Commentary | Hyde Park: Students prove SSMU shouldn’t condemn

Don’t let people tell you that democracy and free speech lost at Thursday’s General Assembly (GA). Sixty per cent of the attendance simply voted to democratically reaffirm that we do not cave in to attempts to polarize our campus along partisan lines. SSMU’s mandate will not include actively participating in factionalism.

If anything, the results of this GA reflect critical decisions made by the leading proponents of the motion calling for unconditional condemnation of Israel. Blinded by too much of their own self-assumed moral absolutism, the decision of the assembly to postpone the motion indefinitely stems from its own failure to look for a middle ground. Extreme views are often tempting, but only because they are easy.

Condemnation rarely sets a good frame for healthy debate and constructive discussion. Instead one could have thought of a bonding resolution, calling on the student body at McGill to unite to call for peace and affirm their commitment to students’ right to education in Gaza as in Israel. But that would not have been enough.

Instead of a preamble rife with approximations, so biased that it states as facts the shelling of several UNRWA schools for which the UN has since exonerated Israel, one could have dreamt of a balanced introduction to this debate. A preamble recognizing both the suffering of one million Israeli civilians living in the range of rockets, and the unbearable death toll in the Gaza strip, calling for an end to violence, calling on the student body to unite around shared values of coexistence and tolerance. But that would not have been enough.

And if this was about promoting human rights, instead of a deliberately one-sided resolution, we may have voted on a declaration of support for civilians on both sides: a declaration, not a condemnation. But clearly, it wouldn’t have been enough either.

After the audience voted to dissolve the resolution to condemn Israel, the opponents to this resolution were clearly in greater numbers. By then, an iron wall of disagreement had descended in the middle of our assembly. A wall that did not exist had been erected as we had been asked to physically separate on the two sides of the room. And as we watched and studied each other from either the “Yes” or the “No” side, it could not have been clearer why so many of us had voted to dissolve such a resolution.

But again, the divide and the tension was not enough. As the main speaker for the “No” side motioned to limit debate to 20 minutes, screams and roars erupted, as if to ask how he dared try to quash their right to argue endlessly about this motion. As it was clear that the “Yes” side was about to lose everything should the question be called, a short pragmatic debate with a limited number of speakers from each side to defend their position and inform the assembly was still not enough.

Failure to compromise might just have cost this motion its legitimacy. The GA is no place to demonstrate, not by singing slogans, not by waving pictures of piles of rubble and dead children. It is a place of dialogue and debate on matters that the assembly deems appropriate, and the conflict between Israel and Gaza is apparently not one of them.

Let’s not fail to respect the result of the democratic process. If people tell you that the motion was censored, that debate was killed and freedom of speech opposed, remind them that democracy still holds when you disagree with the outcome of a vote. Truth is, this GA was further proof that students at McGill really have a say in SSMU policy.

Perle Nicolle is a U4 Mechanical Engineering student. Send your compromises to perle.nicolle@mail.mcgill.ca.


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