This is where it stops. For years we have been saying #ENOUGHISENOUGH, and I’ve had it. We have been watching aggressive, relentless, anti-Israel campaigns designed to overtake campuses across North America, most recently at McGill University in Montreal. We have been concerned about Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) on campus not only because of the movement’s central goal to delegitimize Israel but also because of its ultimate effect of ostracizing and intimidating Jewish and pro-Israel students. Because of what this never-ending harassment is doing to our campuses.
Noah Lew showed both leadership and courage in sharing his story. But it is a story that happened because, somewhere in the noble quest for balance and political correctness, McGill University failed him. A toxic discourse that has no place on campus is targeting our campuses, taking root, and eclipsing student life.
Students interested in engaging fully in student life and government feel they must check their Jewish identity or attachment to Israel at the door. Noah participated in the CIJA / Hillel/GenMTL Chai Fellowship. He chose to engage in activities that would educate him and develop his personal civic engagement. As the next step, he took the leap of faith to run for student politics. In 2017, in Montreal, at what is arguably the ‘Harvard of Canada,’ to have any chance at winning, Noah had to hide his Jewish identity and connections to Jewish communal organizations.
Noah and his peers who supported the ratification of a SSMU Judicial Board decision were targeted for removal. Some overtly, and others with more sophisticated tactics: alleging conflicts of interest or with pejorative allusions to affiliation with the Jewish community or with the pro-Israel camp. Noah and two others were impeached, although efforts failed to remove the SSMU President, a young woman with the courage to change things and take back her campus and who, although elected by an overwhelming number of students, has been continuously challenged in her role.
I am a proud McGill alum. I was an active and engaged student during my tenure, when Jewish and pro-Israel students certainly faced their share of challenges – through which I honed leadership and advocacy skills. But I treasure many fond memories from my student years. I fear that today’s Jewish and pro-Israel students will not be as fortunate.
We have seen a progression from BDS to campaigns designed to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel voices from student life. A handful of students with a marginal agenda have cornered exclusivity on student governance, maintaining a focus, at McGill anyway, on imposing BDS on a campus that has voted against it three times.
McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier has now taken a meaningful first step by announcing: the launch of an investigation to determine the facts in this specific matter; the establishment of a support line where members of our community can report incidents on campus of intolerance based on religion or ethnic origin; and the appointment of a task force to examine more broadly such matters and to make recommendations on how to ensure that our values and principles of academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity and inclusiveness are respected. It is a meaningful step – but it must not be the only step. Indeed, it must be followed quickly by actions that will “take back the campus” and provide as safe a place for Jewish students as it does for any other segment of the campus community
Other university leaders are calling out and taking a clear stand against antisemitism on their campuses. On Monday, York University’s Glendon campus in Toronto was evacuated following a bomb threat that turned out to be antisemitic in nature. To its credit, Glendon refused to downplay or dismiss this serious act of antisemitism. Glendon’s principal swiftly issued a strong statement in solidarity with our community: “We firmly and forcefully condemn anti-Semitism. Any anti-Semitic or other forms of bigotry and hate are unacceptable.” And, like Fortier, the Principal listed proactive measures the school will undertake to counter hateful activity on campus.
Like Noah, many other students are demonstrating the courage to stand proud and fight against this tide. Wednesday brought an important victory for Jewish and pro-Israel students at the University of Winnipeg (UW) where they overwhelmingly defeated an attempt by a small number of anti-Israel activists to advance a pro-BDS motion at a Special General Meeting of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association. This vote represented the second time in the past two academic years that BDS has failed to find support among students at UW.
As the VP of CIJA Quebec, I assure you that my team and I, along with our colleagues at Hillel/GenMTL, and our lay leadership will continue to be there for our students. Together with our community we will continue to fight against all forms of antisemitism. As a mother, I will do everything in my power to ensure a future where neither my children – nor anyone’s – will need to hide their identity.