By Yves Engler
Shame on the Montréal Gazette. Shame on Dan Delmar. Even when McGill’s uber-Israeli nationalist administration dismisses allegations of “anti-Semitism” the paper and its writer uses them to smear freedom promoting students.
In October Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee activist Noah Lew cried “anti-Semitism” after he wasn’t voted on to the Board of Directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).
At a General Assembly Democratize SSMU sought to impeach the student union’s president Muna Tojiboeva. The ad-hoc student group was angry over her role in suspending an SSMU vice president and adopting a Judicial Board decision that declared a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution unconstitutional.
While they couldn’t muster the two thirds of votes required to oust the non-Jewish president of the student union, Democratize SSMU succeeded in blocking the re-election of two Board of Directors candidates who supported the effort to outlaw BDS resolutions.
After failing to be re-elected to the Board of Directors at the same meeting Noah Lew claimed he was “blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations.” Lew’s claim received international coverage, including coverage in the Gazette.
As she’s done on previous occasions, McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier echoed the Israel activists’ claims. Fortier sent out two emails to all students and faculty about the incident with one of them noting, “allegations have arisen suggesting that the votes against one or more of those directors were motivated by anti-Semitism.” At the time she announced an investigation into the incident.
Released two weeks ago, the investigation dismissed Lew’s claim of anti-Semitism. After interviewing 38 students over three-and-a-half weeks, former Student Ombudsman Dr. Spencer Boudreau concluded that he could “not substantiate the notion that the vote was motivated by anti-Semitism” and couldn’t find “evidence that would equate students’ protests about Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism.”
Rather, Boudreau found that the vote was “motivated by politics, that is, based on his [Lew] support for Israel and Zionism and/or for his view of the BDS movement.”
Instead of covering the investigation, the Gazette repeated the Israel nationalist’s baseless smear. A story headlined “Student says anti-Semitism still an issue in McGill student government” quoted Lew and Israel lobby organizations objecting to the report’s findings. The article barely acknowledged the central conclusion of the investigation and failed to quote from it.
Four days after the news story Gazette columnist Dan Delmar criticized the report in a story titled “If anti-Semitism isn’t the problem on campus, what is?” The long-time anti-Palestinian commentator wrote, “for many if not most Canadian Jews, this writer included, the phenomenon of campus anti-Semitism in Canada is a reality and has been particularly problematic for nearly two decades.”
While the Gazette’s attacks are shameful, they are not surprising. The paper has engaged in a multi-year smear campaign against Palestine solidarity activists at McGill. According to a search of the Gazette’s database, the paper has published 12 stories referring to anti-Semitism at McGill since 2014 (I couldn’t find a single Gazette story detailing anti-Black, Asian or indigenous discrimination at the elite university).
Rather than a sudden growth of anti-Jewishness, the spate of anti-Semitism stories are a response to students campaigning to divest from corporations complicit in Israel’s occupation. Between 2014 and 2016 there were three votes inspired by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement at biannual SSMU General Assemblies.
After two close votes, in February 2016 a motion mandating the student union to support some BDS demands passed the union’s largest ever General Assembly, but failed an online confirmation vote after the McGill administration, Montreal’s English media and pro-Israel Jewish groups blitzed students.
Since that vote Lew and other anti-Palestinian activists have sought to have SSMU define BDS resolutions as unconstitutional. Concurrently, the university’s board of governors is seeking changes to its endowment’s social responsibility criteria, which would effectively block the possibility of divesting from companies violating Palestinian rights or causing climate disturbances.
The Gazette has ignored the Israel activists and administration’s extreme anti-Palestinian measures. The paper has also ignored the administration’s pro-Israel orientation. In May Principal Fortier traveled to that country and in November McGill Vice-Principal Innovation Angelique Mannella participated in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund.
In his column Delmar asks, “If anti-Semitism isn’t the problem on campus, what is?” The answer is obvious: Many students feel embarrassed and angry about their university — and other Canadian institutions’ — complicity in Palestinian dispossession. When they try to channel their emotions into non-violent action to help liberate a long-oppressed people they are blocked by powerful institutions and called names.
The problem is the anti-Palestinian bias of those institutions, including the Gazette.
– Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his website: yvesengler.com.