McGill student Jonah Fried sues his university and student union for anti-Israel referendum that was ‘discriminatory, biased and antisemitic’

A Jewish and Zionist McGill student is suing his student union, a pro-Palestinian campus club, and the university administration for allegedly failing to protect him from the discrimination and harassment he suffered as a result of a referendum  condemning Israel this past semester.

In his deposition in Quebec Superior Court, Jonah Fried names as defendants the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and McGill. He is seeking a declaratory judgment that the Palestine Solidarity Policy advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel proposed by SPHR is “inconsistent with and contrary to the constitution, bylaws and policies” of the SSMU.

That policy, never ratified, is “discriminatory, biased and antisemitic,” it is alleged, because it is “designed to create a climate of fear and intimidation against Jewish students attending McGill.”

Besides advocating BDS, the policy accused Israel of “settler-colonial apartheid,” which Fried claims is coded language for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Fried further argues the policy violates the Quebec Human Rights and Freedoms Charter.

He hopes to block any attempt by SPHR to re-introduce a similar motion.

The action is being financially underwritten by B’nai Brith Canada.

McGill is faulted for not living up to the memorandum of agreement it entered into with the SSMU in May 2021. The administration’s “limited responses” to the referendum on the policy held in March and the campaign leading up to it, Fried alleges “caused (his) dignity, respect and integrity to be seriously compromised, to be brought into disrepute and to be humiliated. Due to the possibility of reprisal in the very bringing of this action” Fried is keeping his home address confidential, the suit states.

McGill has “a duty to divorce itself from the SSMU and to cause the SSMU to no longer use ‘McGill’ in its name” or collect student fees on its behalf, the suit continues.

Fried is represented by the firm Bergman & Associates.

A third-year history and classical studies undergraduate, Fried describes himself as an active advocate for the State of Israel and the Jewish people on campus, through social media and in publications, noting he received a $4,500 grant from McGill for research on Judaism and Zionism.

Fried, a fellow of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), led the campaign to dismiss as illegitimate a motion to put the Palestine Solidarity Policy to a referendum open to all undergraduates, which was passed at the SSMU General Assembly in February and subsequently by its Legislative Council.

The referendum vote in March was 71 percent in favour, although the turnout was only about 15 percent of the approximately 26,000 students eligible to cast a ballot.

In April, the SSMU board of directors voted not to ratify the policy after Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau warned that the policy is causing “excessive polarization” and “a culture of ostracization” inconsistent with the university’s values of “inclusion, diversity and respect” and the SSMU’s own equity principle and antisemitism policy.

He said that McGill would terminate the MOA, thereby cutting off funding, if the policy was not withdrawn within 30 days.

The board decided the Palestine policy did not conform to its constitution.

In May, SPHR was suspended by the SSMU for 105 days for a post on social media it described as satirical that mocked the SSMU “board of dictators” for having a “backbone of jelly” in caving into the threat. The SSMU board deemed that amount to “harassment” and is withholding resources to SPHR until Aug. 29.

B’nai Brith said it is backing Fried’s lawsuit in the hope that it will halt any more anti-Israel resolutions being put forward by the student government. Although the SSMU board of directors put a halt to this latest initiative by pro-Palestinian students, B’nai Brith is continuing to call for McGill to cease funding the student union.

“We’re standing up for this Jewish student, and through him, all Jewish students on campus who feel unsafe and unwelcome as a result of continued anti-Israel referendums by their student society,” stated B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn.

“It’s inexplicable that McGill would allow one anti-Israel referendum after another and continue to fund activities which are in violation of its own policies. In doing so, it is participating in creating an antisemitic environment.” 

Director of legal affairs Sam Goldstein added that this lawsuit should be “an example to all universities across Canada who are allowing this type of activity on campus…This is a problem in universities across Canada, and we hope other universities are paying attention.”

B’nai Brith’s intervention was denounced as anti-democratic by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute (CFPI), which hosted a webinar featuring British rock singer Roger Waters earlier this month before his concerts in Montreal and Quebec City in support of SPHR, with the participation of the Confedération des syndicats nationaux, one of the largest labour unions.

“B’nai Brith can’t tell McGill students they don’t have the right to free speech on their own campus,” stated CFPI director Bianca Mugyenyi, who called on the McGill administration “to defend its students from bullying by the pro-Israel lobby.”