On March 21, the Palestine Solidarity Policy question on the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2022 Referendum passed with a 71.1 per cent majority. The following day, however, Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau informed SSMU that the university found the policy to be in violation of SSMU’s constitution and provided SSMU with a notice of default in accordance with the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between SSMU and McGill. Labeau then publicly announced in an MRO email sent to all McGill students and staff on March 24 that the university threatened to terminate its agreement with SSMU if the alleged violation is not remedied.
The approved Palestine Solidarity Policy mandates that SSMU institutionalize its support for Palestinian and pro-Palestine students by creating a Palestine Solidarity Committee. The policy was subject to much controversy during the Winter 2022 referendum and is now facing more as the university administration weighs in on its legitimacy.
On March 25, approximately 100 members of the McGill community gathered outside the James Administration Building in protest of the university’s disavowal of the Palestine Solidarity Policy. The demonstration featured speeches from several student groups on campus, including Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, as well as SSMU president Darshan Daryanani, former SSMU president Bryan Buraga, and former McGill University Board of Governors (BoG) member Ehab Lotayef.
Chanting “Free Palestine,” Daryanani began his address to the crowd. He decried McGill’s decision to interfere in the democratic processes of a student association, calling it an overstep on the part of the administration.
“[As] the Students’ Society of McGill University, we require a certain degree of autonomy to effectively carry out [our] roles and we fear that the statement made by McGill University severely encroaches in this ability,” Daryanani said. “At this time, regardless of the communications sent by the McGill administration, the Palestine Solidarity Policy remains in force. Despite the pressure from the McGill administration, we will not stand down. We will do everything in our power to defend and implement this democratically approved policy.”
Lotayef applauded Daryanani and the students present at the protest for resisting the administration’s demands. In May, 2021, Lotayef stepped down as a member of the BoG after the board refused to table his motion for an equity statement. After the rally, he told The McGill Tribune that he was “disgusted” by the administration’s continued refusal to acknowledge the crimes committed by the Israeli regime, despite their history of speaking out against other international human rights issues.
“The student body should be totally independent and putting such a pressure is shameful,” Lotayef said. “When we are seeing the whole world encouraged to speak up in support of Ukraine, [to] deny Palestinians the right to pass a motion that is not attacking anyone, it’s disgusting [….] Those who will be offended by this motion are those who are saying we support apartheid. Apartheid that has been acknowledge by Amnesty and by Human Rights Watch.”
Dana,* a member of SPHR McGill who attended the rally, was outraged that Labeau stated that the Palestine Solidarity Policy would “bring more division” to the McGill community. Dana believes the administration intentionally taints conversations around Palestine with accusations of antisemitism to deter people from the issue.
“There is a really really big line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” Dana said in an interview with the Tribune. “McGill constantly and repetitively blurs that line which is a danger to Jewish students on campus as well as pro-Palestinian students. The administration is scared that because of this policy, the donors and collaborations they have with Israeli or pro-Israel corporations will back out. That’s what we want. We want them to divest from these institutions that are complicit in settler-colonial apartheid.”
Socialist Fightback Club president Lucas Marques also spoke at the protest. In an interview with the Tribune, he criticized McGill for “blackmailing SSMU” in an attempt to infringe on the democratic rights of the student body.
“Ultimately, this is a threat to student democracy and our power comes from our ability to withhold ourselves from going to class,” Marques said.” I think SSMU should be unequivocal and call for a strike if that is what is needed.”
*Dana’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.