaganda somewhere else.

    • Robert Brooks, LAS ’59

      And anonymous, don’t comment if you can’t put your John Hancock on it.

  • adam shapiro

    As a WU alum, and former student in the International Studies department, I am outraged that the university would seek to stifle dissenting opinions. Is Washington University so threatened by the prospect of a boycott movement that has its roots and inspiration in the anti-apartheid movement of South Africa, and that harkens back to Gandhi’s efforts in India. Simply because this movement is Palestinian, it is targeted. For years, the question to Palestinians has been, why don’t you use nonviolence. Now that they pursue such strategies on a grand scale, and with impact, those same voices want Palestinians to just go away – exposing their own real agenda and discrimination. Indeed, the students at WU have shown up the so-called ‘leadership’ of the university, which stands not on principle in this case, but ugly racism.

    • anonymous3523423423

      Are you the same Adam Shapiro who leads the ISM and is a vocal supporter of the murder of Israel’s civilians?

      • Anonymous

        Adam Shapiro is a brave and principled activist. He founded the ISM with the mission of bringing civilians from around the world to resist nonviolently the Israeli occupation. Accusing him of advocating for the murder of civilians is deplorable.

        • anonymous3523423423

          “Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both violent and non-violent.”
          -Adam Shapiro

          Yeah, he’s got principles all right.