MONTREAL (JTA) – McGill University is investigating charges by Jewish groups and pro-Israel students that three students are being barred from sitting on its undergraduate student union board because they are too pro-Israel.
At a Monday meeting of the General Assembly of the Student Society of McGill University, or SSMU, seven students were voted onto the board. But three others – one of them Jewish and a previous board member, and all known for their pro-Israel stances – were denied seats.
Outraged Jewish and pro-Israel students stormed out of the meeting after the vote.
For the first time, the voting for seats on the SSMU at the assembly took place individually for candidates, not as a group.
“I was blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliation with Jewish organizations,” Noah Lew, a third-year arts student, posted on his Facebook page.
B’nai Brith Canada organized an online petition demanding that McGill’s principal and vice chancellor, Suzanne Fortier, intervene in the matter. The petition as of Friday had over 4,000 signatures, according to B’nai Brith.
Lew and B’nai Brith allege that behind the bid to keep pro-Israel students off the undergraduate board at the Montreal university are campus groups supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. One group, called Democratize SSMU, includes Igor Sadikov, a student who earned notoriety last February for his “Punch a Zionist today” tweet.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also was critical of the vote, and like B’nai Brith alleges that anti-Semitism also was behind it.
Fortier said in a memo to students that in intervening, “we take such matters very seriously, as it is essential for McGill University to maintain an environment where different views and ideas can be expressed and debated with mutual respect.”
SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva seemed to support Lew’s allegations in comments to The McGill Tribune student newspaper.
“I think it’s very disappointing that, as a school, we would vote against a member [Lew] only on the basis that people recognize his last name, and on the basis that he’s Jewish,” Tojiboeva said. “I think it’s quite shocking that in the 21st century such an elite institution would still go with that [racial prejudice].”
In 2016, SSMU’s judicial board rejected a BDS motion.