The executive of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has recommended that the director and councillor now infamous for tweeting “punch a zionist today” resign from both positions, sparking protest from some students that it’s doing so under duress from the university administration.
The recommendation, made public Feb. 17, runs counter to a decision by the SSMU board of directors four days earlier not to oust Igor Sadikov. A motion to impeach the third-year mathematics and political science student was defeated 5-4 by the board, SSMU’s highest governing body.
SSMU represents undergraduates at McGill’s main downtown campus.
Following a meeting with McGill principal and vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier, the executive committee, composed of seven elected students, released a statement saying that Sadikov’s Feb. 6 posting on his personal Twitter account violated the constitutional “Standard of Care” that all SSMU representatives must abide by.
“More specifically, we believe that Councillor Sadikov’s actions were an incitement of violence, and, for that reason alone, we have recommended that he resign from his position as a director and as an arts representative to the legislative council.”
The executive also apologized and acknowledged that “more should have been done to moderate the conversation” that took place during a Feb. 9 legislative council meeting, where some pro-Zionist students said they felt hostility. The council, which comprises 30 elected representatives, is scheduled to meet again Feb. 23.
“We want to reassure the community of the SSMU’s position condemning physical violence and our commitment to maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all students irrespective of race, religion, cultural or political background.”
Concurrently, the board issued a statement that it had censured him for the “harm caused” as a result of the tweet, describing that as “a formal disciplinary action.”
“Although the SSMU stands in support of freedom of expression and the right of representatives to hold a diversity of political beliefs, this protection does not extend to expressions of a violent or oppressive manner, even on a personal social media account unaffiliated with the SSMU.”
In deciding against impeaching him, the board said it took into account that Sadikov shows remorse. He apologized for his “lapse in judgment” and regretted that “many people have felt unsafe on campus” as a result, the board noted.
The board said it’s the purview of the SSMU general assembly and the legislative council, as well as the Arts Undergraduate Society, to decide whether Sadikov should remain in student office.
Sadikov was not on the agenda of the general assembly Feb. 20, but there was a question from the floor about what was happening. SSMU president Ben Ger pointed to the statements. He also said he wants to collaborate with campus groups and the university administration in setting up a forum for “productive dialogue” on “the diverse perspectives” on Zionism.
Attached to the board’s statement was one from Sadikov in which he apologizes a second time for the tweet, saying he was referencing a popular meme (apparently, “punch a Nazi,” which was circulating on the Internet.)
After taking down the tweet on Feb. 9, after pro-Israel groups condemned it, Sadikov said on his Facebook page that he was sorry, but that he makes a distinction between the political ideology of Zionism and Jewish identity, citing his own “Jewish heritage.”
In this latest apology, he said that his parents and family friends are Zionists.
“Many of my constituents and fellow students, and some of my friends, identify as Zionists. I am Jewish myself, and I understand the importance of the state of Israel to many Jews.”
He calls the tweet “insensitive and inappropriate” and, “without context, appears to be a genuine call to violence,” which he does not condone.
Sadikov says he is committed to “expanding my knowledge on Zionism by continuing and facilitating… conversations [with fellow students], both within Jewish communities and in dialogue with Palestinian voices, based on a shared commitment to social justice and human rights.”
He promises to reach out to members of Zionist groups to apologize and talk, and to participate in “training and educational activities in order to better engage with a diversity of perspectives on Zionism.”
Sadikov also apologized for this remark at the Feb. 9 legislative council meeting: “As to your claim that Jewish people are an ethno-religious group indigenous to the Levant, again as someone with a Jewish heritage and Jewish ancestry, I want to note that that is a deeply contested claim.”
He said he now believes Jewish people “constitute many ethno-religious communities with different geographies and histories.”
Executive members of Israel on Campus at McGill, an SSMU-affiliated club, met with Sadikov after he made his statement, but said they still think he should resign.
They released this statement: “We appreciate Mr. Sadikov 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.
“That being said, Mr. Sadikov did not formally apologize for his anti-Semitic statement [at the Feb. 9 legislative council meeting], but rather reiterated his regret about the harm that the statement has caused. This points to the notion that Mr. Sadikov does not realize the full impact of his actions.”
Fortier, who had earlier stated the administration would not intervene in how the independent SSMU handled the matter, denied allegations that she had threatened to withhold funding derived from student fees unless the SSMU lived up to its own constitution and made the above-mentioned public statements.
Both student newspapers the McGill Daily and the McGill Tribune, carried reports that such pressure had been exerted.
Sadikov is quoted in the Daily, where he was an editor, as saying: “This level of interference in student government is a new low for the university. The principal made it very clear that what she cares about in this situation is bending to political pressure from donors and alumni, rather than acting in the best interest of the campus community and respecting the decisions of the student groups affected.”
In response, Fortier stated that at the Feb. 15 meeting with the SSMU executive she had “explained that the SSMU had an obligation to abide by the terms of its own constitution.”
She added: “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.”
Meanwhile, an online petition urging McGill to immediately expel Sadikov had collected close to 1,600 names by Feb. 21, most signers apparently from outside the McGill community. Posted by Murray Levine, it cites the Student Code of Conduct, which forbids expressions of hate or incitement to violence, under possible penalty ranging from admonishment to expulsion.
Levine describes himself as an activist and fundraiser, who attended McGill.