Freedom of speech isn’t just for those you agree with

12.19.02

Jeremy Wallace and Anne and Max Bailey from the Centre For Human Rights & Cultural Diversity defended the CSU in a letter to the Canadian Jewish News this week.

In the wake of last year’s events, we decided some pro-activity was needed. We offered a speaker, Edwin Black, who wrote IBM and The Holocaust, to the student union. They helped to book a room, and put up posters around the school. [ . . . ] That subject was right up the alley of the anti-corporate types. The Jewish community has far too much pro-capitalist rhetoric, and apologists for corporate extremism.

Nobody’s disputing the CSU’s willingness to be accommodating to people whose speech agrees with theirs. Of course they roll out the red carpet for anyone who wants to bring in an anti-capitalist, anti-corporate speaker. That fits right in with the CSU’s politics. Nobody’s disputing the rights of someone like Edwin Black to be heard. I even agree that there has been too little attention paid to the role of certain corporations in the Holocaust. All that, of course, is besides the point.

No, this dispute is about freedom of speech extending to those with whom the CSU disagrees. True freedom means allowing anti-corporate types to speak, and also pro-corporate types. It means allowing pro-Palestinians to speak and also pro-Israel speakers. It means helping left-wing, right-wing, and non-wing alike to be heard.

The letter goes on to criticize the Jewish community leadership compared to the CSU:

And let’s not keep calling these people anti-democratic. We never voted for the leadership of Montreal’s Jewish community. In fact, we find their unabashed support for Israel, no matter what is done there, to be an embarrassment. When will our community welcome dissent, as a sign of strength and not of weakness?

Ah, but there’s a key difference. Nobody voted for the Jewish community leaders because we all have a choice whether or not to be represented by them. We don’t pay tax to these people, we give donations. We can choose to agree with some of these community groups some of the time and disagree other times. These groups are interest groups, and their views are pro-Israel. Mr. Wallace and Mr. and Ms. Bailey have every right to dissent.

Concordia students don’t have this choice. They have to pay fees to the CSU or else they can’t take their classes. The CSU legally represents all students, whether they like it or not. CSU fees aren’t voluntary – they’re compulsory. And that is why the CSU’s flagrant abuse of democracy is so disturbing. When CSU executive members illegally annul by-election results and appoint themselves to remain in power after being recalled by the students, when council members elected to represent their constituents instead use their positions to advance their own political views, and when thousands of dollars of student money is used to defend people who assaulted some of those same students, then that’s abuse.

The CSU may act nicely towards people with whom they agree. But the true judge of an elected representatitve is his or her ability to act nicely towards people with whom they disagree.

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