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Open Letter: McGill for Palestine

Note: Students who wish to sign on to this letter may do so using this Google Form.

Dear Provost Manfredi, Principal Saini, Associate Provost Campbell, and Deputy Provost Labeau, 

The undersigned associations represent a coalition of undergraduate and graduate students at McGill deeply concerned with recent communications from your offices on the genocide in Palestine. We are particularly troubled by administrative attempts to intimidate Students for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, the only Palestinian student group on campus, pursued even as we collectively witness the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli military. We join our voice to that of 90 McGill University professors, staff, and librarians in condemning the University’s recent emails on the ongoing genocide in Palestine. 

Echoing the October 12 “Statement of Solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian Resistance” co-authored by McGill SPHR, we write to affirm our solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinian resistance against over 75 years of Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid. Subject to a long and brutal military occupation, Palestinians’ right to resist is enshrined in international law. Moreover, it is this very law that the Israeli military continues to disregard in its current aerial bombing campaign and siege of the Gaza Strip, described as posing “an imminent genocide” by over 800 lawyers, scholars, and practitioners. We stand by our Jewish friends in this moment of grief and mourn the tragic loss of life that occurred on October 7th, but we reject the collective punishment of Palestinians in retaliation. As Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein has explained, “Right now, our grief and trauma are being directed to war crimes on a colossal scale: mass murder of civilians and children, population transfer, ethnic cleansing. It does not have to be this way.” 

In this moment of unprecedented violence and trauma inflicted against Palestinians, stoked by inflammatory, decontextualized media coverage, we were shocked to see McGill use similarly polarising language in its descriptions of the ongoing genocide and its condemnations of SPHR. Media coverage overwhelmingly dehumanises Palestinians and their supporters as “radicalised,” their voices and struggles are being silenced on social media, and as senior administrators your comments align with these patterns of prejudice and suppression. 

On October 10th, Provost Manfredi sent a university-wide email condemning SPHR for “celebrating recent acts of terror and violence” and called for SSMU to revoke SPHR’s affiliation with McGill University. Not once has McGill condemned, or even mentioned, the genocidal campaign on Palestinians by the state of Israel, despite its explicit condemnation of violence against Israelis by Hamas. Instead, the administration has deliberately painted the ongoing ethnic cleansing and widely-documented system of settler colonialism in Palestine as a depoliticized “religious issue” that can be solved through appeals against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In doing so, the McGill administration again ignores decades of colonial occupation, violence, and apartheid. 

Moreover, after over a month of near-silence on the rising Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian, and anti-Arab racism experienced by Palestine advocates at McGill and throughout the wider

Montreal community, on November 9 Principal Saini escalated his attacks against Palestine advocates in the McGill community by directly accusing them of anti-Semitism. In total disregard of the context and source of the image in question (from 2004 documentary Discordia about Concordia students’ rejection of President Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to their campus), Principal Saini chose once again to traffic in the tired discourse that equates any kind of Palestine advocacy with anti-Semitism. In doing so, Principal Saini’s latest email, sent just a few hours before the planned rally, clearly intended to silence Palestine advocacy on campus by dissuading community participation through threats of disciplinary action. Even more troubling is the chilling effect that these blanket accusations of anti-Semitism have on drawing vital attention away from the very real and alarming incidents of anti-Semitism rising throughout Montreal. We stand firmly by all Jewish members of our community feeling the fear and trauma associated with this resurgence of hate. We pledge to support them in identifying, reporting, and eradicating all forms of anti-Semitic prejudice, which we recognize as one of the many forms of religious, ethnic, and racial discrimination that Palestine advocacy work seeks to dismantle. 

Principal Saini, it is precisely these irresponsible and unsubstantiated accusations that “exacerbate existing tensions” on campus, not a flyer encouraging members of our community to join a peaceful event in support of Palestinian human rights. What we find to be “deplorable,” Principal Saini, is not a poster featuring a photo of Montreal student activism, but the Israeli military’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which has now claimed the lives of over 11,000 innocent people and displaced more than a million Gazans in just five weeks, all of which you have yet to condemn. 

For McGill’s Palestinian students and their allies, the administration’s recent emails have directly contributed to a renewed sense of fear, alienation, and retribution. Historically, students expressing solidarity with Palestine have been targeted, surveilled, harassed, and otherwise discriminated against. Recent communications have furthered polarisation within the student body, where any discussion of Israel’s action against Palestinians is seen as inherently “abhorrent,” to use the Provost’s own terms. This sets a distressing precedent of curtailing dissenting student voices and directly endangers Palestinian activists and supporters who will have to bear the consequence of this reckless vilification. In fact, this most recent episode of Palestinian suppression stands in stark contrast to sentiments the Provost expressed just last year in an op-ed that rightly affirmed academic freedom as “a cornerstone of university life. Over centuries, it has allowed scholars to challenge received wisdom without fear of institutional censure.” 

Provost Manfredi, as students of McGill, we agree. Academic freedom is central to the very functioning of healthy academic life and we all, Palestinians and their allies, have a right to participate in the “vigorous, evidence-based and respectful debate and inquiry, even on controversial or morally divisive topics” that the University proclaims to uphold as part of its mission. Now, more than ever, we need to hear the voices of Palestinians. We reject attempts by the administration to instil fear and silence our calls for justice.

With this in mind, we reiterate and endorse the following list of concrete measures put forth by SPHR as the first step towards correcting the course of the university’s recent communications on Palestine and addressing the urgent need to support and protect its Palestinian students and allies: 

  • That McGill’s Provost, Christopher Manfredi, and Principal, Deep Saini issue a public statement denouncing Israel’s genocidal bombing campaign against the people of Gaza, and provide concrete measures to address the personal toll that these atrocities are taking on Palestinian students at McGill. 
  • That the McGill administration revoke its threats against SPHR McGill and against the SSMU. 
  • That McGill divest from corporations complicit in Israeli settler-colonial apartheid. 
  • That McGill cease its exchange programs with Israeli institutions and cut ties with current and future Zionist donors. 

We trust that the University will reaffirm its stated commitment to academic freedom by reversing any punitive measures against SPHR McGill. We hope that you will join us in responding to worldwide calls for solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. 

Free Palestine. 

Undergraduate Student Associations: 

World Islamic and Middle East Studies Student Association (WIMESSA)

African Studies Student Association (ASSA)

Caribbean and Latin American Studies & Hispanic Studies Student Association (CLASHSA)

South Asian Studies Student Association (SASSA) 

International Development Studies Students Association (IDSSA) 

Society of Linguistics Undergraduates at McGill (SLUM) 

Department of English Student Association (DESA) 

Economics Students’ Association (ESA) 

East Asian Studies Student Association (EASSA) 

Graduate Student Associations: 

McGill Institute of Islamic Studies Student Association (MIISSC) 

History and Classics Graduate Student Association (HCGSA) 

English Graduate Students’ Association (EGSA) 

Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Student Association (AHCS) 

Clubs and other organizations: 

Desautel African Business Initiative (DABI) 

Independent Jewish Voices McGill (IJV)

Moroccan Students’ Society (MSS) 

Syrian Students’ Association (SSA) 

Thaqalayn Muslim Students’ Association (TMA)

Nordic Culture Club 

Egyptian Student Association (ESA) 

Queer McGill 

Socialist Fightback at McGill 

McGill Collective for Gender Equality QPIRG McGill 

Law Students For Palestine