MONTREAL — An anti-Israel resolution was shelved indefinitely by the McGill University undergraduates’ association at its general assembly on Oct. 22.
At a heated meeting attended by an unusually high number of students, a motion to prevent the resolution from being debated or brought forward in the future in exactly the same form passed 402-337.
The resolution called on the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to “stand in solidarity with the people of the occupied Palestinian territories.”
It condemned Israel’s “siege” of Gaza and “illegal” settlement expansion, as well as violence committed against Palestinian civilians and the destruction of schools, universities and hospitals in the territories.
The resolution was sponsored by Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights, an SSMU affiliated club, and bore the minimum 100 signatures.
The resolution also contained a clause suggesting those who espouse the Palestinian cause on campus are not being given a fair hearing, and called on the SSMU to “provide a safe platform for students to voice their views and experience accessibly.”
In the 10 days leading up to the general assembly, opponents of the resolution mounted a vigorous campaign under the slogan “Don’t divide McGill: vote no.”
It was led by Toronto native Jordan Devon of the group Israel on Campus at McGill, who put forward the motion to have the resolution shelved.
Devon said the “no” side was much broader than his organization and included Jews and non-Jews, as well as students from across the political spectrum, including critics of Israeli policy. “We were able to quickly mobilize hundreds of students,” he said.
The no side’s main argument was that the resolution was “one-sided and failed to recognize the plethora of nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Opponents also felt it was inappropriate for their student government to take a position condemning one side in a complex international issue. The SSMU, Devon said, has not taken sides in any other conflict abroad.
Devon said this view found sympathy among students from many different ethnic and religious minorities who could identify with that reasoning.
The resolution was endorsed by the independent student newspaper the McGill Daily. “Taking a stance against Israel’s violations would… challenge the prevailing narrative of support for Israel’s actions, making campus a safer space for people affected by the Israeli state’s violence,” its editorial board wrote.
Devon noted that in 2009, a similar anti-Israel resolution was brought before a SSMU general assembly and was similarly shelved.
SSMU general assemblies are held twice a year and are open to all members.
SSMU vice-president for internal affairs Daniel Chaim said that while the exact same resolution cannot be put on the agenda at a future general assembly, a similar version whose title has been changed or modified could be. The next general assembly is scheduled for the winter, probably February, he said.
Chaim said the turnout of about 750 was one of the largest ever at an SSMU general assembly, but he regretted that the proceedings were not civil and that the SSMU executive now finds itself being criticized by both sides.
He said it was clear most people had come because of the resolution. After it was shelved, the room emptied leaving only about 150 people.
“The general assembly was not the right venue for this issue,” he said, “There should have been a forum beforehand for discussion.”
The SSMU executive was powerless to keep it off the agenda, Chaim said, because the petitioners had acted in accordance with the constitution.
After the motion to table passed, supporters of the resolution attempted to have another resolution on the agenda in “support of a campus free from harmful military technology development” amended. They put forward “much harsher” clauses, in Chaim’s view, but a motion was adopted disallowing that amendment.
Devon added that it is “ludicrous” to suggest that pro-Palestinian students cannot express their opinions openly on campus. “All voices are heard at McGill. No one is being marginalized, nor should they be.”
The shelving of the resolution was applauded by the international Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs.
Its Canadian executive director, Meryle Kates of Toronto, said the resolution “employed misinformation and misused the language of social justice to attack Israel politically.”
Most McGill students, she believes, recognized that “student government should not be forced to take a stand on this contentious political issue, and that there are healthier ways to engage in dialogue about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”