On Feb. 19, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) held a hearing to establish whether SSMU clubs or services would be permitted to adopt a stance on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, apart from the SSMU Executive Committee itself.
In a final ruling released in January, the Board ruled that criticizing certain actions of the Israeli government and voicing support for Palestinian liberation is permissible under the SSMU constitution given that such statements would not amount to a position against a specific country. BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that advocates for financial action against Israel to end international support of Palestinian occuption. It was created in response to a 2005 call from the Palestinian Civil Society. The movement targets Israel financially to pressure it to comply with international law and universal human rights.
In a 2016 reference, J-Board ruled that it is unconstitutional for SSMU to adopt an official position on geopolitical issues that do not directly affect students and events on campus. The Board did not allow SSMU to support BDS in lieu of the Israeli-Palestine conflict because it reasoned that such stances would breach the SSMU’s equity policies.
Brooklyn Frizzle, SSMU Vice-President (VP) of University Affairs, represented the SSMU Executive Committee at the hearing. In their opening remarks, Frizzle argued that adopting such a position would improve the livelihood of queer individuals. Frizzle believes that Queer McGill adopting a stance in support of BDS is well within their constitutional rights as an activist and anti-oppressive organization.
“The Queer McGill constitution states that it is within its mandate to take stances on relevant queer-related political issues in order to heighten student awareness [and] actively promote queer issues to the best of its ability,” Frizzle said.
Bryan Buraga, a student advocate for Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR), and Ghida Mawlawi, a member of SPHR, acted as intervenors of the petition on behalf of SPHR. Buraga cited a need for SSMU services, especially those with political mandates like SPHR, to have their own political autonomy.
“We’re specifically worried about how [the 2016 reference] would be applied to services,” Buraga said. “If it were applied to its full extent to services, especially those with a political and an activist mandate to advocate for its members, we worry this would create a precedent that would affect SPHR McGill, as well as other activist clubs.”
Mo Rajji Courtney, outreach coordinator of the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE), also expressed their support for the motion. In 2018, Courtney recalled being informed that the UGE would need to strike their support for BDS and SPHR from their mandate and training, and that they would not be allowed to adjudicate the matter.
“When I joined the Union for Gender Empowerment back in 2017, there was a training provided by SPHR about BDS and about solidarity with Palestinian peoples,” Rajji Courtney said. “This was also part of our mandate. Beyond just being a trans-positive service, we are also very specifically feminist and anti-oppressive. We also hold to a mandate of anti-racism as well as any anti-oppressive views that align with our mandate.”
Courtney also noted that by not condemning the occupation of Palestine, the issue is subject to pinkwashing, a term referring to a government’s use of queer rights as a distraction from that government’s violence or oppression.
The Jan. 19 J-Board ruling states that criticisms of the government of Israel are not in violation of the SSMU constitution, nor is support for Palestinian liberation. In this specific case, a new motion that allows the Society to take an official position in support of Palestinian liberation can be introduced to the SSMU Legislative Council. Explicit support for the BDS movement, however, remains unconstitutional as the original 2016 reference remains in force until a conflict between it and the current reference arises. The J-Board ruled that the new reference would supersede the 2016 reference only in areas of dispute, not in its entirety.
Final decisions from the most recent hearing have yet to be released.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the results of the Jan. 19, 2021 J-Board ruling applied to the Feb. 19, 2021 ruling. In fact, the Feb. 19 ruling has yet to be made by the J-Board. The Tribune regrets this error.