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Letter to the editor: Not a free press without free speech

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The McGill Tribune’s latest editorial, “If SSMU Council won’t stand up for campus press, students must,” claims that it is the The McGill Daily’s pro-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) stance against Israel that in part fueled the events at the Nov. 2 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council. However, to frame the opposition to mandating student funding of the Daily Publication Society–the parent organization of both The McGill Daily and Le Délit newspapers–as being primarily about the Daily’s endorsement of BDS misses the point entirely.

It is not about the Daily’s endorsement of BDS per se—everyone should recognize that it is a newspaper’s prerogative to take certain editorial lines. However, a paper claiming the mantle of “free press” should not be permitted to routinely exclude certain voices from publication, thereby invalidating and obscuring them—especially one that asks for funding from all students, but refuses to grant access to free speech to all these students in turn.

Indeed, with regards to Israel, opposition to the Daily stems from the fact that it engages in a wholesale boycott of a considerable segment of campus voices. Specifically, the newspaper “maintains an editorial line of not publishing pieces which promote a Zionist worldview.” This stands in direct contradiction to the Tribune’s call in its latest editorial for “SSMU and students to recognize that it is valuable to have a diversity of voices on campus.”

Given the Tribune’s stated commitment to a “diversity of voices,” it should recognize how students with Zionist viewpoints would bristle at funding a publication like the Daily that preaches diversity and yet systematically excludes their voice from its pages. “Zionist viewpoints” are by no means homogenous, and while reflecting an ethno-religious connection to the physical land, are often highly critical of Israeli state policy and the injustice of the occupation. The Daily pushes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the forefront of campus discussion, but by excluding this diversity of voices, neglects to engage in the debate responsibly and acknowledge all its inherent nuance. It should also recognize the hypocrisy inherent in asking for funding from the entirety of the student body in order to ostensibly serve as its platform, while routinely excluding a viewpoint shared in varying manifestations by a portion of the McGill community.

Furthermore, it is extremely reductive and obfuscatory to refer to a “Zionist worldview”–as the Daily does–as if there is a sole cohesive Zionist agenda. Zionism is a movement with a long history, with different interpretations and ideological bents. A singular “Zionist worldview” cannot be objectively pinned down in any meaningful sense. Putting all diverse Zionist voices in a single oppressive box, and discounting the nuance and difference laden within the term is not good journalism by the Daily. Neither is the systematic exclusion of a group, based on a minimized understanding of a diverse ideological movement, from a conversation it is intimately impacted by.

The extent of the mental gymnastics that must go along with claiming that the SSMU Legislative Council events went against the existence of a fair and balanced press on campus, when one of the publications in question is systematically precluding any sort of actual fair and balanced coverage at all, is palpable. The Daily can go ahead and endorse BDS as a newspaper, but do so without being so insecure about their position that upholding it necessitates such expansive gatekeeping in the form of silencing and outright delegitimization of any dissenting or explanatory voice among their pages.

  • Maria Figueroa

    I think the Daily’s position stems from the understanding that while Zionism is a diverse ideological movement, current, mainstream Zionism, as it is embodied by the Israeli government and popular opinion in Israel, is predicated on the ongoing colonization (via illegal settlements) and occupation of Palestinian land. In that sense, it should be allowed to take the editorial position to not publish articles that give exposure to Zionist viewpoints. thoughts?

    • Maria Figueroa

      *am not a part of the Daily and my comment and the beliefs inherent to them are entirely my own and by no means representative of any organization or club on campus*

      • Amir Babli Mansa

        A blanket ban on an ideology is nonetheless silly. The Daily can use my $6 to oppose Zionism all it wants, as long as it also allows Zionists to respond in its pages.

        Also, the focus on Zionism seems excessive considering how many other colonial regimes there are in the region. Most issues of the Daily this year have included some sort of anti-Zionist commentary, but I don’t recall ever reading about the Moroccan occupation of Sahrawi land in Western Sahara, or the continued Iraqi/Turkish/Syrian/Iranian occupation of Kurdistan. Singling out Israel reeks of an underlying prejudice against Jews.

      • mls31286

        Maria – I agree but do not think it is from a lack of understand but lack of care to understand. I think nothing exemplifies this more than the Bassem Eid, a Palestinian Human rights advocate getting escorted off the stage a U of Chicago for fear of violence from anti-Israel activists. Or an Ethiopian Israeli women on a college campus getting told by BDS activists her mom was force fed permanent birth control and abused (but somehow had a child) like they would know better instead of listening to her first hand experience.

        Ignorance is bliss is more than just a saying now. Anyone who looks at this conflict and doesn’t struggle with the morality on both sides is keeping themselves purposefully ignorant of all of the facts available to them.

    • Rachel Zaurov

      Current, mainstream Zionism is not what is embodied by the Israeli government at all — a hardline far-right distortion of Zionism is, one that many to most Diaspora and Israeli Jews find huge issue with. One can be a Zionist without supporting the occupation and the policies of the Israeli government, one is not inherent to the other — just as one can be Muslim without being a jihadist, and how one can be a proud American while being against everything Trump and his administration stands for. Many Zionists are vehemently against the occupation and pursue activism in that regard, and scores of Israeli human rights organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the SIlence do crucial anti-occupation work within the Israeli domestic sphere, all while being Zionist. I’m going to quote myself from a former article of mine for time’s sake: “For many individuals, it is their very self-conception as Zionists that motivates them to boycott goods from West Bank settlements. One such example is columnist Peter Beinart, who sees Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as eroding the goals of the Zionist movement — namely, a Jewish and democratic state. The same goes for Professors Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, who argue that their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is out of concern for the long-term future of the state. When both groups self-identify as Zionist, it is manifestly disingenuous to wholly accept the description by the former and not the latter.” Furthermore, as many Zionist viewpoints do not support the occupation at all — there is a whole world of progressive Zionism in Israel and throughout the Diaspora — your assertion that the Daily should still be allowed to not give exposure to any Zionist viewpoints has no justification, and makes my point. Maybe if the Daily ceased painting Zionism with such a broad, reductive brush, the topic at hand could be discussed with maturity and real nuance, rather than shutting down substantive debate, spawning irrational censorship of the very students who fund the publication, and making the Daily’s portrait of itself as an embattled bastion of free speech an utter farce.

  • Squatting Bronfman Statue

    Agreed tbh. Doubt the Daily would publish this letter.

  • mls31286

    Rachel Zaurov – They usually don’t like to post my comments here because I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, not anti-Israel, but I have to say this is one of the most concise and coherent writings on this topic I have seen in a long time and I applaud you for it.

    It’s ironic how other minority groups get to define their own movements but many BDS activists take the most extreme forms of Zionism and project it over the whole movement.

    Very well said.

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