Section: Opinion

A Response to “SJP Bring extremism to Campus”

I want to preface this article by clarifying my position as a complete outsider in this conversation. I am neither a member of Students for Justice in Palestine or Kenyon Students for Israel, and do not claim to represent the views of  either organization. I am writing this piece in the interest of good journalism, which I believe has an obligation to create accurate representations of reality, rather than disseminate slander and propaganda, deceive readers, and hinder productive communication. Remi Kanazi’s performance on Thursday night was informative, inspiring and passionate, evoking discourses, not of hatred and violence, but of solidarity and human decency. I read this Collegian op-ed (“SJP brings extremism to campus,” Nov. 3) after seeing the performance and found it to be incredibly misleading and hypocritical, utilizing the same methods of “distortion” and “oversimplification” that had it accused KSJP of employing in their own rhetoric.

Perhaps if the author had actually seen Kanazi’s performance on Thursday night, rather than making broad, fairly inaccurate assumptions about his cause on the basis of decontextualized incidents and statements, then he may have seen how Kanazi did not dispel discriminatory, hateful, “radicalized” or anti-Semitic sentiments. Rather, an evaluation of his content as such would be a gross reduction of the complex, intersecting systems of power and oppression that were actually being discussed at the event. In the midst of his fit of semiotic rage, the author of this piece succeeds in reproducing right-wing rhetoric that falsely dichotomizes the conflict into a battle between “us” and “the other”. This obscures the colonial tactics being employed by Israel and the United States that target particular classes of people. He succeeds in doing this by distorting this narrative into one of identity politics, in which complex discussions about disempowerment become oversimplified and misinterpreted, and all forms of dissent get rebranded as anti-Semitism. This tactic is a very dangerous one: It has the potential of completely silencing critique and allowing Western powers to continue to engage in imperialist practices under the guise of democracy.

Furthermore, the author’s accusation that Kanazi engages in “tokenism” by relating the occupation of Palestine to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) again employs a discourse of identity politics, which fails in its analysis to acknowledge how both conflicts arose out of Western imperialist initiatives that displaced indigenous people for capitalist interest. In his critique, Rubenstein ignores how both these movements, along with the Black Lives matter movement, the environmentalist movement, and the Feminist movement are all similarly aligned in their resistance against patriarchalism, colonialism, and capitalism.  In his performance, Kanazi emphasized this point, discussing how even when different struggles arise from disparate historical contexts, none can be adequately addressed without healing all systems of oppression. This is because there are similarities in how these systems of oppression are maintained; In the case of the Palestine Israeli conflict and the struggle of the Sioux tribe against DAPL, the governments are able to exercise control by disseminating narratives that depict the colonizers as heros and martyrs and the colonized as savages and terrorists. In both circumstances, the non-white, indigenous, disempowered individuals are demonized as “other,” and as a result, any initiatives (regardless of how inhumane and violating) that are taken to eradicate “the other” are considered legitimate. By contrast, when a member of the “othered” class attempts to resist their oppression, their demonized status is confirmed, and then “we” become justified in our inhumanity.  

In his critique, the author inaccurately accuses Kanazi of flipping this script, essentially, glorifying the violence of the palestinians, while demonizing the US and Israel. This would be again, a grossly oversimplified reading of what Kanazi set out to accomplish. Rather than privileging the violence of one group over the other, he encouraged the audience to take initiatives that might contribute to the end of violence in its entirety. This can only occur, however, after we understand the violence in Palestine holistically. As long as we fail to acknowledge the specific ways that violence is being employed in a racialized manner and as long as we all remain implicit perpetrators of this violence, then it is quite unlikely that this violence will end.

I believe that op-eds such as Rubenstein’s are not very constructive, as they discourage people who may benefit from gaining a new perspective from attending these kinds of events. It is incredibly important for this kind of discussion to be happening, to make connections between movements, and to understand the complexities of conflicts. Conversations like these are the point of higher education: to challenge and interrogate knowledge and expand our capacity for thought beyond a privileged white bubble. There is a difference between disseminating hate and bigotry and discussing authentic experience that exists outside of dominant ideology. We can not passively accept atrocities committed against any group as inevitable or necessary, we must interrogate this ideology and the system which informs it, and silencing groups like KSJP, just because they challenge this ideology, will only allow it to persist and expand.

Amanda Goodman ’18 is a psychology major with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies from Rye Brook, NY. Contact her at goodmana@kenyon.edu.

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