Commentary | Is Palestine a four-letter word?

Campus gets inflammed every time it's mentioned

One thing is certain when reflecting on last Wednesday’s General Assembly (GA). The reality is: the issue of Palestine is a taboo, especially on campus. A motion created by the McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), a motion concerning corporate social responsibility in the name of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection, was largely misunderstood and subsequently distorted by those opposed to it. The motion’s opposition claimed that SPHR hijacked and manipulated the issue of human rights, using it as a substrate for an inherently political agenda.

In reality, the motion was indeed hijacked. However, the culprits were not its creators, but those who fought vehemently to oppose it. The aim and its intentions – ensuring that the University’s financial transactions are carried out in a manner conducive to the respect of human rights – was greeted with immediate offense and was falsely advertised to the campus as an attack on the state of Israel. Furthermore, claims that the issue was made political are entirely unnecessary and lead to further unwarranted tensions on campus. Any motion put before a governing body responsible for policy-making and legislation is, by definition, a political one. Consider this: were the motions debating policy on student fees and discriminatory groups any less political in effect?
Those who voted to amend the preamble – by striking out clauses mentioning human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people – wished to silence dissent toward Israel. In effect, by silencing those in solidarity with the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, these individuals put a muzzle on freedom of speech and debate, the very aim of the GA. With the removal of the whereas clauses, we find ourselves in a situation where the Palestinian issue is swept under the rug, where this grassroots attempt to recognize a human rights issue is disguised as inherently sinister, political, and demonizing.

Attempts to label this situation as political strategically sidestep the issue at hand; in doing so, the motion’s opponents eliminate any hope for peaceful discussion by spreading fear of defamation.

The Palestinian people deserve to be advocated for, just as any other disenfranchised people do. Those opposed, with their seemingly delicate sensibilities, seek to exempt themselves from any perceived criticism – imagined or otherwise – regarding Israel’s multiple human rights abuses against a group SPHR is mandated to support. We must consider this: had any other group put forth a motion citing exploited peoples, from Burma to the Sudan, who would have objected? Why must the issue of Palestinian human rights continue to incite so much hatred? Who is so offended by the issue of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people?

Urooj Nizami and Zayaan Schock are U0 Arts students. Write them at urooj.nizami@mail.mcgill.ca.

This article originally appeared in French in Le Délit.


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