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McGill urged to hold broad inquiry into anti-Semitism

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The McGill Student Union building at McGill University in Montreal. LILA SARICK PHOTO

A petition launched by B’nai Brith Canada is urging McGill University to conduct a comprehensive investigation into anti-Semitism on campus that is more accurate, in its opinion, than the recent report the university released on the subject, which was written by Spencer Boudreau.

The petition calls on McGill principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier to commission another investigation of the events surrounding the Oct. 23 general assembly of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), “which will avoid the pitfalls of Professor Boudreau’s report.”

In his report that was made public last month, Boudreau concluded that no evidence exists that anti-Semitism was the reason why a Jewish student’s reappointment to the SSMU board of directors was voted down at that assembly.

B’nai Brith claims there are factual errors in the report, most significantly, that “anti-Jewish tropes” appeared in a social media post from Democratize SSMU after the assembly, when they actually were expressed beforehand and could have influenced the vote.

In fact, Democratize SSMU, a pro-BDS ad hoc student group, acknowledged that the language it used was wrong, apologized and deleted the post in advance of the assembly.

This point was also raised earlier by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which remains concerned that Boudreau focused too narrowly on the intent of those who campaigned against incumbent director Noah Lew, rather than the effect they had. Lew has actively advocated for Israel on campus.

There was no intentional anti-Semitism.
– Spencer Boudreau

Two other non-Jewish candidates for the board, at least one of whom was known to be supportive of Israel, also had their bids rejected at the assembly.

Boudreau, a retired education professor and former ombudsperson of students, acknowledged his mistake about when the “anti-Jewish tropes” appeared on Democratize SSMU’s Facebook page, in a Feb. 8 response to CIJA Quebec vice-chair Eta Yudin.

“I apologize for this error, but the mix-up does not change my conclusion. The Democratize SSMU statement, in my opinion, did not change anyone’s vote,” wrote Boudreau.

He reiterated that his mandate from Fortier was very specific:

“I want to make clear that I was asked to determine if there was any anti-Semitic intent, with regard to that assembly and the events that preceded it. As I stated in the report, the evidence I gathered does not substantiate the notion that the vote against three would-be members of the SSMU board of directors was motivated by anti-Semitism. That was my way of saying there was no intentional anti-Semitism.”

Boudreau did not dismiss Lew’s feelings, which were shared by many in the Jewish community, about what happened.

“As for any possible anti-Semitic effects of the events and results, I believe I addressed that when I reported on two things: that the Jewish community’s negative reaction was justified and that Noah Lew’s belief that he was not ratified because he was Jewish was an honest and understandable reaction to the vote. I believe those statements in the report constitute an acknowledgement that there were in fact anti-Semitic effects felt by members of the Jewish community, especially at McGill,” he wrote.

READ: MCGILL WHITEWASHES ANTI-SEMITISM ON CAMPUS

Fortier originally called Boudreau’s report “thoughtful and thorough.” She again expressed her satisfaction with his work at the Feb. 15 McGill board of governors meeting.

The board reaffirmed its support for Boudreau’s conclusion that allegations of anti-Semitism were unfounded, but were understandable, given the divisiveness over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus.

B’nai Brith disputes Boudreau’s assertion that of the 37 people he interviewed, none said they had heard anything at the assembly that could be interpreted at as anti-Semitic.

B’nai Brith says a Jewish student interviewed by Boudreau told the organization that anti-Semitic comments were described to him.

Both B’nai Brith and CIJA think Boudreau should have used a broader definition of anti-Semitism than the one used in the Miriam-Webster dictionary, such as the one in the Ottawa Protocol on Combatting Anti-Semitism, to which Canada is a signatory.

That 2010 statement holds that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, “but singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium – let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction – is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”

How can anyone trust the conclusions of this report?
– Michael Mostyn

B’nai Brith wants the university’s administration to look into the issue of anti-Semitism on campus in a broader context.

As the petition states, the assembly vote was “only the latest in a string of horrifying incidents targeting Jewish students at McGill during the past few years, including one in which a member of student government called on his peers to ‘punch a Zionist today,’ ” a reference to Igor Sadikov’s tweet a year ago. Sadikov, who is Jewish, was on the SSMU legislative council.

“How can anyone trust the conclusions of this report, when it is so procedurally and factually flawed?” asked B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn.

CIJA also thinks the report is “deficient in several important ways,” not the least of which is that motivation is difficult to determine, but consequences are real.

“It is important to remember that the problems at McGill did not start with this incident and they certainly will not be resolved by this report,” said Yudin. “Principal Fortier’s unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism, despite the flawed report, is a more important development than a report which deals with a single incident. We are committed to working with the students, faculty and administration in addressing the situation at McGill over the long term.”

The report was applauded by the McGill chapter of the anti-Zionist Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) group.

“What transpired at the assembly was about politics, not anti-Semitism,” said spokesperson Tali Ioselevich.

She pointed out that, as a member of the SSMU board, Lew, who is associated with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, voted that BDS resolutions are unconstitutional.

“Such associations and actions are political positions in support of the Israel state, which members of SSMU can legitimately take into consideration when voting,” said Ioselevich. “IJV is glad to see that Boudreau was able to see this, distinguishing Zionism from Jewishness and Judaism, and BDS from anti-Semitism.”