For the first time in years, hundreds of students turned out to SSMU’s General Assembly (GA) to debate a range of uncharacteristically political issues. While most of the motions were debated on and passed, a motion in solidarity with the Palestinian people was postponed indefinitely, depriving the assembly of the possibility to discuss it and vote on it. This was very much in the spirit of the prevailing discourse against the political motions: masquerading as ‘neutral,’ opponents argued that taking a stance would be divisive, and that the issues were best left ignored. This dangerous rhetoric of neutrality shuts down meaningful political discourse, and masks the very political motives behind the rhetoric itself.
Instead of using an effective, well-conceived argument to challenge the motion, opponents used the rhetoric of neutrality to claim that even mere discussion of the issue would ‘divide the campus,’ and that silence on the issue was the best option for a student body that includes both Israelis and Palestinians.
The “no” campaign’s Facebook page was rife with this rhetoric: organizers prohibited any discussion of the motion and threatened to delete comments challenging their claim to neutrality. In contrast, the “yes” committee allowed free discussion on its page.
What is even more egregious is that the “no” campaign insisted that the GA was not an appropriate venue to discuss these issues, and that SSMU could not take political stances as it had to represent each and every student’s views equally. However, remaining neutral does represent a specific political viewpoint – that of the status quo – that is not held by all students. Avoiding discussion does not make the issue any less political. In fact, not taking a side on that particular motion is accepting that McGill, an institution that develops weapons for the Israeli military, speaks on our behalf. As it stands, students remain complicit in McGill’s ties to Israel, a fact that directly harms the portion of the student body that is negatively affected by the Israeli state’s actions.
But this is not just the case for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the rhetoric of neutrality has always been present in forums such as these, and SSMU’s ‘controversial’ stances have been few and far between. Even on issues that unequivocally concern us as students, such as the 2012 CKUT fee referendum, students and student politicians have insisted that SSMU remain ‘neutral.’ But shying away from discussion will never make an issue disappear – this is the rationale for SSMU’s constitutional mandate for “leadership in matters of human rights [and] social justice.” The GA is a crucial forum for the undergraduate student body to be involved in the implementation of this mandate. Sticking our heads in the sand in the name of neutrality leads us nowhere.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board