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November 2, 2017 4:28 pm

McGill Student Embroiled in Antisemitism Row to Maintain Leadership Role — for Now

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The Arts Building at McGill University. Photo: Edward Bilodeau.

A Jewish student who was removed from a leadership role at McGill University in Montreal, Canada in an episode that sparked accusations of antisemitism will maintain his position until further evaluation.

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board unanimously ruled to suspend a controversial motion by the body’s General Assembly (GA), which led to the failed ratification of three members of its Board of Directors last week, The Bull & Bear — McGill’s student-run campus magazine — reported on Wednesday.

One of the directors, Noah Lew, claimed on social media last week that he was not ratified “because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations.” Lew added that Alexander Scheffel and Josephine Wright O’Manique — two non-Jewish directors who also failed to be ratified — were voted down “because they opposed the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement and because they had attempted to support McGill’s Jewish students.”

The Judicial Board decided to suspend the GA motion until an official hearing can be held to determine its constitutionality. The ruling ensures that all of the directors who failed ratification but have already begun their terms — in this case, Lew and Scheffel — will maintain their positions in the meantime. It will not apply to O’Manique, who was only recently nominated to serve as a director.

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“This is a positive development after what was a very troubling decision made by students at McGill University,” Avi Benlolo, head of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said in a statement. “However, we must not forget the clear antisemitism that took place during last week’s vote and demand that an investigation into the matter continues regardless of the suspension’s outcome.”

David Watson, a fourth-year student at McGill, warned in an essay published by the National Post on Wednesday that Lew’s removal was only the latest in a string of alleged antisemitic incidents at the school, largely fueled by the campus debate surrounding the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

“For the past three years, BDS has been the organizing principle behind most of the major controversies on our campus,” Watson observed. “Motions to support BDS were brought forward three separate times in 18 months, before they were declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Board, SSMU’s version of a supreme court. Since then, the struggle over BDS has continued through proxy debates over constitutional issues, proposed reforms, and, as we saw last week, votes on individual student representatives.”

By voting down board members for their involvement Jewish political organizations, “McGill students are forcing many of their Jewish peers to make an unfair and harmful choice,” he argued. “They are forced to choose between getting involved in their communities and participating in student government at our university.”

Watson encouraged more students to join SSMU, noting that “much of the pro-BDS lobbying comes from a mobilized vocal minority — Lew’s candidacy was opposed by only 160 votes, at a school with more than 20,000 undergrads.”

“Past online referendums suggest that most students don’t support BDS, but their inaction allows its supporters to drive the agenda,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, McGill principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier announced that she appointed Spencer Boudreau — a retired professor of education at McGill who also served as the ombudsperson for students — to investigate allegations that antisemitism played a role in last week’s GA vote.

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