Students’ Society of McGill University Labels BDS “Unconstitutional”
Michelle YabesBrandeis Blog
June 21, 2016
The Judicial Board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) recently declared in a board decision, called a “Reference,” that BDS and “similar motions” are “unconstitutional.” The Reference was created in response to an earlier petition filed in March by a “student upset over the third BDS motion proposed at the university” in 18 months.
Gil Troy, a history professor and anti-BDS advocate at McGill University, was enthusiastic, telling Algemeiner, “[t]his decision is huge! It means that Jewish concerns are respected with all others, and that antisemitism is also recognized as bigotry, as well as something that triggers macro-aggressions.” Professor Troy was among 150 academics at the University who recently signed a letter condemning BDS.
Although an initial General Assembly voted in favor of the BDS motion, SSMU’s Membership ultimately voted down the motion by a margin of 57-43%. The reference declared the “BDS Motion, and similar motions, incompatible with SSMU’s by-laws, internal regulations, and legal structure more generally.”
The document also notes that “[d]uring the period that led to the GA vote and the general Referendum there was a sharp increase in harassment…around campus.” The Judicial Board went on to state that those who campaigned against the BDS motion were subjected to a “barrage of hostilities”.
According to an article by the Montreal Gazette, many students reported that they had been “targeted for their opposition” to the BDS motion, and that social media was “chock-full of anti-Semitic remarks” following the initial General Assembly vote. One such post from the anonymous social networking site Yik Yak read, “[l]ittle Zionist jewboys not happy that McGill students don’t support their genocide.” In another report, one student was “followed home and verbally harassed” after speaking once the result of vote was announced.
In the Reference, the Judicial Board explained the framework of SSMU’s Constitution to illustrate how BDS conflicts with the university’s legal structure. The preamble succinctly describes the Society’s three broad goals, which BDS would violate: Service, Representation, and Leadership. These goals reiterate the Society’s mission to serve all student groups equally, act in their best interest, and act without discrimination.
Next, the Judicial Board explained how BDS would violate the “Equity Policy, which recognizes SSMU’s long-standing commitment to leadership on issues of equity and social justice.” The Judicial Board also added, “SSMU dedicates itself to creating an ‘anti-oppressive’ atmosphere where all of its membership feels included.”
The Judicial Board noted that BDS contradicts the below listed SSMU regulations and policies, as it would call on the SSMU to discriminate on the basis of national origin, and thus violate the Constitution:
2.1. The SSMU has a responsibility, as a leader, representative, and service provider to a diverse membership, to conduct itself by the highest standards of respect, fairness, integrity, safety, and equitable treatment for all persons.
2.2. The SSMU strives to create a community that exceeds social standards of equitable treatment and create a safer space for all of our members where discourse and diverse ideas can flourish within a respectful atmosphere.
2.4. The SSMU understands that groups that have been historically and culturally disadvantaged are subject to systematic marginalization and oppression, based on but not limited to: gender identity, gender expression, age, race, ethnic or national origin, religion, sexuality, sexual orientation, ability, language, size, or social class.
2.5. The SSMU condemns harassment or discrimination based on, but not limited to: gender identity, gender expression, age, race, ethnic or national origin, religion, sexuality, sexual orientation, ability, health, language, size, or social class.
They explain that the adoption of BDS and similar motions, as a movement whose primary platform is to “oppose Israel,” would force the SSMU to both align itself with this goal and take a “take an authoritative, direct, and unambiguous stance against Israel.” In short, associating with the BDS movement would call on the SSMU to oppose Israel as well.
This is problematic as the Judicial Board described that, [“b]y adopting positions against individual nations SSMU takes an indirect position against students from those nations.”
They also noted how “McGill is an international University…As such, it attracts students from almost every country.” The Judicial Board went on to assert that by “picking a side in such conflicts SSMU does not promote interactions between the various factions of students, but rather champions one’s cause over another.”
They continued, “if SSMU were to adopt the BDS Motion, it would adopt an anti-Israel platform. Israeli students would be placed at a disadvantage. SSMU, despite being their representative, would be openly hostile towards their country. This places them at a structural disadvantage vis-à-vis others and denies them access to the ‘safer spaces’ that SSMU holds so dear. This breaches the fundamental Constitutional values which permeate SSMU, as well as the Equity Policy.”
The Reference then concluded by stating, “all motions which compel SSMU to actively campaign against specific countries are unconstitutional. Doing so would place one group (nationals of that country) at a structural disadvantage vis-à-vis the majority and is thus discrimination.”
Walter Reich Walter Reich is the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs, Ethics and Human Behavior, and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, at The George Washington University; a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center; and a former Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.