What I Hoped Wouldn’t Happen, But Did

By Molly Harris

When I reflect on the weeks leading up to the February 22nd SSMU General Assembly, I recall comfortably thinking that regardless of the outcome, the situation at McGill could not escalate to this point. While I knew that at McGill there were some students who were anti-Zionist or, at the very least, not pro-Israel, I did not think that the vote on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) motion put forth at the SSMU Winter GA would ignite the intense reactions unfolding across our campus. I spoke my mind at the GA, and said that BDS would ignite a firestorm across campus- I have sadly been proved right.

Tense was last week. Today is scary. 

Shortly after Monday’s vote, many McGill students began experiencing what I feared most – flagrant and hurtful anti-Semitism. My, and many others’ initial concerns that this would be the outcome were met with continual assurance that this would not be so, that the BDS movement is an anti-racist movement, and is not anti-Semitic. However, the unfortunate reality on McGill’s campus is that Jewish, pro-Israel, and anti-BDS students feel unsafe for their person, and their beliefs. One of the most shocking things I heard after the vote, in an attempt to discuss what has been going on at McGill, was that “in order for the BDS movement to go forward, people are going to have to accept some anti-Semitism.” As a Jewish student, hearing this from one of my peers curdled my blood, that any degree of anti-Semitism is acceptable in furthering what had been purported as an anti-racist movement! I never expected it to get this bad.

Since the GA, in the great emotional tsunami unleashed there, anti-BDS supporters have gone from feeling mildly uncomfortable to feeling outright insecure on our campus. One of the arguments I have heard time and again is how important the BDS movement is, how necessary it is- to ensure that students that experience legitimate discomfort from McGill’s investments are finally given the chance to rid their consciences of McGill’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Another one that was echoed rather frequently at the GA was that this is a moral issue – not an ethnic one, and that McGill needed to take a stance that was ‘on the right side of history.’ It seems that some proponents of BDS took the issue far beyond their own conscience: if this were not the case then some particularly intimidating incidents likely would not have happened For example, one student who identified himself as an Arab was called a “traitor”, and told me he was questioned by multiple individuals supporting BDS as to how he could support Israel while simultaneously identifying as Arab. This was the sort of atmosphere I expressed my concern about at the GA.. Not only do Jewish and Zionist students on campus feel marginalized, but many of those who simply opposed this motion do as well. Needless to say, this issue has already had divisive implications on the McGill student body.

In another case, a Jewish student went to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) this week after he was the victim of an instance of cyber-bullying, where someone attempted to break into his Facebook with an email address that mocked his Jewish heritage, which he had shared about online on Israel on Campus’ Facebook page. Another student was followed home and verbally harassed for their position on the topic. Some have sought counseling services or deferred exams. And yesterday, I read one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen posted anonymously on Yik-Yak: the individual remarked ‘if only’ the BDS movement could bring about ‘the Fourth Reich,’ in reference to Nazi Germany and its slaughtering of six million Jews in the Holocaust. While I refuse to equate the BDS Movement with Nazism, ignoring these comments in the wake of the tentative passing of BDS is not something I not any McGill student can or should do.

I spoke my mind at the GA, and said that BDS would ignite a firestorm across campus- I have sadly been proven right.

Many people criticized the ‘No’ campaign for its pre-GA concern that this would bring anti-Semitism to the open and make McGill dangerous for some students. Despite these vocal concerns, and sweeping remarks denouncing anti-Semitism from the BDS Action Network, the prejudice BDS has unleashed is very much making its mark.

So what now? The online ratification period is still on-going and is set to stay until Saturday, February 27th, and closing at 9:30 AM. As a reminder, the 512 students that voted for Monday’s motion constitute 1.89 percent of the SSMU’s constituency. I personally know dozens of students that left the GA before voting because in such a hostile environment as the GA was they felt unsafe. My only hope is that the other 98.11 percent of students like them, who did not vote for various reasons, including mid-terms, classes, or feeling unsafe at the meeting, have the chance of voicing their opinions through the online voting. That is one solution I hope will quell the situation on campus, restoring a sense of balance and respect to McGill’s campus. Until then, I encourage anyone at McGill who experiences prejudice or intimidation for their views to speak out, speak up!

To quote a friend, “tense was last week. Today is scary.” What I hope to achieve through this article is to make students who aren’t aware realize that, sadly, since Monday, the situation on campus has deteriorated to an all time low. More than ever before, my friends, my peers, and even strangers have reached out to the ‘No’ campaign because they have personally experienced various forms of assault simply because of their stance on BDS. This reality does nothing but affirm my belief that BDS has no place at McGill. It is inherently divisive. It provides a forum for spewing hatred – on both sides of the spectrum. We must never seek to deny freedom of speech. We can, however, actively deny it a platform. I firmly believe, based on what I’ve seen so far, that BDS is providing a platform for students who both support BDS and condemn it, to express their opinions in a harmful way. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their classrooms, on their campus, and particularly, with their own beliefs. This vote, and subsequent outcomes, has produced precisely the opposite effect. From my perspective, Jewish students are experiencing a level of anti-Semitism unseen even at York and Concordia University, which were teeming with anti-Semitic manifestations after BDS was adopted on those campuses.

The BDS Action Network has proved my point that the motion passed last Monday is inherently divisive. It has no mechanism for assuming responsibility for the consequences of their campaign, as discussed throughout this article, and provides no assurances to anti-BDS students that they can feel safe, mentally and physically, on their campus. This is why I will be voting against BDS during the online ratification period, and hope that my peers will do the same. In what feels like the blink of an eye, the situation at McGill has become upsetting, unacceptable, and unsafe.