McGill Launches Investigation After Student Leader Says He Was Targeted for Being Jewish
McGill University in Montreal, Canada has launched an investigation into a recent vote by the school’s student union, which Jewish human rights and pro-Israel groups say unfairly targeted a student leader over his involvement in the Jewish community.
Noah Lew, a member of the Board of Directors (BoD) at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), wrote on social media on Tuesday that he was not ratified during an SSMU General Assembly (GA) meeting a day earlier, “because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations.”
Lew — along with Alexander Scheffel and Josephine Wright O’Manique, two other directors who were not ratified — were targeted in the lead up to the vote by Democratize SSMU, a self-described “coalition of student activists [and] groups” formed in reaction to the “unjust” ruling by SSMU’s BoD against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
In one portion of a statement urging students to join their campaign for a “better student union,” Democratize SSMU reportedly accused Lew — who is involved with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee — and the other directors of having a “conflict of interest.” Democratize SSMU later apologized “for the way in which our original version of this section was insensitive to anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish people as corrupt and politically powerful.”
Yet during Monday’s GA meeting, Lew received 73 votes in favor of ratification and 105 against, with 12 abstentions. A number of students subsequently left the meeting in protest.
“Two other Directors were voted down as well,” Lew noted, “because they opposed the BDS movement and because they had attempted to support McGill’s Jewish students.”
Lew — who said he was advised by an older Jewish student before applying to become a director “that I needed to remove everything related to Judaism and Jewish organizations from my resume, or else I would have no chance of being even considered for the position” — claimed that the campaign run against him prior to the vote “was about my Jewish identity, and nothing more.”
“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?” he asked. “If BDS is not anti-Semitic, why was I barred from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity?”
These concerns were echoed by SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, who told the McGill Tribune student newspaper, “I think it’s very disappointing that, as a school, we would vote against a member [Lew] only on the basis that people recognize his last name, and on the basis that he’s Jewish.”
“I think it’s quite shocking that in the 21st century such an elite institution would still go with that [racial prejudice],” Tojiboeva said.
However, another SSMU officer told the Tribune that she opposed Lew’s ratification for reasons unrelated to antisemitism or Israel — namely, over the BoD’s decision to suspend its vice-president finance.
McGill principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier said in a statement on Wednesday that she authorized the launch of an investigation into the controversy, following allegations “that the votes against one or more of those directors were motivated by anti-Semitism.”
“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,” she wrote.
Zina Rakhamilova, Canadian campus director for the StandWithUs education group, said on Tuesday, “Jewish and pro-Israel students are being subjected to a discriminatory double standard at McGill.
“There have been many pro-BDS officials in SSMU over the years, and none have been asked to declare a ‘conflict of interest,’ let alone kicked out of their positions,” she added. “This vote is the result of a campaign of hate which has no place at McGill or any other campus.”
The Jewish human rights group B’nai Brith Canada also launched a petition calling on Fortier to “condemn the antisemitic motivations” of Democratize SSMU and launch a probe into its leaders.
B’nai Brith noted that the group — according to students who attended Monday’s GA meeting — included former student politician Igor Sadikov, who in February called on his Twitter followers to “punch a Zionist today.” Sadikov later apologized for the tweet.
“It is unclear whether Sadikov has faced any disciplinary action for this incitement to violence from your administration,” B’nai Brith noted.