(EJNews) – Edmonton Talmud Torah alumnus Zev Macklin struck a win for human rights last month while attending McGill University in Montreal. Earlier this year Macklin, an undergraduate student, petitioned the Judicial Board of the Students Society of University (SSMU) seeking a declaration that, among other things, the holding of a general vote of the students to support the BDS movement was unconstitutional.
On May 31, 2016, Zev received the decision from the Judicial Board that he was successful and the holding of the BDS motion is against the student society’s constitution. This decision means that such a vote can no longer be held at McGill and while it is specific to the Students Union at McGill, the decision would likely have applicability to other Universities when faced with similar petitions.
Considered by many to be a landmark decision for Canada, on May 31, 2016 the Judicial Board of the SSMU ruled against the anti-Israel Boycott and Sanctions Movement, finding that it violates the student union’s constitution.
This decision followed three failed attempts within the past 18 months to impose the discriminatory campaign on McGill students, who rejected it on each occasion. The most recent vote on the issue, which occurred in February, was accompanied by anti-Semitic harassment aimed at students opposing the movement. Macklin, a former leader with BBYO and Camp BB-Riback, found the situation intolerable and took the matter to the SSMU.
According to the unanimous panel of McGill Law students who heard the case, “the inescapable conclusion is that motions similar to the BDS motion, which target one specific nation, breach values inherent in [SSMU’s] Constitution and the Equity Policy.”
Pending ratification by the SSMU Board of Directors, this judicial decision will halt the stream of anti-Israel motions put before the student body during the past few years. Moreover, given the extreme similarity among the constitutions of various Canadian student unions, boycott motions may now be invalidated within those bodies, as well.
While the board decision, called a “reference,” still faces ratification, the move on June 1 is being hailed as a victory on a Montreal campus.
The decision “is a clear signal that the SSMU understands the nature of BDS on campus,” said Patrick Benaroche of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec.
In its reference, the board stressed that it was not issuing a judgment, only an “advisory opinion,” and that the opinion allowed for condemning actions by nations – but not the nations themselves.
The union noted that its opinion may have been different had the pro-BDS motion restricted itself to calling on McGill to curtail its investment in countries cooperating in Israel’s occupation. But the motion also supported the overall aims of the BDS movement against Israel itself, the judicial board said.
A complete copy of the Judicial Board’s decision is available here.
In related news, last month, 155 McGill professors signed an open letter condemning the boycott and sanctions movement. In the letter’s preamble, widely respected history professor Gil Troy outlined an alarming rise in anti-Semitism on Canadian university campuses, quoting explicitly from B’nai Brith Canada’s expose last April on Holocaust denier Ken O’Keefe’s speech at the University of Toronto.
Meanwhile, the premier of Canada’s most populous province is calling for a motion on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that all parties can live with.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne of the Liberal Party made the suggestion last week on the heels of the defeat of a motion last month in the Ontario legislature that condemned the BDS campaign as the “insidious new face of anti-Semitism.” Introduced by the Conservative opposition, the measure fell in the provincial parliament by a vote of 39-18.
The Liberal government argued the legislation would not improve security in the Middle East, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party saw the measure as an attack on freedom of speech and association.
Fresh from leading a trade mission to Israel, where Wynne said she “entirely” opposes the BDS movement, the premier was grilled last week in the legislature about her party’s failure to support the motion.
“Let’s figure out if we can craft a motion that is not divisive, that is actually unifying in nature, [one] that actually is not flawed,” she said.
“I made this commitment when I was on the mission that we would work with the opposition parties and that we would try to come up with a motion that would pass in this legislature that would reflect the inclusiveness of all the members of this legislature … in the coming weeks.”
Conservative legislator Gila Martow called Wynne’s pledge “a step forward,” but didn’t like her use of the word divisive, the Canadian Jewish News reported.
“To me, the only thing I see that is divisive is her [pro-Israel] opinion,” given that the rest of her caucus voted against the bill, Martow said.
(With files from B’nai Brith Canada and JTA)