McGill club forced to change name of pro-Israel event

MONTREAL — The group McGill Friends of Israel (MFI) had to change the name of its “Israel A-Party” event last week because the university’s student union said it constituted “a mockery and/or trivialization of various oppressions some people of the world are subject to on a day-to-day basis.”

MFI grudgingly altered the original moniker of its Israel Peace Week event – meant as a play on the term “Israel apartheid” – to “A Party for Israel.”

MFI vice-president Russell Sitrit-Leibovich said MFI risked losing its official club status, its funding and its right to organize events on campus if it didn’t accede to the demand from the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU).

 “It is so hypocritical,” Sitrit-Leibovich told The CJN. “You can accuse Israel of apartheid all over campus, but an [SSMU] committee says that we are violating equity policy, that we are being offensive and inflammatory.

“It is absurd. We never disrupt their events.”

Israeli Peace Week was organized to counter Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which is is now held on 75 North American campuses.

The controversy about the “Israel A-Party” name arose after an anonymous complaint was registered with the SSMU’s equity committee about the event, which was only publicized on Facebook.

SSMU vice-president Carol Ellen Fraser told MFI president Eliana Schwartz in a pre-event e-mail exchange that while there is nothing wrong with Israel’s supporters expressing their opposition to Israel being characterized as an apartheid state, “this does not give them the right to mock and trivialize the term itself, and furthermore imply that Palestinian people are not suffering as a result of injustices in Israel…

“We feel that the title ‘Israel A-Party’ makes too much light of the convictions and experiences of students such as the claimant of this complaint.

 “It is our job to ensure a safer place on campus.”

McGill, as it happens, had an “apartheid wall” situated prominently on campus – near the Roddick Gates – during IAW.

Sitrit-Leibovich, a 21-year-old political science student, was also riled because MFI was notified only a few days before the pro-Israel party about the complaint to the SSMU by someone who was unidentified, giving his group little time to respond to or deal with the situation properly.

Schwartz told the SSMU that MFI would change the name of the event “in the interest of the hard work we have put into the event and our desire to maintain good relations with all members of the McGill community, [but] we have serious concerns about the complaint.”

MFI, Schwartz wrote, has been treated “inequitably,” and “we were not given a chance to make an official response to the complaint before the committee.”

She said that the student union “would find it difficult to substantiate a complaint that the event’s title oppresses any member of the McGill community in a manner that violates the SSMU equity policy.”

As well, she said, there were “no defined complainants,” the event was intended as a fundraiser for a charity and it was “supposed to be festive, not overtly political.”

She added: “We find it difficult to comprehend the claims of oppression stemming out of an Israel Peace Week event by an organization that actively works toward a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

“The fact that this complaint has been passed through the SSMU implicitly recognized and affirms the misinformed notion that Israel is an apartheid state.”

Sitrit-Leibovich told The CJN that his group was “left with no choice [but to change the event’s title]. It is such hypocrisy.”