Comment: OPIRG Peterborough co-ordinator should step down

Controversy has surrounded OPIRG Peterborough for the better part of 2015.

The controversy began with a misguided and terribly executed boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, one that gained wide-spread local – and national – media coverage.

The campaign included promotional material with allegedly anti-Semitic images (as said by Mr. Avi Benlolo, President of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies) and this controversy has now morphed into a controversy surrounding the existence of the organization itself – and its questionable finances.

Most importantly, these controversies both are centred on the decision-making of one individual: OPIRG co-ordinator and Trent University graduate, Matthew Davidson.

First and foremost is the BDS campaign and the disgusting promotional material used during Divestment Week. The promotional material in question included the Magen David, a national symbol of both the Israel State as well as the Jewish nation as a whole, and it’s defacement with a line through the centre of it.

When contacted by the Peterborough Examiner in early January, Mr. Davidson defended the image claiming that the Trent and Peterborough community who were deeply offended by it had simply mis-interpreted what it was supposed to represent. I challenge Mr. Davidson to ask himself if the world simply mis-interpreted the same images used during the 1930’s in Nazi Germany.

Mr. Avi Benlolo, a prominent figure in the Canadian-Jewish community, and in the Jewish community worldwide, agrees with my sentiment, referring to the Divestment Week campaign as nothing more than a week of intolerance and hatred towards our Jewish and Israeli community members – a notion which an overwhelming majority of this community agrees with (I have had a number of conversations with this community over the past several months).

Furthermore, I also question OPIRG Peterborough’s finances. Over 90% of their funding (over $85,000 in 2014) comes directly from a student levy and over 70% of that (over $62,000 in 2014) of goes directly towards OPIRG Peterborough’s staff salaries.

These finances are, in my opinion, being grossly mis-handled. OPIRG Peterborough is paying an extraordinarily large part of their budget towards the salaries of a few individuals, Mr. Davidson included. This money could be much better spent in supporting the many fabulous initiatives OPIRG Peterborough has – such as their anti-poverty campaigns, the food bank, and their Free Market.

OPIRG Peterborough’s mandate reads, “OPIRG works to create and sustain student and community-based engagement through research, education and action on social justice and environmental issues.” I do not believe that this mandate has been followed by OPIRG Peterborough under Mr. Davidson’s leadership during the past few months.

When an organization such as OPIRG Peterborough begins to back campaigns that the vast majority of the Trent student body does not agree with, such as BDS against Israel (TCSA membership voted recently 47-28 to rescind a BDS Israel policy on January 29) while still receiving student funding – something has gone wrong.

When OPIRG Peterborough allocates over 70% of their budget directly into the bank accounts of a select few individuals, something has gone horribly wrong.

Given these facts, Mr. Davidson should step down.