The downtown Montreal campus of McGill University. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
McGill University

A BDS group’s scheme to oust three students, one of them Jewish, from a Canadian university’s student government just because of their religion or pro-Israel stances has led to anti-Semitism charges.  

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) board of directors, the undergraduate student union’s highest body, has denied seats to three students because they are pro-Israel or, as many allege, because one of them is Jewish.

The Canadian Jewish News reported Wednesday that McGill University principal Suzanne Fortier has intervened in the controversy and has ordered an investigation to determine the facts.

“Allegations have arisen suggesting that the votes against one or more of those directors were motivated by anti-Semitism,” she wrote in a memo to students and staff. “We take such matters very seriously, as it is essential for McGill University to maintain an environment where different views and ideas can be expressed and debated with mutual respect.”

Some 1,300 have signed an online petition demanding that Fortier act after the nominations for three members of the SSMU board of directors were not ratified at SSMU’s fall general assembly on Monday.

The signatories say that the three were denied seats because “they are Jewish or have vocally opposed anti-Jewish discrimination on campus.”

Fighting BDS Has its Costs

Noah Lew, a 3rd year undergraduate student at McGill University who is Jewish, posted his account of the event on Facebook.

In the post he wrote that he served on the SSMU Board of Directors from June and was seeking a renewal of his current mandate, together with Alexander Scheffel, until they were ousted this week.

His troubles began at the beginning of this school year, when the SSMU’s Judicial Board asked the Board of Directors to re-address a decision that they had made over a year prior. The decision was that BDS and similar motions violate the SSMU Constitution because they are discriminatory in nature. At the Board of Directors meeting, Lew vocalized his support for the ratification of the decision and voted in favor of it.

The backlash from the McGill BDS Action Network was swift, Lew said. Shortly after, the McGill BDS Action Network held public meetings where they outlined their planned response. Their plan was a campaign called “Democratize SSMU,” which involved removing all Jewish and anti-BDS students from SSMU’s leadership, a thinly-veiled strategy under the guise of “democracy,” “transparency,” and “accountability.”

The description for the Democratize SSMU Facebook event publicly targeted Lew and two other directors simply for being Jewish and having connections to a Jewish organization.

“My Jewish identity was now public, and a target was placed squarely upon me by the McGill BDS movement,” Lew wrote.

The BDS campaign later removed Lew’s name from the description of the campaign, and admitted that it had been “insensitive to anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish people as corrupt and politically powerful.”

The SSMU General Assembly ratifies the Board of Directors once they have been chosen based on their qualifications from a pool of applicants. Historically, the Board of Directors had been ratified as a bloc, all 12 at a time. In an unprecedented move, the BDS supporters who had come to the GA forced a division of the motion to ratify the Board of Directors into 12 individual votes on each Director. Lew’s name was the 6th one. The first five directors were ratified with not enough opposition to even warrant counting votes.

“When my name came up, over 100 students raised their placards in opposition to my ratification, and I was not ratified as a Director,” Lew recounted.

“I was blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations,” he charged. “There was not one word of discussion or debate about my qualifications for the position. I was simply voted down. As soon as it was apparent that I was voted out of the position, there was [sic] applause.” Approximately 200 students at the assembly left the room in protest.

“I have no doubt from the information circulated about me and campaign run against me prior to this vote that this was about my Jewish identity, and nothing more. I was blocked from being able to participate in my student government because I am Jewish, because I have been affiliated with Jewish organizations, and because I believe in the right to Jewish self-determination,” Lew wrote.

BDS’ Anti-Semitism

“The BDS movement had accomplished their mission. They had succeeded in barring a Jewish student from participating in McGill’s student government. After me, two other Directors were voted down as well, because they opposed the BDS movement and because they had attempted to support McGill’s Jewish students.”

“Time and time again, we have heard the phrase BDS is not anti-Semitic. If BDS is not anti-Semitic, why did a BDS-led campaign name and shame me for my affiliation with a Jewish organization, and call on students to remove me from student government for this reason? If BDS is not anti-Semitic, why was I barred from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity?”

While the experience was “incredibly upsetting,” and as horrible as it has been, Lew is “feeling positive” because of all the amazing support he has received.

“And more than anything, I am happy that McGill BDS has finally come out of the shadows, and proven that they will stop at nothing to impose their agenda upon the McGill student body. I am happy that the discriminatory agenda of BDS McGill that has been swept under the rug for years is finally out in the open, so that we may all come together to defeat it,” he declared.

“I can only hope that I am the last Jewish student at McGill who will be barred from our student government for nothing more than their name and their Jewish identity,” he concluded.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) also made public a letter to Fortier in which the organization described “blatant anti-Semitism” during and leading up to the SSMU assembly.

FSWC president Avi Benlolo said that during the assembly a student asked why there was a lack of diversity among the names put forward for board seats, which was perceived as discriminatory by those who walked out in protest.

“This vote sends a message that Jewish students are not welcome, a type of exclusion and racism that has no place at universities that claim to support equity and inclusion,” Benlolo wrote to Fortier.

By: United with Israel Staff