McGill released a report on Feb. 6 summarizing its investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall General Assembly (GA). The report, written by former ombudsperson and professor Spencer Boudreau following his research and stakeholder interviews, concluded that the failure to ratify Noah Lew, a Jewish nominee to the Board of Directors (BoD), at the Oct. 23 GA was motivated by Lew’s affiliation with pro-Israel organizations rather than anti-Semitism.
Principal Suzanne Fortier commissioned an investigation by Boudreau after many students alleged that anti-Semitism motivated GA attendees’ decision not to ratify Lew’s second consecutive appointment to the BoD. The failed ratification sparked outrage from some attendees at the GA, including SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, who said during the GA’s question period that the sole reason students did not ratify Lew was because he is Jewish. Lew also expressed this sentiment the next day in a viral Facebook post.
“I can honestly say that my conclusion about this allegation […] does not substantiate the notion that the vote was motivated by anti-Semitism,” Boudreau wrote in the report. “I can state however that Noah Lew’s affiliation with Jewish organizations that are clearly supportive of the State of Israel, in addition to his approval [as a Director] of the SSMU Judicial Board [ruling against] the BDS Movement […] was the reason for his vote of non-approval.”
Jewish student groups at McGill have since voiced opposition to the report’s conclusion in a joint statement signed by Am McGill, Chabad at McGill, Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, McGill Jewish Studies Students’ Association, and Hillel McGill.
“The report, in our opinion, did not represent all Jewish voices, contained detrimental factual inaccuracies, and denied many students’ lived experiences of anti-Semitism at the General Assembly,” Mikaela Rath, president of Hillel McGill, wrote in a statement to The McGill Tribune.
The joint statement also asserts that rejecting Lew’s appointment because of his involvement with pro-Israel organizations is anti-Semitic.
“[Chabad at McGill] firmly believe[s] that the targeting of a student on account of his cultural and religious affiliations is anti-Semitic in consequence,” Shira Mattuck, president of Chabad at McGill, wrote to the Tribune.
However, members of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill, a Jewish student organization that supports Canadians’ right to criticize the politics of Israel, wrote that they see a clearer line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in an emailed statement to the Tribune.
“I am glad to see that Boudreau was able to distinguish Zionism, or support for the state of Israel, from Jewishness and Judaism,” Hani Abramson, organizer at IJV McGill, wrote. “Anti-Semitism is legitimate and frightening, and we cannot tolerate it in our spaces. But standing against apartheid and ethnic cleansing, as well as those who support those measures at our university, is not anti-Semitic.”
Following mixed response from students, Fortier re-affirmed her confidence in Boudreau’s report, attributing its mixed reception to a misunderstanding within the student body about the mandate of the investigation.
“I believe Prof. Boudreau’s report to be thorough and thoughtful,” Fortier wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “I am aware that some individuals and/or groups within McGill and outside the University had hoped that the report would address situations that were beyond the investigation’s specific mandate. As well, there are different opinions on the framing of the fundamental issue that led to the allegation of anti-Semitism and the investigation.”
In the report’s conclusion, Boudreau referenced the divisiveness of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and asked students to move beyond inflammatory dialogue.
“I remain hopeful for the possibility of at least a respectful conversation among such a passionate, and also intelligent and articulate student community,” Boudreau wrote.