MONTREAL — The McGill University undergraduates’ association defeated a motion that urged the university to divest from companies “profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories” by a vote of 276 to 212, with nine abstentions.
The secret ballot was held at the winter semester General Assembly of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) on March 15.
The motion was put forward by the student club Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR).
The motion was vigorously opposed by another club, Israel on Campus at McGill, which launched a social media campaign called “SSMU for All Students” on Facebook and #EnoughisEnough on Twitter to mobilize students of all backgrounds to vote against the motion.
This was the second anti-Israel motion SPHR has introduced this academic year. At the fall general assembly in October, a motion to “stand in solidarity with the people of the occupied Palestinian territories” and condemning Israel’s “siege” of Gaze and “illegal” settlement expansion was shelved after a 402-337 vote.
The latest SPHR motion was harsher in the view of Israel of Campus, demanding that McGill’s endowment cease investing in such major international corporations as Volvo, Re/Max and Oshkosh because of their alleged complicity in the violation of Palestinians’ human rights due to their business activities in the territories.
It called for SSMU, which represents more than 30,000 students, to join with SPHR in pressing the university administration on this issue and to “educate” the McGill community on Israel’s alleged violation of international law.
The motion was at the top of the agenda of the assembly and voting took place after an airing of views by both sides on the issue.
Motion supporter Zara Habib said, “This motion is not contesting Israel’s right to exist. It is pointing out several actions of corporations. Why would anyone be against that?”
Another student countered that denying these international corporations’ right to operate in the territories would hurt Palestinians more than Israel’s economy.
Opponents earlier argued that the motion took a “unilateral stance on the divisive Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and would enable SPHR to “monopolize” the issue on campus and spread its message via the SSMU’s official network.
“By promoting one narrative over another, the passage of this motion would necessarily delegitimize all other voices on McGill’s campus… Students [would be] paying for this group to exercise sole control of the flow of information to students.”
The undergraduates’ decision was applauded by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the pro-Israel StandWithUs Canada.
“The McGill students have once again made their position clear,” said CIJA Quebec executive member Rabbi Reuben Poupko. “They will not permit a polarizing and obsessive campaign designed to ostracize a group of students to have a place on campus. Inherent in the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement is the bizarre idea that in the complex dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, one side is to blame for the failure of the peace process.”
StandWithUs Canada director Meryle Kates said in a statement: “We congratulate all of the student leaders who stood up to fight against this divisive anti-peace, anti-justice motion,” which she also termed racist.
“McGill’s BDS campaign attempted yet again to single out one country, one people, and demonstrated clearly that their goals are racist because they target only one country in the world for condemnation.”
The no campaign received broad-based support, including from both the federal Liberal party and its Quebec youth wing.
Federal leader Justin Trudeau tweeted: “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. As a McGill alum, I’m disappointed [the motion was introduced].”
SPHR took exception to Trudeau's comment, saying it represented interference in campus politics and suppresses the freedom of speech.
“As a pro-Palestinian student group in Canada, it seems that our voices do not matter, even if we are advocating against injustices and violations of human rights that have already been condemned internationally… Once again, Israel is being singled out with unconditional support from government officials.”
SPHR said it “will not be silenced by the opposition's external endorsements and endowments. We will stand up for what is right.”
The motion was introduced just before the annual Israeli Apartheid Week, spearheaded by SPHR, began at McGill and other universities.
The no side was also endorsed by Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather, who is the Liberal candidate in Mount Royal; Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg; the Armenian Students’ Association; and the McGill Tribune. A number of non-Jewish students also signed an op-ed article that appeared in the Montreal Gazette on March 12 opposing the BDS campaign at McGill.
Rabbi Poupko said he’s heartened by this support. “We saw many individuals stand with us against this transparent campaign… As leaders we must continue to stand strong against intimidation. We must do more to ensure that hateful campaigns such as these are not allowed to take root in academic institutions, which have the obligation to provide all students with an atmosphere free of harassment and bullying.”