The Israel lobby in Australia is trying to block Palestinian American poet Remi Kanazi from receiving a visa to speak in the country.
Kanazi is scheduled to participate in the annual Marxism conference in Melbourne next month and to undertake a performance tour in Australia.
Kanazi told The Electronic Intifada that on 27 March he applied for an Electronic Travel Authority – an online authorization to travel to Australia.
Within hours he received an email informing him: “An automated assessment has been made. Unfortunately your application is one of a small number of applications that cannot be approved due to checks required by the Australian Government.”
Kanazi said he plans to follow the instructions contained in the email in order to continue his application through an Australian consulate, and hopes to visit the country as planned.
Yet as Kanazi goes through the process he faces a campaign of defamation and pressure by anti-Palestinian activists smearing him as an anti-Semite and a supporter of “terrorism” – standard tactics of Israel and its lobby groups seeking to silence Palestinians and those who advocate for their rights.
Widely published, Kanazi has in fact used his poetry and political commentary for years to convey a strong anti-racist message and to express solidarity with peoples’ liberation struggles in Palestine, the United States and around the world.
More than 1,200 people have responded to the smear campaign by signing a petition urging the Australian government to grant Kanazi’s visa.
Exploiting Christchurch massacre
The website news.com.au reported that the Anti-Defamation Commission had written to immigration minister David Coleman to highlight “a number of Mr. Kanazi’s social media posts and statements supporting terrorists and demonizing Israel.”
The pro-Israel group also boasts on its website about its “bid to stop visa” for “BDS supporter” Kanazi – a reference to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
Pro-Israel lobbyists also sought to exploit the massacre of 50 people by a white supremacist at two mosques in New Zealand to advance their agenda.
Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich said that Kanazi “has no business being here spreading his toxic agenda” in the “aftermath of the Christchurch massacre.”
The anti-Palestinian group cited Kanazi’s support for Rasmea Odeh, the Palestinian who in 1969 survived torture and sexual assault in Israeli military detention before she signed a forced confession for alleged involvement in two bomb attacks in Jerusalem, one of which killed two civilians.
Convicted by an Israeli military court, Odeh spent 10 years in prison before her release in an exchange.
Odeh herself has long been a target of the Israel lobby, and recently had her visa to speak in Germany revoked – a decision for which Israel’s government claimed credit.
“The Anti Defamation Commission weaponized the white supremacist mass murder of 50 Muslims, including at least six Palestinians, to attack me. Furthermore, groups like the ADC shamelessly back Israeli apartheid and whitewash the stripping away of Palestinian land, resources and dignity,” Kanazi told The Electronic Intifada.
“If you dare challenge Israel’s well-documented human rights abuses, which include torture and forced confessions, they will try to smear you into silence.”
“Palestinians and a growing chorus of voices who stand for Palestinian freedom will not back down in the face of these pressure tactics,” Kanazi added. “We know that millions of people in Australia and around the world stand with us, and that history is on our side.”
Kanazi has previously been the target of a covert campaign.
The Israel on Campus Coalition, a group that secretly coordinates its campaign of “psychological warfare” with Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, was revealed last year by The Forward and ProPublica to have run anonymous Facebook ads smearing Kanazi in advance of his appearances on US campuses.
The Israel on Campus Coalition’s efforts are part of a broader Israel-coordinated secret campaign exposed in Al Jazeera’s leaked undercover documentary The Lobby–USA.
But Kanazi is not the first Palestinian speaker to face challenges entering Australia.
In 2016, this writer was also denied an Electronic Travel Authority when invited by the organizers of the Marxism conference. He was asked by Australian authorities to apply for a different type of visa meant for speakers and conference participants.
The following year, Australia revoked the visa of Bassem Tamimi, who at one time was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
Tamimi was told in a letter from the immigration department that it “recently became aware of information that indicates there is a risk that members of the public will react adversely to your presence in Australia regarding your views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East.”
Bassem Tamimi is the father of teenage girl Ahed Tamimi, who in December 2017 would be imprisoned by the Israeli army for shoving and slapping armed occupation soldiers invading her family’s property shortly after soldiers shot and grievously injured her 15-year-old cousin.
The Tamimi family has faced years of violent reprisals and persecution for its nonviolent campaign of resistance to the theft of land by Israeli settlers in their occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.
But the goal of Israel and its lobby has been to turn this reality on its head, by portraying victims of Israeli military occupation as perpetrators, smearing opponents of official Israeli racism, genocidal incitement and apartheid as racists, and labeling any opposition to Israel’s military occupation as “terrorism” and anti-Semitism.
“The conflation of support for Palestinian resistance with anti-semitism is a common trope,” Vashti Kenway, a Marxism conference organizer said, noting similar false accusations against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and US lawmaker Ilhan Omar.
“This is slander and operates to silence Palestinian voices,” Kenway added. “Standing up for the human right of Palestinians to resist their occupation and the war waged against them is entirely justified.”
Nasser Mashni, of the group Australians for Palestine, condemned the denial of Kanazi’s initial application: “This decision is an act of selective, politically motivated censorship. It is clear the government is deliberately silencing and preventing human rights defenders and Palestinian voices for justice, from being heard in Australia.”