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SSMU outlines plan to combat anti-Semitism at McGill

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

All new executives of the McGill University undergraduate students’ union will be required to attend a session on anti-Semitism, the union’s legislative arm has decided.

This was a key recommendation from the Special Committee on Anti-Semitism, which was created last fall by the board of directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), following allegations of discrimination by a Jewish student seeking office at the SSMU’s general assembly in October.

All of the committee’s recommendations have been approved by the SSMU legislative council. These also include the hiring of a researcher to look into anti-Semitism on campus and organizing open workshops to “educate McGill students on issues relevant to anti-Semitism.” Their implementation is to be overseen by the SSMU vice-president for university affairs, in conjunction with university administrators.

The committee is composed of representatives of the main Jewish campus groups: Hillel McGill, Chabad McGill, Israel on Campus, Am McGill, the Jewish Studies Students’ Association and Independent Jewish Voices McGill (IJV), as well as one SSMU director and one councillor.

The committee is mandated to “confront problems of anti-Semitism, both structural and perceived from the membership, within the SSMU. It shall develop recommendations for how the SSMU may make Jewish-identifying people on campus feel more safe, especially within student government.”

The legislative council renewed its mandate for the 2018-19 academic year and the committee will make its next presentation this fall.

READ: MCGILL URGED TO HOLD BROAD INQUIRY INTO ANTI-SEMITISM

In its report submitted on March 15 to the 30-member legislative council, the committee states that its overarching goal is “sensitizing the larger McGill community to anti-Semitism.”

The trickiest part of the committee’s task was determining a “working definition” of anti-Semitism.

The legislative council passed a joint motion of the committee and the SSMU board that settles on the definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It was incorporated into the 2010 Ottawa Protocol on Combatting Anti-Semitism, to which Canada is a signatory.

The motion notes that a number of Canadian universities use that definition, including Ryerson University.

However, unanimity was not reached by the committee on all the clauses in the definition. The anti-Zionist IJV raised concerns that advocating for justice for the Palestinians, including by such means as BDS, could be construed as “discriminatory or hateful.”

That dissent is recorded in a footnote to the joint motion.

A motion approved by the SSMU outlines actions to combat anti-Semitism within the student union and on campus.

The definition of anti-Semitism includes making “stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective,” accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations” and “claiming that the Jewish people have no connection to the Land of Israel.”

With regard to the contentious issue of where to draw the line between legitimate criticism of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism, the definition offers such examples as “applying double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other nation,” drawing comparisons between Israeli policy and that of the Nazis, holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel and denying Jews the right to self-determination, as defined by the United Nations charter.

“Let it be clear: Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is wrong. 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,” the Ottawa Protocol states.

The SSMU motion affirms that anti-Semitism is “a vital component of the fight against all forms of oppression and discrimination and should not be neglected by broader social justice movements.”

The content of the mandatory anti-Semitism session, which will be part of the training program for new SSMU executives that will be held in May, will need to be approved by a majority of the committee.