Just one minute into Hillel Neuer’s speech at the Arts convocation ceremony on June 5, protesters walked towards the stage, passing graduates’ friends and family and repeatedly shouting at the speaker to “stop justifying Israeli murders.” The demonstration was a brief, yet memorable, departure from the otherwise peaceful ceremony.
Mr. Neuer, who was receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws from his alma mater, is the executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based United Nations watchdog group which focuses on human rights. The McGill Reporter, in its announcement of this spring’s honorary degree recipients, referred to the non-governmental organization as “a lone voice for truth and for justice both at the ‘Parliament of Man’ and in the international media.”
A lawyer by trade, Mr. Neuer is known to be an outspoken critic of the UN Human Rights Council, and in particular, its alleged bias against Israel. He is a frequent media commentator on matters relating to Israel and the UN, recently publishing a blog in The Times of Israel entitled “The 10 most insane UN anti-Israel actions of 2017.”
Dmitri Lascaris, one of the protesters, posted a video of the demonstration onto Facebook, where he identifies his collaborators to be activists Yves Engler and Paul Tetrault. In a statement to The Bull & Bear, Mr. Lascaris writes: “Neuer’s claim that the UN is biased against Israel is a grotesque falsehood. His motivation for disseminating this lie is to paint Israel as the victim when in fact it is the obvious aggressor. The decision [to grant him an honorary degree] is perfectly consistent with the McGill administration’s relentless efforts to demonize the BDS movement and to silence its advocates on the McGill campus.”
Today, McGill University’s administration disgraced itself by awarding an honorary doctorate to pro-apartheid propagandist, Hillel Neuer. Neuer is the founder of UN Watch, which routinely smears United Nations officials who defend the rights of Palestinians. Neuer and UN Watch have repeatedly attacked Western University Law Professor Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, because Professor Lynk has fearlessly defended the human rights of the Palestinian people. Today, I and lawyer/activist Paul Tetrault and author/activist Yves Engler disrupted Neuer’s speech as he accepted a McGill diploma that makes a mockery of human rights advocacy. Here is the video of our disruption.
Posted by Dimitri Lascaris on Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Mr. Lascaris also derides Neuer for his criticism of Stanley Michael Lynk, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, who was named a “Special Rapporteur” on Palestinian human rights at the UNHRC. While Mr. Neuer has in the past described Prof. Lynk as a “[participant] in political campaigns that use demonizing language against Israelis,” Mr. Lascaris praised him for “fearlessly defend[ing] the human rights of the Palestinian people.”
As the demonstration unfolded, Mr. Neuer joked, “It’s like I’m back at the United Nations.” Provost and Vice-Principal Academic Christopher Manfredi quickly approached the microphone, explained that “McGill is committed to freedom of expression,” and asked the protesters to refrain from future interruptions “out of respect for those who are here to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates.”
Eva Chorna, President of Israel on Campus at McGill, condemned the protest on behalf of the group. “The interruption was uncalled for and took away from the meaning behind the ceremony for the graduates and families present,” she writes. “Hillel Neuer has proven time after time that he supports the victims of oppressive regimes across the world. This speech was not political in nature and therefore the outburst was irrelevant.”
A representative from McGill Students for Palestinian Human Rights expressed a different view, stating: “Hillel Neuer has a long history of using his platform to spread Islamophobia and skewed information. As McGill University claims to combat these forces, awarding an honorary degree to Neuer is deeply inappropriate and insulting to students who are affected by these issues.”
This is not McGill’s first controversy over an honorary degree recipient’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2013, the McGill administration faced backlash from pro-Israel student groups when it awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters to Judith Butler, a feminist scholar who has called Israel an “apartheid state”. Butler had also described Hamas and Hezbollah, two organizations the governments of Canada and the United States recognize as terrorist groups, as anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist forces.