Jewish groups and pro-Israel students have deplored a McGill University student union body’s decision not to remove a member who tweeted “punch a Zionist today.”
On Feb. 13, the board of directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) defeated a motion to impeach Igor Sadikov by a vote of five against, four in favour and one absention.
On Feb. 6, Sadikov posted on his personal Twitter account “punch a zionist today.” It was deleted on Feb. 9 after pro-Israel students, as well as B’nai Brith Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) brought its existence to wide attention and condemned the tweet as hateful and inciting violence.
Both organizations and the students, notably those associated with the group Israel on Campus, called for Sadikov’s resignation from all student leadership posts. In addition to being a SSMU board member, the third-year mathematics and political science student sits on the SSMU Legislative Council as a representative of the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), and chairs a number of committees.
He is also a former news editor of the student publication the McGill Daily and writes frequently for it, often critically of Israel.
Sadikov issued a qualified apology after deleting the tweet, but has refused to step down and said he will let the SSMU process follow its course.
On Feb. 11, the SSMU executive – in its first public pronouncement on the matter – issued a statement condemning all “physical, emotional, and institutional violence” and affirming that it does “not condone racism, discrimination, or prejudice in any form.”
The executive regrets that some students may have “felt personally attacked or unsafe” due to the tweet or to the stormy discussion of the matter at a Feb. 9 meeting of the SSMU Legislative Council, a broader-based elected body.
At that meeting the question of Sadikov was discussed heatedly, but no motion was adopted. The council is scheduled to next convene on Feb. 23.
Council member Jasmine Segal, who identified herself as Zionist and condemned the tweet as hateful at the night of Feb. 9 meeting, said afterward that she felt she was the target of hostility from anti-Israel students. She sought an apology from the SSMU leadership and was disappointed its leaders did not defend her at the time.
According to a McGill Daily report, Laura Khoury, a student of Palestinian origin, charged that Zionists serving on the council made her feel “unsafe.”
In its Feb. 11 statement, the SSMU executive apologized if any council member felt unable to participate as an equal and vowed to better moderate discussion on “this emotional and contentious issue revolving around differing interpretations of historical and cultural contexts.”
The AUS has backtracked somewhat on its formal request for Sadikov’s resignation made on Feb. 9. On Feb. 10, the day after the Legislative Council meeting, its executive posted on the group’s Facebook page that its earlier statement “clearly resonated with political bias” which is not in keeping with SSMU’s equity policy. The AUS stated it will from now be in step with the Legislative Council on this matter.
At the Legislative Council meeting, which lasted more than six hours, Sadikov complained that he has felt unsafe in the face of a deluge of condemnation. As he did in his earlier written expression of regret, he referred to his Jewish heritage.
“Over the past 24 hours I have received hundreds of insults and threats on social media, my personal information has been posted online, it has been reported to various institutions and authorities.”
Both the Daily and the McGill Tribune reported that AUS president Becky Goldberg said that Sadikov has been the target of “a little bit of a witchhunt” and that she is concerned for his safety.
On Feb. 13, McGill principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier issued the following statement: “I was shocked to read that Twitter post and want to make it clear that the university condemns all expressions of hatred and attempts to incite violence, including any that have been made in reaction to the post. The safety and security of our community is our primary concern.”
She urged an “environment where different views and ideas can be debated with mutual respect.”
Fortier, however, said the university administration will not intervene with how the SSMU handles the matter. “The SSMU is an independently incorporated organization, and as such it bears responsibility for properly managing its internal affairs according to its own governance procedures.”
On Feb. 10, Provost and vice-principal (academic) Christopher Manfredi said confidential disciplinary proceedings were underway to determine if Sadikov had violated the Code of Student Conduct or other university policies.
Meanwhile, both B’nai Brith and CIJA were closely monitoring the situation and reiterated their demand that Sadikov be removed from office.
CIJA is still not satisfied that the SSMU leadership has “unequivocally condemned” Sadikov’s actions. Its Legislative Council has “failed to understand the gravity of the situation by using their [Feb. 9] meeting to provide Sadikov a platform to further isolate and intimidate pro-Israel students on campus,” it said.
B’nai Brith says Sadikov appears “unrepentant,” noting that in his apology on his Facebook page, he “liked” a comment from someone who wrote “I can punch one for you if your position does not allow you.”
“B’nai Brith is disgusted by the response of the SSMU, which allowed the escalation of attacks against Jewish students at McGill,” stated its CEO, Michael Mostyn.
The SSMU winter general assembly, open to all undergraduates, takes place Feb. 20, but at time of writing, Sadikov’s future was not on the formal agenda.
Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, both McGill University alumni, issued a joint letter on Feb. 15 saying they are “deeply disturbed” by SSMU’s “continuing inaction to censure” Sadikov. “This incitement to violence, and the subsequent vilification of Jewish students during a SSMU council meeting, must be unequivocally condemned and properly addressed,” they say.
“We applaud the university administration’s continuing efforts to distance McGill from this behaviour, but remain concerned that more needs to be done to ensure that Jewish and pro-Israel students of all backgrounds are not harassed.”
Students, they say, should not have to study in “a climate of fear and discrimination.”