During her visit to promote her memoir, Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey, Suzanne Berliner Weiss led a rally on Feb. 17 condemning Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Fabrice Labeau’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations regarding last semester’s controversial Face to Face trip. Weiss, a lifelong activist and Holocaust survivor, heard about these allegations from media coverage last December. Co-organized by Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, the rally outside of the James Administration Building featured Weiss delivering a letter to Deputy Provost Labeau detailing her perspective on the issue. Weiss read the letter aloud before delivering it to Labeau’s office.
“I am a Jewish Holocaust survivor and I have engaged throughout my life in combatting hatred of Jewish people,” Weiss read. “For me, such reports [of anti-Semitism] are very alarming [….] I have reviewed relevant reports on controversies at McGill this school year [and] I find no evidence of anti-Semitism here. What I see is a passionate debate on the politics of [Israel and Palestine].”
During World War II, French resistance networks hid Weiss in the countryside. As her family was killed by Nazis, Weiss spent her childhood years after the war in orphanages and eventually was adopted by a family in New York City. During her adult life, Weiss became involved in student activism, the Cuban Revolution, the Black Power movement, Indigenous rights, anti-Vietnam War activism, women’s liberation, and Palestinian freedom movements. Weiss, now 79 years old, hopes that the lessons she has learned throughout her life can help advocate for social justice around the world today.
“These irresponsible charges serve to put Jewish people at risk by weakening our ability to focus on genuine acts of anti-Semitism, that is, ‘hatred of Jews because they are Jews.’” Weiss said. “As for the Palestinians, their very attempt to voice grievances is now branded anti-Semitic. The Palestinians, who have suffered so much from Israeli rule, now face an implacable attempt to silence them entirely.”
IJV and SPHR organizers also stated that, especially given the current presence of Royal Canadian Mounted Police forces on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, advocacy for Palestinian rights should be linked to movements for Indigenous sovereignty.
“We recognize that Palestine and Canada are both occupied territories and that, in order to resist [colonialism] abroad, we must first address how we are complicit in the continual colonial process in Montreal, specifically at McGill University,” Mo Rajji, U2 Arts, said.
Rajji urged rally attendees to help hold space in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders held later on the same day. Abigail Drach, U3 Arts, echoed the need for people to recognize the links between Indigenous and Palestinian struggles.
“[It] is not a coinicidence that, [on Feb. 13], the Palestinian Boycott, Divest, Sanction National Committee released a statement in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en land protectors,” Drach said. “These struggles do not exist in isolation, but are rather part of the vibrant fights against settler-colonialism that have been going on since the European conquest.”
The demonstration concluded with organizers giving Weiss a black and white keffiyeh, a cotton garment and symbol of Palestinian solidarity. While the rally planned for Weiss to deliver her letter to Labeau in person, staff informed rally attendees upon entering the James Administration building that they had been instructed only to collect the letter in order to forward it to the Deputy Provost. After commanding protestors to vacate the building, arrangements were made for Labeau’s communication director to come down and receive the letter from Weiss.
“What we need at McGill and elsewhere is a firm defense of the right of political advocacy, even if directed against Israel’s policies,” Weiss said. “This is a precondition for effective resistance [against] genuine anti-Semitism.”
Suzanne Weiss is a noble and exemplary figure, with a lifetime record of standing up against oppression and injustice. I very much hope that her words will be taken to heart by the McGill community–and in particular by Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau.