McGill student union upholds motion against BDS

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The McGill University undergraduates’ student union has upheld last year’s ruling by its judicial body that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) motions against Israel violate its constitution.

On Sept. 17, the board of directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) voted 11-0, with one abstention, to ratify the May 2016 judicial board reference on the legality of BDS and similar motions, new SSMU president Muna Tojiboeva announced.

“The board exercised its duty to vote on a judicial board decision that was left outstanding for 15 months,” Tojiboeva stated.

The four-member judicial board unanimously decided that BDS and similar motions that specifically target a single nation and compel the student union to “actively campaign against” that nation are unconstitutional.

This reference, or “advisory opinion,” was in response to a petition brought before it by student Zev Macklin, in the wake of the BDS motion entertained by a SSMU general assembly in February 2016, which was ultimately defeated. It was the third time in 18 months that a BDS motion was brought –unsuccessfully – before the SSMU.

Specifically, the judicial board found that BDS motions breach SSMU’s equity policy, which prohibits discrimination against any student it represents, including on the basis of national origin.


The judicial board nuanced its conclusion by noting that this does not mean SSMU cannot hear motions condemning the actions of specific countries. If the motion had, for example, been limited to calling upon McGill to withdraw its investments in companies said to be complicit in Israel’s occupation, rather than a blanket condemnation of the country, the judicial board may have been of a different opinion.

Then-chief justice Robin Morgan commented at the time that references are “hypothetical,” and it is unclear what practical effect this one would have, except that SSMU’s principles had been established.

Nevertheless, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) applauded the student union’s move.

“The SSMU board of directors and judicial board should be commended for recognizing that the BDS movement creates a discriminatory environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus that ultimately undermines academic freedom and dialogue for all,” stated CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko.

“The leadership demonstrated by the SSMU to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students should inspire student governments across Canada to adopt a clear and principled position against the divisive and regressive politics of BDS.”

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center CEO Avi Benlolo also hailed the board’s move, calling it “a positive step to restoring a welcoming and inclusive environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students who are all too often attacked through the anti-Israel BDS movement.

“We look to student leaders and administrators across campuses to continue to push back against the false narrative that targets the democratic state of Israel.”