Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

McGill University campus on 2016 in Montreal.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

McGill University is threatening to sanction its student union, including by prohibiting it from using the McGill name, because the association championed a pro-Palestinian policy that the school and Jewish groups say is discriminatory.

The Palestine Solidarity Policy, adopted in a March student referendum with 71 per cent support, says the Students’ Society of McGill University shall join an international campaign to boycott all companies and institutions that are “complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians.” The policy also calls on the union to pressure the university to join the boycott.

In response, McGill’s administration served the student union with a notice of default, giving it a month to repeal the motion or have its agreement with the university terminated. The “Memorandum of Agreement” governs the relationship between McGill and the union by setting guidelines over financing and the use of school space and the university’s name.

“McGill University firmly denounces all forms of racism and discrimination, including [anti-Semitism] and Islamophobia,” university spokesperson Cynthia Lee said in a statement about the results of the vote. She said the policy violates the university’s values of inclusion and it disrespects students’ religious and political beliefs.

Several Jewish advocacy groups are supporting the university’s position, saying the policy targets Jewish students on campus.

But union president Darshan Daryanani says the administration’s threat endangers democracy and the union’s right to represent all students. “We talk about academic freedom, but where is it in this?” Mr. Daryanani said in a recent interview.

About 2,294 students voted in favour of the policy – less than 10 per cent of McGill’s total undergraduate student body. The union said 931 students voted against the policy. The vote was held between March 15 and 21.

Mr. Daryanani said the union is not only defending the policy but also the right to student democracy.

Ms. Lee, however, says the policy will lead to conflict on campus.

“The current initiative by (student union) will lead to polarization that fosters a culture of ostracization and disrespect on the basis of students’ identity, religious or political beliefs, is contrary to the university’s core values of inclusion, diversity and respect, and will not be tolerated,” she said.

Danielle Fuchs, a McGill student and president of Hillel Montreal, which advocates on behalf of McGill’s Jewish community, says she has begun to feel more hesitant to wear items on campus that can identify her as Jewish.

“It’s been a stressful few weeks as a Jewish student at McGill,” Ms. Fuchs said in a recent statement. “A few of us have been publicly shamed and accused of being xenophobic, racist, or even of working for the Israeli government.”

Hillel signed a joint statement with Hasbara Fellowships Canada and other Jewish campus organizations to denounce the pro-Palestine policy. “This vote serves to demonize, marginalize, and delegitimize students who support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” the statement said.

Pro-Palestinian policies have recently gained momentum across Canada’s university campuses. The motions are tied to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is an international campaign to put pressure on companies and groups – primarily in Israel – accused of violating Palestinian rights.

The University of Toronto announced in March it had withheld more than $10,000 in student fees destined to the graduate student union, in response to activities run by the union’s “Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions caucus.”

Mr. Daryanani said if McGill decides to end its agreement with the student union, all funding intended for the association would be placed in an interim trust fund. “The funds will then be overseen by a committee of two McGill representatives, two (student union) representatives and a mutually selected chairperson,” he said.

Daniel Koren, director of pro-Israel campus activism organization Hasbara Fellowships, said he thinks students’ independence and democracy are welcome on university campuses, but he said it’s more important that students feel safe.

“While democracy is important, you can never have a vote that leads to hating or discriminating against others,” Koren said in a recent interview.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe