Following condemnation and calls for his resignation, the McGill University student union representative who tweeted “punch a zionist today” has expressed qualified regret, citing his own Jewish heritage, but has not stepped down.
On Feb. 6, Igor Sadikov, a member of the board of directors and legislative council of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), posted that phrase on his Twitter account, where it remained until Feb. 9, when B’nai Brith Canada issued a press release denouncing it as an incitement to violence.
On Feb. 10, the McGill administration indicated that it’s taking disciplinary action against Sadikov, whose tweet it termed “disturbing.”
“The university strongly condemns expressions of hatred or incitement to violence against any individual or group,” said provost and vice-principal (academic) Christopher Manfredi. “Such statements do not represent the views or the values of the university and we believe they violate a number of our policies, including the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures. While individual disciplinary proceedings are confidential, appropriate offices are taking action as required. McGill remains steadfast in its support of freedom of expression and respectful discourse.”
In response to the outrage, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), to which Sadikov is an elected representative, posted on its Facebook page that it has formally requested his resignation “due to his encouragement of violence.”
But the AUS also wrote that “as executives, we do not hold the power to directly impeach a member of our team.”
The AUS, whose president is Becky Goldberg, also commented, “We recognize that the issue of Zionism has historically been a controversial topic on our campus, and hope that students on either side of this debate can feel safe and included in AUS spaces.”
Sadikov, who is also a former news editor of the student publication the McGill Daily, in which he frequently criticizes Israel, responded on his Facebook page: “I regret the way that I phrased my opposition to Zionism and the fact that some of my constituents and fellow students felt harmed by it. To be clear, this tweet was not an attack against Jewish students, but on the adherents of a political philosophy that has detrimental impacts on Palestinians on a daily basis.
“This is an ideology that I oppose, in the same way that I oppose colonization and dispossession in Canada, in the United States, and elsewhere in the world. Given my own Jewish heritage, I believe that we must continue to disentangle Jewish identity from Zionism. Finally, I do not condone nor advocate violence on the basis of membership in any identity group.”
Sadikov did not respond to a request from The CJN for comment.
A third-year mathematics and political science student, Sadikov was born in Moscow in 1994, according to his social media accounts. His tweet was apparently a parody of the “punch a Nazi” meme circulating on the Internet.
While he claims to reject violence, his Facebook page is headlined, “I am a trash man/410,757,864,530 DEAD COPS.”
His statement wasn’t good enough for B’nai Brith, which filed a complaint to the police. Its regional director, Harvey Levine, said the tweet amounts to “inciting violence against a visible minority,” and the “damage has been done” even though it was deleted.
B’nai Brith League for Human Rights national director Amanda Hohmann stated that this incident “only strengthens the case of those who have claimed an overwhelmingly anti-Israel atmosphere at the McGill Daily.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) also condemned what Sadikov did, and wants him removed from student leadership posts.
“Calls for violence cross a line,” said CIJA-Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko. “While we vigorously defend freedom of speech and realize it can at times be heated, we roundly condemn calls for violence and applaud the AUS for its stance.”
The student group No to BDS (also known as Vote No McGill), which has been campaigning against efforts to promote the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign on campus, continues to call for Sadikov’s resignation from his SSMU posts, which also includes chairing a number of committees, among them a democratic review committee formed in November.
Critics like student Simon Paransky charge that Sadikov is pressing for changes that would dramatically reduce the authority of the SSMU’s judicial board. Last May, that body issued a reference that campaigning against a single country, such as Israel, violated the SSMU constitution because it was discriminatory against students from that country.
“It is appalling that an elected representative who holds significant power within the McGill community is advocating violence against Zionists, a significant portion of McGill students,” No to BDS said on its Facebook page.
If Sadikov doesn’t step down, the group says “thousands of members of the McGill community will feel unsafe at their own school and threatened by their student government.”
Alexandra Levine and Grace Miller-Day, leaders of another group called Israel on Campus, stated that this kind of language is especially egregious at a time when pro-Zionist students already feel hostility towards them.
“Statements like this alienate those who are part of that group, and in general go against the equity values that McGill claims to promote,” they said.