McGill students vote to approve a policy against ‘genocide in Palestine’ over the objections of Jewish students

Students' Society of McGill University building

McGill University students have voted in favour of a pro-Palestinian resolution that demands the university administration publicly condemn the war in Gaza and cut ties with any group complicit in genocide or “settler-colonialism”

‘Policy Against Genocide in Palestine’ was placed on the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) fall 2023 referendum ballot. Election results show that 78.7 percent of students voted in favour. Though the referendum results are in, the SSMU must approve the policy before it comes into effect.

A McGill University student, aided by B’nai Brith Canada is seeking a legal injunction to stop the adoption of the anti-Israel policy. The student did not wish to be identified.

“The notion of voting that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza is offensive and has no business in student politics,” B’nai Brith’s Quebec regional director Hank Topas told The CJN. “Based on there being such a referendum question we are asking the courts to stop the referendum.”

B’nai Brith had notified the university and the student union about the injunction and told them to wait to implement, announce or count votes pending the official hearing of the injunctive motion. Neither the university nor the student union responded. Topas said that the legal counsel for the student society had resigned.

McGill administration said in a statement after the vote, that the policy, if adopted, “will sharpen divisions in our community at a time when many students are already distressed.” 

 The student union’s constitution requires it to “to act in the best interests of [SSMU] members as a whole,” the university said.

“If the proposed policy is adopted, our view is that the SSMU will be in breach of its own constitution; consequently, the SSMU will have violated its memorandum of agreement with McGill. We have written to the President of the SSMU to outline the consequences of adopting the policy.”   

A petition of students, faculty and alumni at McGill University denouncing the ballot referendum garnered over 4,900 signatures. The petition, launched before the vote, asked the university to remove the question from the referendum ballot, to hold the student union responsible for violating the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and ensure the safety of Jewish students on campus.

“We are all appalled at the loss of life as a result of this war and we weep for the innocent civilians of Gaza and Israel who have lost their lives,” read the petition. “However, when individuals openly vilify Israel’s self-defense, omit the terror attacks of October 7th, and support violence against Jews around the world, it enables continued division, acts as a justification for antisemitic actions, and poses a direct threat to Jewish students.”

Hillel Montreal also opposed the referendum question.

“It (the policy) contributes to an already hostile environment for Jewish students at McGill University by demonizing Jewish students and those who support Israel,” the organization said in a statement.

In 2022, a similar referendum condemning Israel was held and the proposal was approved, however, the student union did not ratify it. The university had warned that it would terminate the MOA if the policy was not withdrawn.

At that time, McGill student Jonah Fried sued the student union, the university and a pro-Palestine group on campus, alleging that the policy was “designed to create a climate of fear and intimidation against Jewish students.”