This past Thursday, Feb. 9, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council hosted speakers from McGill Athletics and Recreation and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). In addition, two out of four motions were passed: the Motion for SSMU to Advocate for an Immediate Suspension of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, as well as a motion to extend the executive electoral time. There were six notices of motion, including the motion regarding the Amendment of the Internal Regulations of Governance, which will be discussed at the Feb. 23 meeting, due to a lengthy question period at the beginning of the meeting. Questions pertained to a controversial tweet by Arts Representative Igor Sadikov.
On Feb. 6, Sadikov posted “punch a zionist [sic] today,” on his personal Twitter account. The tweet has since been shared on Facebook by several McGill students who expressed their concern over the message.
During an extended question period that lasted over 50 minutes, several students in the audience approached the microphone to condemn or defend Sadikov for his tweet. Questions addressed topics such as Sadikov’s definition of Zionism, the potential for his impeachment or resignation, and concerns over both his safety and that of Zionists on campus.
In response to a question from the audience, Sadikov expressed regret over the tweet.
“When I talk about Zionism I’m not referring to a group identity,” Sadikov said. “I’m referring to a political ideology. I understand that many members of the McGill community identify with the label Zionist and that for some of them, this label is connected to Jewish identity. As someone with Jewish heritage myself, I find it important to draw a clear distinction [between] Jewish identity, culture, and religion on the one hand, and Zionist politics and ideology on the other hand [….] I regret that the way I phrased my opposition to Zionism was harmful to some of my constituents and fellow students.”
Several hours before the Council meeting, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), which Sadikov represents at SSMU Council, formally requested his resignation in a Facebook statement. On Feb. 13 the SSMU Board of Directors voted against removing Sadikov from his post.
During the question period, Science Senator Sean Taylor asked why Sadikov had ignored the AUS’ request for his resignation.
“I have not yet reached a decision on this issue,” Sadikov said. “I will follow the institutional procedures that exist in the governance documents.”
AUS President Becky Goldberg was also present. In a statement to the Council, she discussed the backlash directed at Sadikov for the tweet.
“These are my words and not on behalf of the [AUS],” Goldberg said, “But [the exposure of the tweet] seems to be a little bit of a witch hunt, a political witch hunt, and I have tried to ensure Igor’s safety just in providing support in my capacity as a friend.”
Sadikov echoed Goldberg’s concerns for his safety.
“Over the past 24 hours, I have received hundreds of insults and threats on social media, my personal information has been posted online,” Sadikov said. “I cannot say that I feel safe [….] I am grateful for the solidarity that’s been shown to me, but I would prefer to see further institutional support.”
Social Work Representative Jasmine Segal–the only Councillor to openly identify as a Zionist during the meeting–replied to Sadikov’s safety concerns after the backlash his tweet received.
“I agree that you also need support and safety because I’ve seen some of the emails you’ve received,” Segal said. “However, I do think at the same time it’s important to note that you did make other people feel unsafe.”
A silence ensued after an Laura Khoury, U3 Engineering, asked why any Zionist councillors were allowed to sit on SSMU Council.
“I’m just wondering, since SSMU has a social justice mandate, why does it allow Zionist councillors on council when Zionist ideology is inherently [linked with] ethnically cleansing Palestinians and I, as a Palestinian, do not feel safe with councillors like that representing me on a daily basis,” Khoury said.
Ben Ger, SSMU president, was later asked to respond to the comment.
“I just want to point out that there are mechanisms put in place if people would like to see [their representatives] removed, but anyone who is elected is allowed to sit around this table and we try to focus on that key pillar of democracy,” Ger said.
Molly Harris, U2 Arts, attended the Council session as an audience member.
“The [Feb. 9] meeting was more unsafe than any [General Assembly meetings discussing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] that I’ve experienced in my three years at McGill,” Harris wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “When I asked how the SSMU and the AUS would protect me from being punched by anti-Zionists, the room fell totally silent.”
Khoury later commented on the Council meeting in a message to The McGill Tribune.
“I [felt] betrayed by the silence of almost all of my elected representatives at Council, where I had to listen to Zionists speak about protecting their dangerous, colonial belief,” Khoury wrote. “[The uproar] is clearly an exaggerated response to a tweet on a personal account, which makes it clear that [it] is an orchestrated campaign to instill intimidation and fear in anyone [who] expresses pro-Palestinian views.”
In addition to the response from SSMU, AUS, and the student body, members of the McGill administration issued two statements condemning the tweet on Feb. 9 and 13. The statements were issued on behalf of Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi and Principal and Vice Chancellor Suzanne Fortier.
“I was shocked to read that Twitter post and want to make it clear that the University condemns all expressions of hatred and attempts to incite violence, including any that have been made in reaction to the post,” Fortier wrote.
SSMU issued a formal statement on the tweet and the discussion at the Legislative Council via an email to members on Feb. 11.
“[…We] condemn physical, emotional, and institutional violence, and do not condone racism, discrimination, or prejudice in any form,” SSMU wrote. “We regret that some members of our community, including those present at the Legislative Council meeting on [Feb. 9], have felt personally attacked or unsafe due to the nature of the discussion or the original tweet.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there were 10 motions on the agenda, when in fact six of these were notices of motions and only four were motions to be voted on in the Feb. 9 Council session.