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June 2, 2016 7:15 pm

McGill U Professor Calls Student Judicial Ban on BDS ‘Huge;’ Says It Recognizes ‘Jewish Concerns Deserve Respect Like All Others’

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Professor Gil Troy. Photo: Facebook.

Professor Gil Troy. Photo: Facebook.

A history professor and anti-BDS warrior at McGill University in Canada responded enthusiastically to a landmark decision taken on Wednesday by the legal arm of the institution’s student body to ban anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions activities on campus.

Gil Troy, among 150 academics at McGill who recently signed an open letter lauding the principal of the university for condemning BDS and calling on faculty everywhere to do the same, told The Algemeiner on Thursday that in his view, “This decision is huge! It means that Jewish concerns are respected with all others, and that antisemitism is also recognized as bigotry, as well as something that triggers macro-aggressions.”

Troy, author of Why I Am A Zionist and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem, where he lives, was responding to the “Reference re Legality of the BDS Motion and Similar Motions”  — a long, detailed “legal” document issued by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board, which reached what it called a “unanimous” decision to eliminate efforts to promote anti-Israel boycotts at the Montreal-based school, asserting that such activities are discriminatory, unconstitutional and in violation of SSMU’s “equity policy.”

The decision came in the wake of three BDS motions over the past year and a half, which were put to a student vote at McGill and defeated.

“The fight spilled over into some antisemitic expressions on campus,” Troy said. “And while normally, from an ideological standpoint, I would prefer to see such battles fought out democratically, the BDS forces have continually ignored, disrespected and undermined the democratic process — repeatedly raising the issue despite losing. Mere days ago, they even used some sneaky, sleazy procedure to bypass the student ratification vote.”

Troy, who has been a leading member of the “Vote No” campaign to persuade professors at all Canadian universities to band together to combat the phenomenon, concluded: “I hope this wise decision will allow McGill to return to the civility and reason that has been the general tone on campus for most of my 20-plus years with this world-class institution.”

The open letter signed at the end of May, read as follows:

As faculty members, past and present, who have devoted much of our professional lives to the pursuit of education, we are proud to quote the words of McGill’s Principal Suzanne Fortier, and to take “a courageous stance against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, to promote those values of “academic freedom, equity, inclusiveness and the exchange of views and ideas in responsible, open discourse.”

As academics who represent a wide range of political views and methodologies we all know that open discourse, tolerance and respect are essential to the pursuit of truth. Boycotts and intellectual bullying have no place at any Canadian institution of higher learning.

Unfortunately, in its disproportionate focus on Israel, in its founding declaration, and in many statements by key members of the movement, the BDS movement tries to squelch speech and intimidate those who support Israel’s right to exist. The BDS movement repeatedly jumps from criticizing particular Israeli policies to delegitimizing the State of Israel. The July 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS quickly shifts from fighting “the occupation” to demonizing Israel to rejecting Israel’s existence. The leading BDS activist Omar Barghouti — whose calls for boycott overlook his own studies at Tel Aviv University — states a “Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinians.” Such statements do not leave much scope for debate. The tactics of members of this propaganda movement on campuses are often intimidating and the result is divisive, and counter-productive to dialogue that seeks peaceful solutions to complex issues.

While we as signatories have many different opinions about Israel and we affirm the need for a robust debate about any country’s policies, including Israel’s, the tone and tactics of the BDS movement echo traditional anti-Semitic obsessions and tropes. As educators, we are distressed when we hear our students telling us how uncomfortable they have been made to feel by an increasingly aggressive pursuit of the anti-Israel boycott, reflected by the repeated attempts to vote it in, no matter how many times the supporters fail. We all need to affirm our commitment to fighting bigotry of all kinds, even when masked behind human rights rhetoric or even if allied with political positions we might support. We fail when our students don’t feel genuinely safe in our university — and the BDS movement has made students feel unsafe, unsupported, and unwelcome in their and our academic homes.

We appeal to all members of the Canadian academic community, especially our colleagues, our students, and our alumni, to continue supporting their university as a safe yet challenging space for respectful political discourse and true learning.

Our mission remains to educate, to promote civil discourse, and to ensure that all of our students are afforded the opportunity of free speech, and feel secure on their campus. In signing below, we emphasize our shared commitment to those goals and undertake to be vigilant in preserving the openness, tolerance, and civility that has made our years of service so rewarding, both professionally and personally.

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