I am being punished for being a Jew and Zionist on McGill University’s campus

Post-October 7 antisemitism on university campuses administrators are making students’ life a nightmare

Bonnie K. Goodman
15 min readFeb 9, 2024

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: McGill Tribune

The situation in North American universities and colleges can be summed up in one word: a nightmare. Four months after the horrendous and brutal Hamas attacks on Israel, the attacks on Jewish students on campus continue. One cannot go a day without hearing about another incident, whether vandalism, harassment, protests, speakers, or, in extreme cases, physical attacks. An increasing trend to fight back is litigation, whether individually or by class action lawsuits or government investigations into accusations of discrimination. Most of the cases revolve around students’ safety on campus. Among the universities being sued in Canada are Queen’s University, York University, Concordia University, Toronto Metropolitan University, McMaster University, and the University of British Columbia. McGill University has been at the center of legal action for a few years. As someone who has extensively researched the history of antisemitism at McGill and been at the center of their ire, I can say with certainty that McGill rightly deserves the mantle as one the most antisemitic of the universities, and it is because of their administration. The old antisemitic adage no Jews allowed, by McGill, it is no Zionists allowed.

Zoom into the situation at McGill, one of the hotbeds of antisemitism and anti-Zionism for over a decade, where protests against Israel are still going strong. On February 2, a group of over 100 students from McGill and Concordia came together outside the McGill Arts Building, the heart of the campus, among them professors. More telling is an image posted on the page of the student paper, the Tribune, of the students on the step accompanied by a significant number of professors, and the signs almost all accusing Israel of genocide. The protest culminated a week of action against Israel.

Although the university administration claims that Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill — SPHR McGill cannot use the McGill name, they can still use McGill’s buildings and protest on campus. They still use the McGill name they called upon on their social media page to “JOIN THE STUDENTS OF MONTREAL ON FRIDAY TO WALKOUT FOR PALESTINE! Leave your classes and join us to rally for the people of Gaza who remain steadfast despite the monstrous genocidal campaign at the hands of the Zionist regime. All out for Palestine.” The Tribune claims the protest was for the McGill community to voice their demand for divestment from corporations connected to the war in Gaza. The walkout, coordinated by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, was part of a nationwide week of action organized by the National Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestinian Youth Movement.[1]

Although the Anti-Defamation League last surveyed campus antisemitism in November, publishing their results, Campus Antisemitism: A Study of Campus Climate Before and After the Hamas Terrorist Attacks,” the situation is not any better or safer. On November 29, 2023, it determined, “A plurality of Jewish students do not feel physically safe on campus.” According to their results before 10/7, 66.6% of Jewish students felt physically or emotionally safe on campus, while post-10/7, less than half (45.5%) felt safe. Emotional safety also decreased significantly, with 65.8% feeling safe before 10/7 and 32.5% after.[2]

Just this week, Brandeis University statistician and the expert on the Jewish communal world Leonard Saxe wrote about the statistics behind the wave of antisemitism at American universities. Saxe’s article, “Why Campus Antisemitism Matters,” indicates there is proof that “Studies and polls of American Jewish students reveal a startling degree of anxiety and fear.” Saxe argues that university presidents and administrators have a legal and moral obligation to keep students on campus safe. Saxe notes the growing concern among Jewish students about the increasing prevalence of antisemitism, with Jewish students afraid to be “identified and acknowledged as Jewish.” Saxe found that the level of hostility towards Jews on campus has doubled since 2016. However, there is considerable variation among schools, with the most hostile schools being prestigious private universities in the Northeast and large public universities in California and the Midwest. This variation implies that by identifying factors that contribute to anti-Jewish hatred, we can better address and combat it.

Saxe particularly points out that administrators are responsible for what happens on campus; they set the example, including how far students can push the button on anti-Israel activity. Saxe explains, “Nevertheless, faculty and administrators have an important role, and their words and actions shape what happens on campus. Especially at campuses with the highest levels of antisemitic hostility, many more Jewish students are concerned about their safety. Among students in the group of campuses with the highest level of hostility, only one-quarter of our respondents felt “very safe” compared to nearly half who felt “very safe” at schools in the lowest hostility group. Their ratings are confirmed by student comments about being frightened and needing to hide their Jewish identity.”[3]

As a journalist, my articles on Judaism shaped my path to becoming an American Jewish historian. I developed a voice writing about American and Canadian Jewish history, particularly antisemitism. While as a journalist, I covered Israeli politics, the American-Israel relationship, and current religious and demographic trends. One news issue close to my heart was antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university campuses. How the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement against Israel motivated other students. I wrote about the issues confronting students at Concordia and McGill Universities, particularly in Montreal. I saw fear take over these students as it did me a few years ago. For over nearly ten years, I have been covering antisemitism and anti-Zionism campus news.

