Commentary | Letters: GA rhetoric, Principal Fortier’s BDS statement


Administration reaction shameful

Dear Principal Fortier,

As a McGill undergraduate, I was deeply disappointed to receive your email on the subject of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Over the past few months, a group of McGill students – of which, incidentally, I am not one – has done extensive research into McGill’s financial holdings. They have organized a number of events for the McGill community. Perhaps most impressively of all, they have reached out to young people in Palestine, who are at this moment struggling for the chance to learn and to express themselves freely without fear of violent reprisals.

These students knew they would encounter resistance, that they would be stigmatized and targeted, but they did it anyway in an attempt to hold the McGill administration accountable for its financial ties to well-documented violations of Palestinian human rights and international law – ties that contravene McGill’s own policy on ethical investments.

Instead of expressing pride in these students for their selfless commitment to human rights, or, at the very least, making any attempt whatsoever to engage in dialogue with them in order to demonstrate that you took their concerns seriously, you decided to publicly condemn their efforts, in front of McGill students and staff. Not only that, but you did so in the name of equity, inclusiveness, and open discourse.

Your statement demonstrates an evident disregard for both McGill students’ deeply held views and for the human cost of McGill’s investments in corporations implicated in Israeli crimes.

Today, Ms. Fortier, I am ashamed to call myself a McGill student. But I am inexpressibly proud of the people who have worked tirelessly over the past two years to bring this crucial conversation to our campus, and who won’t hesitate to keep fighting for positive change despite your condemnation of their efforts.

Sincerely yours,

—Marina Cupido,
U2 Arts student

Debunking Fortier’s statement

Principal Fortier’s statement opposing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is blatantly hypocritical. She claimed that BDS opposes “academic freedom, equity, inclusiveness and the exchange of views in a responsible, open discourse.”

Here is why she is wrong.

On academic freedom: What is frequently ignored is that Palestinian universities do not enjoy academic freedom under the Israeli occupation. Palestinian universities need to start their day late and end it early to allow staff and students enough time to get through checkpoints. Palestinians living abroad cannot return to teach at universities in Palestine. Universities are denied access to all kinds of equipment needed to conduct proper research across several fields. Academic freedom is in fact a very integral aspect of BDS as it aims to pressure the Israeli government to lift the limitations on Palestinian academics.

On equity: Unless you can argue that an illegal occupation is equitable, then it is clear that BDS promotes equity, very much so, by calling for the end of such an occupation.

On inclusiveness: BDS does not call for boycotting or excluding Israeli academics. It calls for boycotting anything sponsored by institutions that currently support or profit from the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine. This is, well, because they currently support or profit from the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine. Furthermore, the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine makes inclusiveness toward Palestinians very difficult. Therefore, BDS supports inclusiveness.

On exchanging views in a responsible, open discourse: An illegal occupation is not responsible, nor open. Therefore, by allowing it to continue, you are allowing the current narrative of the situation to be completely ruled by the more powerful party (refer back to equity, a value supposedly held by McGill). BDS aims to allow for responsible, open discourse. In fact, it is desperate for it.

There is also a popular (and dangerous) misconception that by supporting BDS, you are delegitimizing Israel. BDS does not delegitimize Israel, nor does it seek to do so. In fact, confronting and holding Israel responsible for its continuous breaking of international law is legitimizing its nationhood, as international law applies to nations.

It is important to understand that nobody wants BDS. Nobody will gain from BDS. What people want is to ensure that human rights become every human’s right. BDS is one of the few effective and non-violent attempts to achieve that.

Principal Fortier, I ask that if you preach McGill’s values, please do so consistently.

—Jude Bataineh,
BA ’14, Psychology

McGill on wrong side of history

Dear Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier,

Your recent mass email about McGill’s position on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is cynical and contradictory. You espouse tolerance and respect as values fundamental to McGill, yet you fail to even mention the ruthless and illegal Israeli occupation and collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Tolerance and respect are the roots of the BDS movement, and you have put McGill on the wrong side of history. I find your position shameful.


—John Pringle, PhD,
Postdoctoral fellow, McGill University

Who is really alienated at McGill?

At the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA), I heard over and over from the “no” side that passing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion would “alienate” Zionist students at McGill. Quite frankly, it is a privilege to never have felt alienated at McGill before this GA, to which the “no” side, presumably unaware that the motion targeted corporations and not students, seemed to be oblivious.

Do Palestinian students not feel alienated when, immediately after the ratification results are out, Principal Suzanne Fortier sends an email denouncing BDS while ignoring the existence of Palestinian people, presumably to preserve McGill’s so-called neutral image and appease its Zionist donors who threatened to pull funding over the motion? Do Palestinian students not feel alienated by their school’s complicity in the occupation of their land? Do they not feel alienated when there’s a course at McGill titled “Politics in Israel” without a single mention of the word Palestine in its syllabus? Did Muslim students not feel alienated when McGill took away their prayer space in Peterson Hall, citing its secular mandate? Do Indigenous students not feel alienated when McGill continues to refuse to acknowledge that it’s on unceded Indigenous territory? Do Black students not feel alienated when McGill does not acknowledge the labour they put into organizing Black History Month events?

Anti-oppressive rhetoric, developed by communities of colour, has been used to delegitimize the claims of members of the BDS Action Network, whose members are mostly students of colour. Zionist students went as far as using the concept of intersectionality, theorized by Black feminists, to challenge the motion and attack the Black Students’ Network. Many seem to have conflated not only anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, but also discomfort with being unsafe. What many of those on the “no” side were faced with was a discomfort at being challenged on their privilege and their entitlement to a land that is not theirs. Wanting to avoid that discomfort does not entitle them to a safe space for it.

The fact that I and so many others do not feel safe putting our real names on pro-Palestine writing while Zionist students give interviews to mainstream media speaks volumes about who is truly being marginalized on campus. For so many of us, alienation from this institution is nothing new. So if you feel alienated, join the club, and maybe unlearn some of your harmful ideas and behaviours in the process.

—A McGill student

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