McGill U. administration condemns council for targeting Jewish student

Students' Society of McGill University members also pen letter of concern over the handling of society member’s travel on a free trip to Israel.

The arts building of McGill University in Montreal, Québec (photo credit: COLOCHO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The arts building of McGill University in Montreal, Québec
McGill University in Montreal Canada has condemned calls made by Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) members for a Jewish student leader to resign from her position in the student government for accepting an invitation to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories with Hillel.
Fabrice Labeau, deputy provost for Student Life and Learning, expressed deep concern about the “increasing polarized debate among some members of the student community and student associations on political issues, particularly regarding the State of Israel. We are thus highly disturbed by the vote taken on November 28, 2019, by the SSMU Legislative Council, in relation to some student leaders enrolling in Hillel Montreal’s Face to Face program to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.”
He said that the “motion approved by the SSMU Legislative Council purposely” singled out Jordyn Wright, who represents her peers on the SSMU legislative council and serves on the society’s board of directors.
At the meeting, the SSMU claimed that Wright’s participation in the trip was a conflict of interest, “despite the SSMU Board of Directors previously assessing that enrolling in this program does not constitute a conflict of interest.”
However, the Legislative Council decided to overturn this decision by mandating its Board of Directors “to start a procedure to remove this individual from the SSMU Board of Directors, should this individual choose to go on the trip.”
Labeau said that while diversity of opinion “is fundamental and should be respected at all times, polarization that reaches a point where it fosters a culture of ostracization, or when our students do not feel respected on our campuses because of their identity, religious and political beliefs, will not be tolerated.”
He said that the SSMU’s Legislative Council’s decision is contrary to the university’s values of inclusion, diversity and respect.
“Furthermore, it appears to diverge from SSMU’s own constitution, and it represents a very serious breach of trust,”  Labeau said. “For that reason, we call upon the SSMU Board of Directors to seriously consider the concerns raised by students and take proper action.”
Labeau said that the university was monitoring the situation closely, and that “there is absolutely no place for discriminatory behavior, attitude or discourse that run contrary to our core values and principles.”
In an open letter published by the campus magazine Bull & Bear, several members of the SSMU also expressed their concern about how the matter was handled by the Legislative Council.
The group encouraged the Board of Directors to “consider the concerns we have raised... [and] also urge them to consider how the toxic nature of the Legislative Council’s conduct in its session on November 28 could broadly affect the culture of the McGill student body.”
The group said that they believe “the direction of the debate was focused on a specific member, Jordyn Wright… in a way that was startling and unwarranted. We are not surprised that Councillor Wright subsequently expressed that she felt targeted and attacked during this session. We agree that the nature of the motion and its amendments as adopted by the session were hostile, directed, and should be a matter of wider concern.”
They said that Wright has strongly expressed that she feels the amendments targeted her “because of her Jewish identity. We call to your attention that Wright is the only Jewish SSMU Councillor enrolled in the program. We recognize that the decision of the Board regarding Councillor Wright’s potential for conflict of interest involves her long-standing affiliation with Hillel Montreal, not her Jewish identity specifically.”
The group said that this is why they “are so concerned that the amendments pertaining to this decision proposed by the Legislative Council target only Wright, and not the other councillors whose affiliation with Face to Face was examined originally by the Board.”
The SSMU members said that in singling her out, they believe the Council “has abdicated the reasonable stance that the potential for conflict of interest in this matter rests in affiliation with Hillel Montreal as an organization. Now, the Council appears to have taken the position that Councillor Wright is in conflict of interest because of her Jewish identity. That the president would identify Councillor Wright uniquely in this context is seriously problematic.”
Wright told The Jerusalem Post that she was “really touched by all the overwhelming support from my colleagues. Most importantly, I appreciate the acknowledgment by my colleagues, peers, and the administration that we need to use this situation as a catalyst for positive change to student government culture, and focusing our efforts on making the day-to-day lives of students better.”
In response to these developments, Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Québec commended the McGill administration for clearly articulating its opposition to attempts to ostracize a Jewish student on the basis of her identity.
“We are hopeful that the deputy provost’s statement will have its intended effect, and that tonight the student body will firmly reject the harassment, intimidation, and exclusion of its members and henceforth refrain from raising obstacles to students’ freedom to pursue new and formative experiences,” Poupko said. “The unjust treatment experienced by Ms. Wright is clearly not a reflection of the broader McGill community, as evidenced by an open letter published by multiple SSMU councillors and constituents.”
Poupko added that CIJA will continue to monitor developments on the McGill campus.