SSMU debates Hillel Montreal’s offers of free trips to Israel

Content warning: Mentions of violence against children

At the fifth Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council meeting, the discussion turned toward an article published by The McGill Daily. On Nov. 13, The Daily reported that several student leaders and executives on campus such as the Black Students’ Network (BSN), had been offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel by Hillel McGill, an organization dedicated to providing a space for Jewish students on campus. Many students are concerned about the trip, and whether executives who had accepted the trip were breaking the trust of their Palestinian constituents.

SSMU Arts Representatives Adin Chan and Andrew Chase, as well as Science Representative Jordyn Wright, will be taking part in the Hillel trip and addressed concerns voiced by other SSMU representatives during the council meeting. During the question period, Medicine Senator Andre Lametti initially brought up the issue. 

“I was wondering if anyone here had any comments […] about these trips,” Lametti said. “Do [these trips] constitute a conflict of interest? Are they a gift that should not be accepted by members of council?” 

Reading from a prepared statement, Adin Chan provided an explanation to the council for his desire to take advantage of this opportunity to travel to Israel, a move which is considered by some to be insensitive to the Palestinians that the councillors represent.

“[The trip] was advertised to me as a trip with the purpose of promoting dialogue and a greater understanding of the Israel-Palestine region,” Chan said. “I accepted this opportunity entirely in my capacity as an individual, as a Christian, […] to visit the most important sites [for] my faith [.…] I am not attending this trip in my capacity as Arts Representative whatsoever.”

SSMU Vice-President Adam Gwiazda-Amsel expressed his concerns about the trip presenting a conflict of interest for student governors who have decided to attend. 

“I obviously recognize that it’s very unfortunate and rather sad that people can’t enjoy their heritage [through this trip], that this [has become] a very entangled political issue,” Gwizada-Amsel said. “[However], I think that it’s naive, if not ignorant, to say that there is a separation at this point between a personal decision and the office. I think that you’re just turning a blind eye to […] the reality and the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian debate on this campus.” 

SSMU president Bryan Buraga reiterated the contents of a letter sent to Hillel McGill in response to the invitations. While three members of the SSMU Legislative Council have chosen to be involved with the trip, the SSMU executives have, as a group, rejected Hillel’s offer.

“[The SSMU Executives] oppose the invitations themselves, and now we ask Hillel McGill to immediately make public three points,” Buraga said. “[First, why] these invitations were extended. Secondly, who these invitations [had] been extended to and why these individuals were chosen. […] Thirdly, the details and specific purpose of the trip being offered.” 

Erratum: An article in the Nov. 19, 2019 issue #11 (SSMU debates Hillel Montreal’s offers of free trips to Israel) incorrectly stated that six SSMU legislative council members applied for Hillel McGill’s free trip to Israel. In fact, only three did. The Tribune regrets this error.

Sound bite:

“What’s been going on [in Gaza] is horrible and tragic and unfortunate and a lot of other words that I just don’t have the chance to articulate myself right now. I agree with those sentiments that [it is] something that needs to change [.…] However, in my capacity as a professional, I have faith in my abilities to remain an objective leader even though I plan on going on the trip,” Jordyn Wright, Science Representative to SSMU said on her decision to accept his invitation to join the Hillel trip.

Moment of the Meeting: 

Social Work Representative to SSMU Jo Roy displayed an image of an injured child taken to a hospital and stated to the council that the rest of the child’s family had been killed in a bombing in Southern Gaza. Roy went on to ask those who had accepted the trip to either decline it or resign from their position at SSMU.

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