On Feb. 6, Igor Sadikov, an elected student representative at McGill University, tweeted “punch a zionist today” (sic). The statement stirred some reaction, though not the universal revulsion that should greet incitement to political violence in Canada. The Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), on which Sadikov serves as an elected representative, has declined to condemn him or remove him from his position.
Instead, the brunt of vitriol appears to have been reserved for another member of the SSMU – one who is Jewish. At a public meeting where the violence-inciting statement of a councilor should have been the top agenda item, the tables turned and, instead, Jasmine Segal, a fellow councilor, who told the audience she is a Zionist, was singled out for condemnation.
The McGill Daily, a student-run newspaper that has an explicit policy of refusing to publish anything perceived as pro-Israel, has been a voice on campus emboldening voices like Sadikov’s. In writing about the SSMU meeting – under a header boldly declaring the article “News,” as opposed to commentary or opinion – the paper “reported” that “many at McGill and in the wider world are portraying it as an incitement to antisemitic violence.”
For the education of readers, the author of the piece explained: “This interpretation rests on the conflation of Zionism with Jewishness which, while widely believed, is in fact a misconception; many Jewish people do not identify with the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism or the goals and actions of the state of Israel.”
One member of the audience at the meeting said he felt personally threatened by Sadikov’s tweet, in response to which a student who identified herself as Palestinian declared that she felt unsafe because there is a self-avowed Zionist on council.
“Since SSMU has a social justice mandate,” she asked, according to the Daily account, “why does it allow Zionist councilors on council, when Zionist ideology is inherently [linked to] ethnically cleansing Palestinians?”
On a Facebook post after the meeting, Segal wrote about being targeted by the audience and abandoned by her colleagues on council.
“I was left isolated and alone to respond,” she wrote, in a statement that has been widely shared. “My fellow representatives sat in silence and permitted this malicious, prejudicial and unjustified attack to continue. Instead of rising to state that this abusive conduct would not be tolerated at this meeting and at McGill at large, I was left alone to answer prejudicial questions that should not have had such a platform. I was under attack and did the best I could to try and redirect to the issues of the meeting and … bring down the rising temperature in the room.”
The fact that most of Sadikov’s colleagues on the student society stood by him and that it has been Segal who has been made to feel like the wrongful party is not surprising. It is reflective of a general lack of compassion and listening, including among those who claim to be stewards of social justice and intercultural understanding.
Time was critics would specify that they are condemning policies of the Israeli government, not Israel’s right to exist. Now, the journalistic voice of students at McGill University just declares that the movement for Jewish self-determination has nothing at all to do with Jews, and a student considers themself “unsafe” in the mere presence of an individual who believes the Jewish people have a right to a homeland. Worst of all, even when someone literally calls for violence against fellow human beings, the overall reaction is not to condemn such incitement, but to turn against the Jew in the room.