Igor Sadikov, the McGill University student politician under fire for his “punch a Zionist today” tweet, has resigned from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) board of directors while he awaits a vote on his removal by the SSMU legislative council, scheduled for March 9.
Sadikov continues to sit on the legislative council, which at a Feb. 23 meeting tabled a motion to remove him immediately from his role as arts representative “for impropriety and for violation of the provisions of the [SSMU] constitution.”
The day before, the Arts Undergraduate Society defeated an impeachment motion against him, reversing its Feb. 9 formal request for his resignation.
On Feb. 13, the board voted not to impeach Sadikov, but did censure him for “harm caused.”
As SSMU vice-president (operations) Sacha Lefebvre Magder explained, the board is “technically the highest authority, but they are expected to follow the recommendations of the legislative council.” The council comprises 30 elected representatives of undergraduates from various faculties and other student bodies at McGill’s downtown campus.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Quebec co-chair, Rabbi Reuben Poupko, told The CJN that reluctance of SSMU leaders to remove Sadikov underlines the need for the university to act “in a timely and consequential manner” in the confidential disciplinary process that it has assured CIJA is underway against Sadikov.
While the discipline should send a message, he stressed CIJA is not recommending expulsion, as some critics of Sadikov want, including 1,700 online petitioners.
“The important thing is that the administration understands that there is a serious problem and takes steps to ensure that, in the longer term, Jewish and pro-Israel students feel that McGill is a welcoming, safe environment. The response of the student leadership to this matter demonstrates the necessity for serious action on the part of the administration.”
Sadikov deleted the controversial post on his personal Twitter account on Feb. 8 and apologized after pro-Israel groups expressed outrage. They denounced the tweet as hateful and an incitement to violence, and demanded he step down.
Sadikov, a third-year mathematics and political science student, alleges he resigned under pressure from the university administration. “Due to the interference of the administration, my continued membership on the [board] is, at this juncture, a legal liability for the [SSMU], and it is in the [SSMU’s] best interest that I resign my position.”
On Feb. 15, McGill principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier convened a meeting with Sadikov and SSMU executives, after which the seven-member body “recommended” that he resign. Some students protested that this was inappropriate interference by the administration in the internal affairs of the SSMU, a legally incorporated, independent organization.
There were claims the administration had threatened to withhold funding to the SSMU – money collected through student fees – if it did not get rid of Sadikov.
Fortier pointed to a memorandum of agreement between the administration and SSMU in which the latter agrees to live up to its constitution. It contains a “standard of care” that all SSMU officials must respect.
Fortier denied allegations she had threatened to hold back funding if SSMU leaders did not publicly move to oust Sadikov. She told student media that, “While we normally do not recommend a course of action to the SSMU leadership, this situation is exceptional. With any incitement to violence, it is our duty to intervene.”
After the Feb. 15 meeting, Sadikov issued a written apology, but defended himself by saying that he is Jewish and that his parents are Zionists, “and I understand the importance of the State of Israel to many Jews.”
He committed to participating in “training and educational activities in order to better engage with a diversity of perspectives on Zionism” by talking to Zionist groups.
A former McGill Daily editor and frequent contributor to that student publication, Sadikov has criticized Zionism as colonialist and oppressive, and makes a distinction between it as a political ideology and Jewish identity. He called his tweet a joke, mimicking the “punch a Nazi” meme circulating on the Internet.
Sadikov further offended pro-Israel students at a Feb. 9 legislative council meeting when he charged that Jews are not “an ethno-religious group indigenous to the Levant,” a remark for which he has also expressed regret.
Sadikov has since met with Israel on Campus at McGill, an SSMU-affiliated club. “We appreciate Mr. Sadikov’s coming to our meeting and engaging with us. It is an important step towards mending the trust he has broken with his constituents and the broader McGill community,” the group said afterward. However, the club continued to call for his resignation and was unconvinced that he had truly apologized for what it considers his “anti-Semitic” remarks about Jewish identity at the Feb. 9 legislative council meeting.
Lefebvre Magder is the sole SSMU executive who openly called for Sadikov’s exit. He told The CJN he thinks Sadikov has shown insufficient remorse and “has simply stated that [his opinions] were misinterpreted.”
Lefebvre Magder is urging his fellow SSMU leaders to take a firm stance against Sadikov. “In remaining silent, [they] are complicit in condoning acts of violence and are normalizing this nasty dialogue on campus.”
B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Right chair, lawyer Allan Adel, “applauded [Fortier] for her brave intervention in defence of human rights.
“Student associations are not above the law, and ought to face financial or legal consequences when they misuse their power to oppress segments of the student body that they claim to represent.”