Commentary  Why the left should opt out of campus PIRGs

Ignoring Hezbollah war crimes is not progressive politics

There is nothing progressive or “left-wing” about Hezbollah. It is authoritarian and patriarchal, condones discrimination against Palestinians living in south Lebanon, broadcasts hate propaganda on its satellite TV network, and has been accused by Human Rights Watch and other human rights NGOs of launching rocket attacks on civilians and other war crimes. In recent days, it has pushed Lebanon into political crisis as part of a strategy to prevent its members from being officially accused by UN investigators of murdering former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 21 others.

Yet in October 2007, McGill’s Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) spent student money to host a public talk on Canada’s anti-terrorism laws at which one speaker downplayed Hezbollah’s commission of war crimes, and justified its militarization of south Lebanon. Each year QPIRG gives student money to Tadamon!, a group that opposes restrictions limiting Hezbollah’s ability to raise money in Canada for its activities abroad.

How, then, is it that QPIRG and its supporters claim they are progressive advocates for social justice? What is left wing about advocating for an armed militia that murders civilians?

The answer is simply that Hezbollah’s principal enemies are Israel and the United States. Many people on university campuses have come to embrace an ideology that defines opposition to Zionism, America, and liberal-democratic institutions as the essence of what it means to be progressive. So long as a political movement has a suitably anti-Western bent, any crimes that it commits can be forgiven on the basis that Western hegemony is the root cause of anything bad that happens in the world. Anyone who doubts this line of thought is dismissed as being a shill for the capitalist elite, or the victim of brainwashing by corporatecontrolled popular culture. Witness, for example, QPIRG’s recent efforts to portray student opt-outs as the result of the plots of sinister capitalists.

This is not progressive thinking. It is conspiracy theory of the kind more suitable for late-night right-wing talk radio. It precisely mirrors George W. Bush’s division of the world into those who are “with us” and those who are not. Yet this confused ideology is passed off as the “anti-oppression” analysis applied by QPIRG and its affiliates to the funding decisions they take.

A real danger of this kind of thinking is that it translates concerns about Israeli or American policies into sympathy or support for groups that are anything but progressive. Absent its hatred for Israel and America, there is no way that an armed religious movement in the pay and thrall of Iran’s authoritarian and theocratic government would ever be considered an ally of the oppressed. Yet as long as a political movement is anti-Zionist, its human rights record will not get much scrutiny from campus activists. The result is that the plight of those victimized and oppressed by groups like Hezbollah is ignored by groups like QPIRG, who should be speaking out on their behalf.

Another problem with the conspiracy model of politics is that it can result in discrimination and harassment on university campuses. On the basis of this ideology, groups supporting progressive causes can be marginalized and denied funding simply for believing that Israel has the right to exist. In 2008, for example, the PIRG at the University of Ottawa refused to sponsor a visit by a Ugandan education and sustainable development activist because the Jewish group that invited her was perceived to be sympathetic to Israel. That isn’t social justice. That’s just bigotry.

For too long, QPIRG leaders have been guided by an ideology that induces campus activists into supporting anti-progressive causes. Until we hear from them a full-throated commitment to the right of everyone to live in freedom, equality and peace – Israelis and Americans included – they are not entitled to carry the flag of social justice activism and are not entitled to your money.

Opt out now.

Michael Hunziker is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Law. He can be reached at