On Friday, March 24, students gathered on McGill’s campus for a rally against the university’s financial and academic ties to Israel. Organized by Students for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, the rally was the last in a series of events put on by SPHR McGill and other pro-Palestine groups for Montreal’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Activists from SPHR McGill, SPHR Concordia, and the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) spoke to the crowd and led students in chants of “free free Palestine,” “occupation isn’t funny, students over donor money,” and more.
Speakers drew attention to the Sylvan Adams Sports Science Institute (SASSI) project – made possible by the $29 million dollar donation of Sylvan Adams, an Israeli-Canadian billionaire and self-described “ambassador-at-large for the State of Israel.”
“This initiative, painted as a commitment to the advancement of sports performance through academic research, constitutes a highly politicized attempt to systemically normalize colonial Zionist institutions,” said a speaker from SPHR McGill.
The speaker pointed to the SASSI project as an instance of “sportswashing” – the practice of an individual, company, or government funding or organizing sports to improve their reputation. They also condemned the planned collaboration between McGill and Tel Aviv University over SASSI, citing Tel Aviv University’s ties to Israeli weapons manufacturers and influence in shaping Israeli policy.
“We will not stand for collaboration with the university that is a core participant in Israel’s occupation mechanism,” said the speaker. “How can we trust that our administration will feel comfortable taking stances against Israel and for the Palestinian people? How can we believe that it will not impede on student activism against Israeli apartheid when it’s receiving $29 million from someone whose explicit and proclaimed objective is to paint Israel as peaceful?”
Multiple speakers drew attention to last years’ Palestine Solidarity Policy – which earned a 71 per cent “yes” vote in a SSMU referendum and over which McGill’s administration threatened to withdraw funding from SSMU. Speakers also called on McGill students to pressure the university to divest from Israeli companies, referencing the successful student movement for divestment from South African apartheid in the 1980s as a precedent.
“The PYM calls on the students at McGill University today to continue their fight against the administration and to continue advancing the struggle for Palestinian liberation,” said another speaker. “The divestment that happened in 1987 […] was only possible because students organized, because they got together. They collectively got together to organize and pressure the administration. And we will do the same.”
“We need to ask ourselves what allowed the occupation […] to enact this violence from 1948 to 2023 with complete impunity,” said the speaker. “It’s because of the imperial allies, like Canada and the US, who bankroll the settlements and prop up the Zionist entities. From our pension funds, to our banks, to our schools, to our libraries, bookstores, and charities, every single industry in Canada is complicit in the occupation […] McGill University is one of the many Canadian institutions that is actively normalizing and upholding the occupation’s war crimes.”
“I wish McGill would actually listen to the students rather than just think about money only – because money isn’t our future,” said Zeyna, a U0 student at McGill, to the Daily. “It’s just really unfortunate to see a big institution, in a country that prides itself on being democratic and pro-freedom, choose money over the lives of people.”
The rally marked the end of SPHR McGill’s Israeli Apartheid Week events, which included a film screening, a “Palestine 101” workshop in partnership with the PYM, and a talk by ex-Google employee Ariel Koren entitled “No Tech for Apartheid.”
“We really focus on the education aspect,” said a representative of SPHR McGill to the Daily, “but also at the same time really mobilizing and showing Palestinians on campus that we are here for them and that the fight is not over. We’re not stopping even if McGill is standing in our way. […] We’re here. We’re not going anywhere. We’re still as strong as we were last year with the Palestine Solidarity Policy. We’re not losing momentum.”
The representative encouraged concerned students to look out for SHPR tabling on campus and possible upcoming petitions against the SASSI project. They said students can get involved with SPHR by sharing their contact information in-person at tabling sessions and by following SPHR McGill on Instagram @sphrmcgill, where they post about events. Future events include a film screening and iftars for Ramadan.
“Even if you don’t feel educated enough about the issue, please, come reach out to us,” said the SPHR representative. “We are more than happy to talk about it, really. One of the biggest myths about the genocide of Palestinians is that it’s a complicated issue. It’s really not. Come talk to us. We’re here. We also want a diversity of voices and opinions in the group. So it doesn’t matter if you’re Arab, it doesn’t matter if you’re Palestinian. There is a space for you here and we welcome you and we want you around.”