Monday, November 20, is the final day to vote in the Fall 2023 SSMU Referendum. For anyone new to McGill, SSMU, the student union, holds a referendum each semester to allow members to vote on questions related to clubs, services, governance, and other aspects of student life. Most of the questions that appear on referendum ballots pertain to the establishment, renewal, or increase of fees for clubs and services. On some occasions, however, SSMU asks members to vote on policies of political importance. One such question appears on the Fall 2023 ballot: “Do you agree to the SSMU’s adoption of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine?”
The Policy Against Genocide in Palestine was drafted by unnamed SSMU members. In a three-page document, the authors of the policy write that, since October 7 of this year, “Israeli forces have waged a relentless, indiscriminate, genocidal bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, murdering over 7,500 Palestinians, including over 3,000 children.” The authors also note that Israeli forces have entirely cut off access to food, water, medical supplies, electricity, and fuel in the Gaza Strip. Instead of condemning this violence, the McGill administration has “publicly threatened students who voice their solidarity with the Palestinian people.” It also continues to invest in or collaborate with institutions, corporations, and donors complicit in the genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
In its call to action, the policy demands: that the McGill administration condemn the genocidal campaign against the people of Gaza; that it retract its “abhorrent threats against Palestinian students and student groups”; that it provide support for Palestinian and Arab students; and that it divest from or cut ties with all institutions, corporations, and donors complicit in “genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.” The authors also call on SSMU to make an immediate statement condemning the genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and to reaffirm its solidarity with Palestinian and Arab students and its commitment to “the Palestinian struggle against genocide and settler-colonial apartheid.”
The Daily’s editorial board endorses an emphatic YES vote for the adoption of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine. To ignore the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and their inhuman treatment at the hands of the Israeli government is to condone terrible acts of violence and what experts are calling a “textbook case of genocide.” Our university has not only turned a blind eye to 75 years of systemic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians but has continued to support, and receive support from, institutions and corporations complicit in this genocide. Moreover, against a rising tide of hate crimes in Canada and across the world, McGill has a duty to protect Palestinian and Arab students. The Daily demands that the McGill administration take a firm stance against genocide in Gaza and that it take necessary actions to support Palestinian and Arab students. Likewise, we believe that our student union must advocate to end all violence, genocide, and settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians and that the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine is a necessary step in that direction.
Unfortunately, the proposed policy presents the same risk that the Palestine Solidarity Policy carried in 2022. The Palestine Solidarity Policy was submitted by the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) during the Winter 2022 SSMU Referendum. It called on both SSMU and McGill to divest from and boycott “all corporations complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians” and authorized the creation of a SSMU Palestine Solidarity Committee. Although the policy passed with the approval of 71.1 per cent of student voters and was even supported by faculty and staff, the McGill administration declared that it was “inconsistent with the SSMU constitution.” The administration further threatened that if SSMU leadership did not “take prompt and appropriate remedial action,” McGill would terminate its Memorandum of Agreement with SSMU. The SSMU Board of Governors then released a statement informing students that, upon review, the Palestine Solidarity Policy did not adhere to the SSMU Constitution, the SSMU Equity Policy, the 2016 SSMU Judicial Board ruling on the Legality of the BDS Motion and Similar Motions, or Quebec law and could not be adopted.
It is entirely possible, and perhaps even likely, that McGill will again attempt to undermine the democratic proceedings of its student union and that the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine will meet the same fate as the Palestine Solidarity Policy. The very existence of the policy and its predicted success at the polls do, however, send a strong message to the McGill administration. The Policy Against Genocide in Palestine complements a recent Statement by Professors, Staff, and Librarians at McGill in response to the Principal’s and the Provost’s Biased Messages on Occupied Palestine. In this statement, McGill faculty and staff express their concern over the “biased, divisive, and non-factual nature” of the messages from Provost and Vice-Principal Christopher Manfredi and Principal Deep Saini regarding the ongoing violence in Gaza. They also criticize the university’s failure to “show the same concern and compassion” for Palestinian and Arab members of the McGill community that it showed for Israeli and Jewish members following the Hamas attacks on October 7.
McGill students, faculty, and staff have not forgotten the success of their forebears – largely Black and African students – in pressuring the McGill administration to divest from its holdings in apartheid South Africa. On November 18, 1985, following an “unrelenting four-hour protest by 1,200 McGill students,” the McGill Board of Governors agreed to divest all $45 million in its holdings linked to South Africa. It was the first Canadian university to do so, and there is no reason to believe that McGill cannot or should not become a leader among Canadian universities in denouncing Israeli apartheid and aiding the fight for Palestinian freedom.
To vote in the Fall 2023 SSMU Referendum, sign in to your McGill email and look for the link from Elections SSMU or visit ssmu.simplyvoting.com. The Daily’s other endorsements for this semester’s referendum questions can be found online at mcgilldaily.com. After voting YES for the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine, you can continue to show your support for Palestinians in Gaza by attending weekly walkouts, protests, and other demonstrations in Montreal. You can send letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, and your federal MP to demand that Canada call for a ceasefire. You can also sign the House of Commons e-petitions to call for a ceasefire and to condemn Israel’s ongoing war crimes against Palestinians in accordance with international law.