What if you were told that in order to participate in student government, you had to check your Jewish identity at the door? That’s exactly what happened at McGill University. Noah Lew, a third-year student, was removed from the Student Society (SSMU) Board of Directors because he was Jewish and actively supported Jewish causes on campus, including passing the university’s ban of BDS. He and two other students were targeted by Democratize SSMU, a campaign whose said mission is to overturn the SSMU ruling banning BDS on campus. In reality, it is an anti-Semitic campaign to remove all Jewish and anti-BDS students from SSMU’s leadership.
While it may be true that targeting a student because of their pro-Israel views is not technically anti-Semitism, Democratize SSMU’s initial campaign specifically highlighted Lew’s Jewish identity as part of its effort to urge students to oppose him. They have admitted that their campaign used anti-Semitic propaganda that claimed Lew was “actively harming Palestinian students” by letting his political views corrupt his leadership duties. They later apologized saying they never meant to be “insensitive to anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish people as corrupt and politically powerful.”
Lew responded to this incident on Facebook, saying, “If BDS is not anti-Semitic, why was I barred from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity?’’ While Lew’s name was removed from the Democratize SSMU campaign, its purpose remained virtually identical as it still called upon students to take action against those responsible for the university’s BDS ban.
Other Jewish students are now questioning their place at the university as they are nervous about the implications of this blatantly anti-Semitic act. One such student, David Naftulin, wrote in a Facebook post, “My sense of identity has been shaken, I am questioning my place on this campus, and my head is swirling with thoughts as to whether I am really welcomed here at McGill.”
McGill University is also facing tremendous backlash for allowing such an outright act of anti-Semitism to occur.
SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva posted on Facebook that this incident is a “blatant expression of anti-Semitism.” Michael Levitt, a member of the Canadian Parliament and a McGill alumnus, also condemned the act, posting on Twitter, “As a McGill alum, I’m furious that a student has been targeted for being Jewish & active in Jewish community.” Another member of parliament, Anthony Housefather, expressed similar sentiments.
In addition, B’nai Brith, a Jewish organization committed to combating anti-Semitism, released an open letter and a petition that urges McGill University to take strong action against this incident. They state that this “is merely the latest in a long string of anti-Semitic incidents at your university,” and called on the university to “unequivocally condemn the anti-Semitic motivations of the group that removed the three SSMU directors from office.”
In response to these allegations, McGill Principal and Vice Chancellor Suzanne Fortier has launched an investigation into this matter.
Lew has also revealed that he was advised by an older student to remove everything related to Judaism and Jewish organizations from his resume if he hoped to even be considered for a position on the Board of Directors. The suggestion that he must hide his Judaism clearly shows that anti-Semitism was already prevalent at McGill University before this incident. It’s another example of the double standard that Jewish students need to contend with on a daily basis. Would students from any other ethnic, religious, or social group be told to hide their identity in order to receive a position in the student government? And would they be accused of their ethnic or religious identity corrupting their leadership duties?
It’s no coincidence that Lew was voted out of his position after the Democratize SSMU campaign outed his Judaism and advocated that his religion is the prime reason he cannot be an effective leader. While the issue of anti-Semitism has always been simmering on campus, this incident clearly proves that it is an issue that needs to be addressed and defeated.