A McGill chapter of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is launching this year, founded by two students, Anna and Sonja. IJV describes itself on its website as a “national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.”
In an email to The Daily, Anna explained that IJV McGill’s main goals are to “motivate critical Jewish students to gain awareness of the Israeli occupation and to bring this awareness to the broader campus community.” The group also aims to work with and support the McGill Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and McGill Students in Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) movements through political campaigns and education.
The organization will further these goals through “speaker events, film screenings, and popular education on differences between Judaism and political Zionism,” Anna added.
McGill BDS expressed their support for IJV in an email to The Daily, saying that IJV’s message is “especially important in terms of increasing the visibility of anti-Zionist Jewish voices and alternative perspectives in the debate surrounding BDS.”
However, the pro-Palestine movement on campus may be hampered by the recent Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) justice board ruling concerning BDS.
In June, the justice board ruled that the BDS motion brought before SSMU’s Winter 2016 general assembly was unconstitutional, as it would require SSMU to adopt a platform against a specific country. This would allegedly violate SSMU’s equity policy.
When asked about the impact this ruling might have on IJV McGill, Anna cited the fact that the decision has not been ratified by SSMU, which makes it non-binding. She added the group will play a unique role at McGill as the first “anti-Zionist Jewish group” on campus since 2009. It will provide space for Jewish students to encounter a set of perspectives which are often marginalized in Jewish communities.
Anna explained that she believes IJV is important at McGill because “it remains a taboo for Jewish students to engage openly in pro-Palestinian solidarity work, [and] IJV seeks to challenge this. […] Many [non/anti-Zionist Jews in North America] find themselves unable to be open about their views with parents, communities or even their best friends.”
Anna hopes to “demystify,” in her words, the conflation between Jewishness and support for Israel. “IJV McGill will strive to celebrate diasporic Judaism and Jewish culture separately from Zionism.”
“It remains a taboo for Jewish students to engage openly in pro-Palestinian solidarity work, [and] IJV seeks to challenge this. […] Many [non/anti-Zionist Jews in North America] find themselves unable to be open about their views with parents, communities or even their best friends.”
This message is fully supported by the McGill-based Jewish political discussion podcast TREYF.
TREYF’s hosts, Sam Bick and David Zinman, advocate for the celebration of the rich Jewish culture that exists beyond Israel. They believe that many young Jewish people in North America are searching for a voice as they articulate their views on Zionism, and that McGill’s IJV chapter will provide them with a crucial space to discuss anti-colonial ideas.
A spokesperson for the Jewish student centre Chabad for McGill said that they were “glad that McGill affords students the opportunity to form clubs and have a voice,” especially if that view reflects the pluralism of a free society. The spokesperson declined to comment directly on IJV, since they were unfamiliar with the organization, but stated that Chabad had no issue with any student club, “as long as it respectfully follows [McGill’s] rules for clubs.”
A spokesperson for Israel on Campus echoed Chabad’s views on student diversity but voiced concerns over another club pushing for BDS. Israel on Campus feels BDS has “ostracized and led to the harassment of Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel students.”
“IJV McGill will strive to celebrate diasporic Judaism and Jewish culture separately from Zionism.”
Scott Weinstein, a member of IJV’s Montreal chapter, told The Daily in an email that “we are excited about working with the IJV chapter at McGill, which will serve an important role in educating McGill students about the realities on the ground in Israel-Palestine.”
“Jewish groups on campus have typically offered blind support for Israel’s behaviour,” he continued. “It will be refreshing to have a Jewish group on campus that promotes an honest and ethical discussion about what’s occurring in Israel-Palestine.”