As the referendum period draws to a close, we will soon be confronted with either the end of QPIRG or their continued existence as master of their own opt-out process. It’s unclear how the administration will respond to the results, so a ‘no’ majority might not mean QPIRG’s demise. Still, somehow this referendum feels like a climax, a prospective victory for either QPIRG or their opponents. By “opponents,” I, of course, refer to the opt-out campaign. My initial thoughts about the opt-out campaign centred on the extraordinary feebleness of their tactics. Promising a single sandwich over the course of a whole year will only convince a certain sort of person. If you are one of the people who opts-out for reasons like these, in any condition other than dire financial need, then we have nothing to say to each other. However, the opt-out campaign appears to been extremely effective in eroding QPIRG’s resources.
QPIRG’s troubles seemed to be largely a PR problem: people knew that you could buy a sandwich with $7.50, but they were unaware of all the great programs funded by QPIRG. However, I have come to realize that one argument made by the opt-out campaign has significant resonance with McGill students: some of the money that students give to QPIRG is used to fund Tadamon!.
A major focus of Tadamon! is the oppression of Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories. I have no personal connection to either Israel or Palestine, but it is clear that there are deep and alarming divisions between Jewish and Arab Israelis. A 2011 poll by Maagar Mochot, an Israeli research centre, found that 49.5 per cent of Israeli high school students would deny Arab citizens rights equal to those of Jews, and 56 per cent felt that Arabs should not be eligible to run for the Israeli parliament. 40.5 per cent of Israeli Arabs deny the Holocaust, according to a 2009 University of Haifa poll.
Despite Tadamon!’s repeatedly stated commitments to justice and equality, I feel their initiatives have the actual effect of limiting constructive discussion and increasing this divide on campus. I am particularly discomfited by their equation of Israeli policies with apartheid. This label is unproductive and factually inaccurate.
Richard Goldstone is a former South African Constitutional Court judge who gained attention for his judicial activism against apartheid. His experience in the South African court system and his later work investigating human rights abuses in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Gaza Strip have made him one of the most qualified people to comment on the definition of apartheid. In a recent New York Times editorial, Goldstone wrote that apartheid involves a much higher degree of state-sanctioned oppression than is present in Israel. While discrimination against Arabs is widespread in Israel, Goldstone points out that Israeli law, unlike pre-1994 South African legislation, does not hold racism as an ideal.
Because I feel that Tadamon! sacrifices factual accuracy for sensationalism, I would also prefer that my student fees did not go towards Tadamon!. If you are a student who plans to vote ‘no’ because you are uncomfortable with funding this group, I can sympathize. However, I have consistently declined to opt-out of QPIRG because I feel strongly that other recipients of QPIRG funding – such as Rad Frosh, Campus Crops, and in fact, pretty much all other QPIRG-funded groups – contribute positively to our campus on a scale that far outweighs the inflammatory effects of Tadamon!. I will be voting ‘yes’ in the QPIRG referendum for the same reason, and encourage you to do so as well.
And in this spirit of considering the big picture, I must also address QPIRG: your decision to fund Tadamon! – made with the good intention of improving human rights in the Middle East – has compromised your ability to represent McGill students and left you vulnerable to the machinations of a disingenuous and cynical few. At the very least, QPIRG should proactively engage in consultations to determine the level of support for Tadamon! among students. Moreover, I feel that it would in the best interest of both QPIRG and the McGill community for QPIRG to cease funding to Tadamon!.
Alexander Dawson is a U1 Biology student. He can be reached at email@example.com