Canadian Jewish News ran an alarming headline on its front page on October 25th about rampant anti-Semitism among BDS supporters at McGill University. Was it accurate? Read more…
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP), like many other Canadians concerned about human rights, was very concerned by dramatic headlines in the National Post and the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) alleging anti-Semitism at the McGill student union.
“I was blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations”, claimed Noah Lew, a student at McGill.
The case garnered international attention based on accusations by establishment Jewish groups like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith echoing Lew’s claim that those who did not ratify his candidacy for student government acted out of anti-Semitic malice.
“That students are stigmatized and banned for their political views is sufficiently egregious but, when their very identity causes exclusion, a line has been crossed that will taint SSMU until this wrong is righted. (…) Jewish students at McGill continue to stand proud while those behind this initiative should bow their heads in shame.”
McGill’s principal announced she would launch an investigation.
But wait, may be it’s not anti-Semitic after all…
On deeper investigation, however, it seems that the case of anti-Semitism referred to by the media and the Israel lobby, may not be all that clear-cut after all.
Carleton University professor Mira Sucharov did a little digging. In a recent article in Jewish Forward magazine, Sucharov says “a closer look at the facts suggests that those who voted against him acted out of political – rather than prejudicial or racial – motives. Rather than being voted off the board for his Jewishness, Lew was voted off for his positions on Israel and his own voting record.”
“It is completely fair – and not at all anti-Semitic,” Sucharov argues “to claim that a candidate for the board of student government like Lew with a history of Israel advocacy and affiliations might have influenced this vote. (…) That’s a platform — not an ethnic identity, and fair game for elections.
Of course, being pro-BDS is also a platform, and equally fair game for criticism and electoral jockeying. To date, neither the media outlets nor the establishment Jewish groups have revised their statements in light of Sucharov’s findings. This might be oversight. Or it might be linked to ongoing efforts by some groups to actively conflate support for BDS – a political position – with anti-Semitism, a form of racism.
But be careful… words do matter
Sucharov’s article however, goes on to raise an important caveat.
“While I don’t think Lew’s dismissal was racially motivated, I do not deny that Lew experienced this series of events as anti-Semitism, and the McGill community must take this seriously – especially given the recent past.”
Sucharov is referring to several recent incidents at McGill, including one where a student government official had sent out an angry tweet saying “punch a Zionist” and another when the McGill Daily — the main student newspaper — decided to ban Zionist viewpoints from its pages altogether.
“Raise the issue, but lower the temperature”
– CTIP motto
CTIP has no grounds for assessing Mr. Lew’s real motives. Did he really feel intimidated as a Jew, or is he purposefully conflating support of BDS and criticism of Israel, with anti-Semitism?
Most Canadian Jews do agree (to a greater or lesser degree) with the Zionist ideal, so threatening Zionists, or banning Zionists from having a voice, is not likely to make those Jews feel comfortable in Canada, or to encourage discussion. CTIP encourages thoughtful, reasoned debate among Canadians over the appropriate policy response to the Israel/Palestine issue. This includes having a respectful interaction with those Canadians who believe Zionism is a legitimate way to protect Jews from persecution.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We invite comments from readers. Both Zionists and non-Zionist opinion is welcome as long as it is expressed in a respectful way. If you support our educational mission, why not join? Or make a donation? Or learn more about what we do? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.