There has been no shortage of commentators and students alike talking about the ‘contention’ of last week’s Fall General Assembly (GA). Many have asserted that the source of this dispute was whether or not the Students’ Society of McGill Union (SSMU) should take a ‘political stance’ on what was deemed a ‘highly emotional and complex foreign policy issue’.
I, however, contend that the true reason for the intensity of the dispute was not because of the choice of SSMU as a political forum, but rather the desire by a small group of students to suppress any discussion related to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
How else could Kafka-esque idioms such as “in the name of free speech, we shall have no discussion,” be relayed to a skeptical GA? What else explains the fact that hundreds of students who came to vote down discussion on the Palestinian Solidarity motion left almost immediately afterward, obviously having no issue with the resolution standing in solidarity with the Hong Kong student protesters? Where were the same impassioned speeches that the resolution would divide McGill, or marginalize Chinese students?
It then only logically follows that the leaders of this movement were more interested in quickly suppressing any discussion, much less motion, of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, rather than the use of SSMU, our student government, as a political forum.
After all, one must ask why such a concerted effort by an organized group of students was mobilized to denounce SSMU taking a political stance in this situation. Where were they when SSMU condemned South African Apartheid, Canadian military involvement in Iran, or the U.S.-led war in Iraq? Were they not worried of marginalization of American or Canadian students? How come there has been no campaign to reform SSMU’s equity policy which clearly delineates the SSMU’s relationship with speaking out on issues of social justice?
Another assertion by students who spoke in favor of indefinitely tabling the motion before discussion began, as well as insinuated by this newspaper, was that this issue “did not affect McGill students”—and thus SSMU was not an appropriate venue for the conflict to be discussed. In reality, it is important to note that McGill has institutional ties to research universities in Israel in which there is collaboration on weapons research that is used to enforce Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank – both illegal under international law. So while “No” students were simultaneously declaring that not only did the resolution “not do anything”—and thus shouldn’t be passed, but that it was also marginalizing Israeli students. They failed to consider the pre-existing divide and marginalization on campus among those who are uncomfortable with the fact that their tuition dollars are spent on research to enforce violations of international law and the human rights of an occupied populace.
Despite efforts to suppress discussion, we move on from this GA with our heads held high. We know it is important for us to continue. We know that we will never ‘normalize’ discussion about Palestine unless average people like us refuse to have our voices silenced—and continue to speak out.