In the 2018-2019 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive election, Vice-President (VP) External-Elect Marina Cupido received 1,645 “No” votes—a substantially higher number than the candidates for other positions received. Her candidacy was opposed by the group McGill Students for an Inclusive SSMU, which condemned Cupido for expressing solidarity with former arts representative Igor Sadikov and allegedly disregarding President Muna Tojiboeva’s mistreatment at SSMU.
Last February, while in office, Sadikov sparked outrage with his controversial tweet “punch a zionist today.” He was further criticized when he claimed at a Legislative Council meeting that Jewish people do not constitute a homogeneous ethnic group. While many accused Sadikov of escalating anti-Semitic sentiments, Cupido publicly defended him. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Cupido elaborated on her reasons for supporting Sadikov.
“I understand Zionism as a form of settler colonialism,” Cupido said. “It was my understanding that [Sadikov] was expressing opposition to Zionism as a political movement, and the violence that it enacts [….] Based on my discussions with Jewish people, I believe that his statement about homogeneity was true.”
Though Cupido acknowledged the lack of nuance in Sadikov’s statements, her stance was met with backlash during her campaign. As a Jewish person, David Naftulin, U1 Arts, found Cupido’s view on Zionism and Judaism particularly troubling.
“Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing necessarily, but they are […] very important to most people of Jewish identity,” Naftulin said. “It is not about the Zionism. It is about the veiled targeting of Jewish students.”
Regarding the claim that Jews do not make up a single peoplehood, Naftulin criticized Cupido for not understanding Jewish identity.
“Judaism is inherently not evangelist,” Naftulin said. “Jews do not make an attempt to convert others [….] There are individuals who are not members of the Jewish ethnic group. However, […] Jewish people are a peoplehood which results from a single ethnic group.”
However, Hani Abramson, U2 Arts and Jewish member of Cupido’s campaign team, argued in favour of Cupido’s understanding of Judaism.
“There are Jews by choice who are just as Jewish as people who were born Jewish,” Abramson said. “I think that referring to the Jewish people as a homogeneous ethnic group […] lends itself to associations with racial hygiene and eugenic theory that has been mobilized against Jews by anti-Semites.”
Inclusive SSMU also claimed that Cupido was dismissive of gendered violence that Tojiboeva experienced during her tenure. This accusation largely stems from an article published in the Bull and Bear on Oct. 20 in which Tojiboeva wrote about opposition within the SSMU executive, of which six of the seven original members were women. In a statement to The McGill Tribune, Inclusive SSMU warned the public to be informed.
“[Cupido’s] lies don’t change the fact that she continues to deny the lived experiences of Muna Tojiboeva,” Inclusive SSMU, whose members chose to remain anonymous, wrote. “[Cupido] has directly attacked survivors of gendered violence and encouraged violence against students.”
However, throughout her tenure, Tojiboeva never highlighted gendered violence, with no mention of it in her article, in her response to declarations of no confidence, in the suspension of VP Finance Arisha Khan, or in the divisive debates of the Fall 2017 General Assembly. Her critics did not mention gendered violence either. In her response to Inclusive SSMU’s allegations, Cupido emphasized that Tojiboeva never used the term “gendered violence” to describe her experiences within SSMU.
“What the No campaign is doing is imposing the language of gendered violence on one woman to slander another woman who is a survivor of gendered violence,” Cupido said. “It is so hard to even articulate how harmful and disingenuous the campaign is.”
Despite the close election results, Cupido affirmed that she has received a democratic mandate from SSMU members to properly represent all interests on campus. Further, some “No” voters indicated their willingness to collaborate with Cupido.
“Truthfully, my ‘No’ is not necessarily to defeat her, but to make her understand that her rhetoric has harmed students,” Naftulin said. “[Now] she has an opportunity to internalize those concerns […and] to be a constructive, understanding voice for all students.”