McGill student union adopts policy to boycott groups ‘complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians,’ after a controversial referendum

Social media graphic from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

Pro-Israel groups are outraged that McGill University undergraduates have voted for the boycott of corporations or institutions “complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians,claiming the referendum process was illegitimate and intimidated Jewish students.

Just over 71 percent of online ballots cast from March 15-21 were in favour of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) adopting a “Palestine Solidarity Policy” proposed by the member student club Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR).

The policy’s inclusion among seven referendum questions attached to the SSMU 2022-23 executive elections was formally challenged by student Jonah Fried, a fellow of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), and it was, in fact, withdrawn briefly before being reinstated.

B’nai Brith Canada is urging the McGill administration to cut off funding to the SSMU for adopting this “extreme” policy.

A total of 3,960 votes were cast, a relatively small proportion of McGill’s 26,765 undergraduates.

The policy, to be in effect for five years, demands that the university divest its holdings in or collaborations with corporations and institutions said to be complicit with “a brutal regime of land theft, checkpoints, house demolitions, environmental destruction, deportation and extrajudicial killings at the hands of soldiers, police and settlers.”

It mandates the SSMU to make at least one pro-Palestinian public statement each semester, including on “Nakba Day” as Palestinians refer to the State of Israel’s 1948 independence, “authored by the SSMU Palestine Solidarity Committee” that is to be created.

The resolution also calls on McGill to condemn Canary Mission, an advocacy group that identifies anti-Israel campus activists, and “other surveillance and smear campaigns against Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students.”

The adoption of the policy is not a fait accompli.

Elections SSMU, an independent body, abruptly removed the Palestinian question from the ballot on March 14, the day voting was to begin. Its CEO Jaylynn Barth announced to the student body that it was acting on an “interim order” from the SSMU Judicial Board.

After receiving a petition from CAMERA’s Fried objecting to the process by which the Palestinian question was included, the Judicial Board ordered it be dropped “until a legal determination on the merits of compliance can be rendered” by the SSMU Board of Directors.

SPHR protested the removal and the question was reinstated the same day by Elections SSMU. Voting was then extended by three days.

Despite the strong majority support for the policy, the question could yet be invalidated by the SSMU Board of Directors and the results annulled.

Fried explained that Jewish students’ concerns about “misinformation, antisemitism and possible legal implications” were sent to the Judicial Board on March 12.

“Following this, SSMU’s semi-autonomous election management subsidiary, Elections SSMU, suspended the Palestine question pending a legal review. But on March 13, anti-Israel students complained about this decision on social media.

“They called the Elections department racist and undemocratic, among other things, and cited false claims of a ‘blacklist’ conspiracy against anti-Zionist activists. The next day, Elections SSMU reinstated the question—despite ongoing challenges – in apparent violation of the judiciary committee’s order.”

Fried said the controversy surrounding the Palestine question has seen “antisemitism raging across social media platforms. Activists are vandalizing McGill buildings, violating SSMU’s electoral bylaws, and setting up Palestine flag-draped tables to spread anti-Israel propaganda.

“All this creates an atmosphere where Jewish students feel unsafe.”

The SSMU already has a divestment policy against companies said to be enabling human rights violations by different regimes, including Israel, which was ratified last July. It was overwhelmingly approved by the SSMU General Assembly and Legislative Council the previous February, but the Board of Directors raised certain procedural issues before finally approving the policy in a split decision.

B’nai Brith faults Elections SSMU for going ahead and putting the Palestine question back on the ballot, despite the Judicial Board’s order that it be removed until a final decision on its legality. The newly adopted policy is so broad that it may compel SSMU to boycott nearly all Jewish clubs and associations on campus, thereby contravening its own constitution, it said.

“The SSMU’s behaviour over the past week has not only been antisemitic, but contrary to the rule of law,” Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith’s CEO, said in a press release. “We call on McGill University to immediately cease funding SSMU until it rescinds this bogus referendum result.”