Student group executives comment on decision not to ratify McGill university student Noah Lew
McGill University launched an investigation on Oct. 27 after one of its students, Noah Lew, claimed he was targeted for being Jewish. In a message posted on his Facebook page on Oct. 24, Lew wrote that he was “blocked from participating in student government because of [his] Jewish identity and [his]affiliations with Jewish organizations.”
Lew, a member of the board of directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)—the university’s student union—explained in his Facebook post that “over 100 students” opposed his assent as a director at the SSMU general assembly on Oct. 23.
The McGill student said the reason for the opposition was his support for the ratification of a decision by the SSMU judicial board that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel violated the SSMU constitution.
“I think it’s very sad that a person is discriminated [against] because of his cultural or religious identity,” Amina Chemssy, the Israel on Campus (IOC) Concordia president, told The Concordian.
The BDS movement calls for banks, local councils and other institutions “to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies,” according to the movement’s official website. The movement also calls on governments to “fulfill their legal obligation to hold Israel to account by ending military trade [and] free-trade agreements” and for people and organizations to “withdraw support for Israel and Israeli and international companies that are involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights.”
In December 2014, Concordia Student Union (CSU) members voted in favour of endorsing the BDS movement against Israel. While the CSU’s membership totals approximately 35,000 undergraduate students, only 2,343 students cast a vote.
Following the vote, Concordia president Alan Shepard wrote that the “result of the vote [was independent] of the university.”
Chemssy—a friend of Lew—and her colleague, IOC Concordia vice-president of finance Jonathan Mamane, have been following the situation at McGill closely.
Mamane, who was part of the “Vote no to BDS” campaign at Concordia in 2014, said he was not surprised Lew was not ratified.
At IOC Concordia meetings following the SSMU general assembly’s decision not to ratify Lew, Chemssy said people were shocked. “We thought Concordia was the most turbulent [of the two] campuses,” admitted Chemssy, who ran for an elected position in the March 2017 CSU elections.
“We thought, ‘Oh my God, this is happening next door. How are we supposed to react now?’” she said. According to Chemssy, she and IOC McGill president Grace Miller-Day are currently planning a “fun and non-political” event to bring people from both universities together.
According to Mamane, “there isn’t much of a working relationship” at the moment between IOC Concordia and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia—which supported the 2014 BDS vote. “However, some of us interact and engage other members in civil dialogue,” Mamane said.
The Concordian reached out to SPHR president Mustafa Bokesmati who wrote in a text message that his organization “would like to avoid discussing [the situation at McGill] publicly.”
“We have tried to do things with some organizations in the past and I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t usually work out,” Mamane said.
“There are values on both sides and, if both groups can’t agree to some things, then it doesn’t end up working out so well and sometimes it’s better to just not do things together,” Mamane told The Concordian.
Photo by Kirubel Mehari
A clarification has been added to this article regarding how many CSU members voted in favour of endorsing the BDS movement. The Concordian regrets the misunderstanding.