A Jewish student at McGill University has been kicked off the student government board for having “conflicts of interest” due to his pro-Israel activism.
Third-year student Noah Lew was one of 12 board members up for general assembly ratification on Monday evening following his victory as vice-president finance of the Arts Undergraduate Society. The ratification vote is typically a mere formality, but Monday’s was different due to Democratize Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), an organization that was established to resist the university’s ban of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on campus.
Democratize SSMU was able to pass a motion that required each board member to be voted upon separately under the grounds that they weren’t a fan of the names. When it was Lew’s turn, he was voted down, 105 to 73 with 12 abstaining, with applause following the vote. Two other students who had criticized BDS, Alexander Scheffel and Josephine Wright O’Manique, were also voted down.
Democratize SSMU had targeted Lew and the other two students on the board because they had connections to the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) and were involved in getting the BDS ban passed, which Democratize SSMU claimed were “conflicts of interests.”
Lew shared the experience on Facebook.
“I have no doubt from the information circulated about me and campaign run against me prior to this vote that this was about my Jewish identity, and nothing more,” wrote Lew. “I was blocked from being able to participate in my student government because I am Jewish, because I have been affiliated with Jewish organizations, and because I believe in the right to Jewish self-determination.”
Lew added that the experience shows the inherent anti-Semitism in the BDS movement.
“If BDS is not anti-Semitic, why did a BDS-led campaign name and shame me for my affiliation with a Jewish organization, and call on students to remove me from student government for this reason?” wrote Lew. “If BDS is not anti-Semitic, why was I barred from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity?”
SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva wrote on Facebook that Lew being voted down was “a blatant expression of anti-semitism.”
“To vote against the candidacy of a Director simply because he is Jewish and involved in his community is unacceptable,” wrote Tojiboeva. “No matter what your place of origin, your religious or political beliefs are, you should feel welcome to get involved in your own Student Society.”
McGill Principal and Vice Chancellor Suzanne Fortier sent out an email declaring that the university would be investigating the matter.
Democratize SSMU defended their actions on Facebook, claiming that the students were voted off the board for their role in passing the BDS ban.
“It is not surprising that students refused to ratify these Directors,” the organization wrote. In their voting, they were fulfilling their role of making a political decision about who will represent them. This is how democracy works.”
They added that they “apologize for any harm that has been done” in response to accusations of “being divisive and discriminatory.”