Commentary  Open Letter to the Senate Honorary Degrees and Convocations Committee

I was one of four people who disrupted Hillel Neuer’s convocation speech last May as he was receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from McGill University.

Hillel Neuer is a graduate of McGill Law who runs a Geneva-based NGO called UN Watch and is an unabashed promoter of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Neuer is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, which is contrary to international law, particularly UN Security Council resolution 478. He defends the Israeli army’s massacre of Palestinian protesters in Gaza in 2018. He advocates for the defunding of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA).

Neuer calls himself a “defender of human rights,” and McGill’s announcement of the honorary doctorate parroted these claims. And yes, Neuer attempts to support human rights in all the countries that the US alliance targets. He castigates the “criminal Castro regime in Cuba,” the “dictatorship” of Maduro in Venezuela, and human rights violations in Iran, China, and Russia. These critiques could be taken more seriously if Neuer criticized human rights violations closer to home, in the US or Canada, but unfortunately the West gets a pass.

In fact, Neuer mocks UN officials like Philip Ashton for investigating extreme poverty and gross violations of international law in the US and the UK, suggesting that he should investigate the world’s poorest countries instead.

Neuer publicly displays his support for the Trump administration and other far-right causes on Twitter and other social media accounts. When Nikki Haley resigned as American ambassador to the UN, Neuer tweeted that she was “irreplaceable.” He approvingly retweets John Bolton, the new far-right American national security chief, as well as Bolsonaro, the far-right Brazilian president. He has also appeared on the REBEL YouTube channel with Islamophobe Ezra Levant to condemn Trudeau’s funding of UNWRA. He routinely criticizes mainstream human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, deeming them “hard-left” organizations.

Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who “will serve as an inspiration and role model to our students, graduates and our community as a whole, and which positions them to enhance the reputation of McGill University.”

Now, a right wing supporter of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, masquerading as a human rights defender, surely is not a “role model for our community,” nor is he “enhancing the reputation of McGill.”

Neuer’s views are publicly accessible. Either the Senate Committee was negligent and did not investigate these comments, or it did investigate them, and gives them some support. Neither possibility is comforting.

I would invite the Senate Committee to review and rescind the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Hillel Neuer. This award is a shameful reflection on the university and casts a shadow on the whole McGill community.

Paul Tetrault
B.Com. 1967 (McGill)
MA 1972 (McGill)
LLB 1987 (UBC)