When I went to McGill as an undergraduate and my first graduate degree, neighboring Concordia University was the hotbed of anti-Zionist activity. I reported on the situation as McGill’s SSMU attempted to pass a BDS motion on campus. However, in 2019, as the SSMU executives were kicking out Jewish student Jordyn Wright for accepting a free trip to Israel, the articles turned into an entire book-length history of how McGill went from Philo-Semitic to antisemitic to anti-Zionist. My research was supposed to be a blog post for the Times of Israel, but ended up being a book-length history of antisemitism and anti-Zionist policies and activities on McGill’s campus, “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” McGill is now the hotbed for this activity in Canada. However, the challenges only become more significant when one aspires to respect as a historian with a doctorate and adds Zionist to the label that defines them. Just as Gil Troy, who, despite the credential of a coveted trio of degrees from Harvard, still faces a backlash over twenty years after first declaring in the media, “I am a Zionist.”

For me, this fight is personal. When I first attended Concordia University as a master’s student in Judaic Studies just after the Second Intifada and just as IAW began. I had a pro-Palestinian stalker that contributed to interrupting my academic career. At that point, Concordia was at a peak as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. I was set to be a teaching assistant in the Introduction to Judaism course offered by the Department of Religion. I was listed on the syllabus as the TA, and then before classes started in the fall semester, a pro-Palestinian student kept harassing me on my email. I mentioned the incident once but did not want to cause a conflict. Instead, I dropped TAing the course and slowly went to campus.

After my mother died in November 2022, I had a difficult time getting a job and thought I should go back to university to bolster my credentials to teach. This past semester, I attended McGill University. I was accepted into the Jewish education program, but my advisor thought the Jewish studies department was a better fit. In October, I attended the Center for Jewish and Israeli Affairs Antisemitism: Face it or Fight it conference in Ottawa. Happening barely two weeks after Hamas attacked Israel, it was a unifying experience. Professionally and personally, it was a high point for me as I met the great Irwin Cotler and was able to speak to him about my history of antisemitism and anti-Zionism at McGill. I got to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, it was disheartening to hear about the incidents and attacks at other Canadian universities. It was also surprising to listen to professors and others who knew about the history I wrote and its reach and impact.

However, it was an incredible learning experience that upset my professor at McGill; what had been a good relationship became strained because of my activism and participation in the conference and subsequent articles about my experience there. However, his way of challenging my activism was to try to discredit and undermine the nearly twenty years of academic and journalist work and success I achieved. He lumped it up as just “life experience,” looking down that it was not an academic success and not deserving of respect in the ivory tower. Rather than directly chastising me for how uncomfortable my activism made him, this reaction was the more politically correct direction.

What was so surprising in his reactions was that he was a Jewish studies professor who should support and advocate for Jewish students. Instead, this professor is more concerned with finding favor with the university’s leadership and administrators than supporting and protecting pro-Israel students, as the pro-Palestinian professors keep doing for students who share their views. I have been having a more difficult time than some other students have had because of my public profile, my reporting, and my research on antisemitism and anti-Zionism at McGill. The challenge of the balance of respect for my work’s historical writings and the distaste for any Zionist activism on campus today has been almost impossible. His decision to stop teaching me mid-semester and his intimidation, as some called his behavior, consumed my time at McGill semester and changed the direction of my winter semester courses. This professor admitted that after the October 7 attacks, he had too much going on in his personal life, which my submitting an essay he did not ask for was too frustrating for him, and he did not want to deal with me as a student.

I faced so many challenges in my life; my mother developed a chronic heart condition when I was twelve, and my father died within three months of being diagnosed with cancer when I was sixteen. As an only child from then on, my mother and I were a team, and life was not always kind. I was sick myself in my twenties. Six years ago, I was again ill; I had been paralyzed for six weeks, had two blood transfusions, and had to relearn to walk. The challenges made me reexamine my direction in life, among them to refocus on my academic writing. However, when the pandemic hit, my mother slowly lost her eyesight and fell, leading to a seven-month hospitalization. I fought to be my mother’s advocate in a predominantly French hospital far away from the Jewish community. During her hospitalization, my mother lost her mobility at a time when hospitals were more interested in repopulating the nursing homes after the mass deaths from COVID than making the elderly healthy and better.

I always helped my mother and was a support to her, but in the last months, I was her caregiver. The whole situation, however, was too much and cut my mother’s life short. The trauma of her sudden death and discovering her dead in her bedroom, barely an hour after I took a nap at night, and then being alone was challenging for anyone, and I developed anxiety. I also have a long-time learning disability that I tried to mask because one cannot show weakness. The newfound situation on campus gave me panic attacks, especially with the experience I had as a graduate student during the Second Intifada. I was already registered in the Student Success and Accessibility Office for accommodations as a student with a diagnosed disability. The situation I was in with my professor triggered more anxiety.

I felt I could not deal with everything myself with this professor. I spent an hour and a half meeting with him, having him blame me for his actions, then wanted to start the course anew with an incomplete over my head, the clock ticking, and a barrier to going further in my studies. I looked for help within the university. Instead, I took their advice, and I dug myself into a hole, meeting up with an associate dean in graduate studies, who, from our first discussion, wanted me to leave my studies. She found nothing wrong with how my professor behaved, dropping me mid-semester, which is unprofessional at best. Still, she revoked the accommodation to do my reading course and thesis prep remotely while the tension remained on campus. Human and civil rights laws throughout North America are sympathetic to students with disabilities, oppose discrimination, and allow for reasonable accommodations. However, we still live in a very backward society, with mental health and disability stigmas, but that kind of attitude has no place in schools and universities, and the legal system frowns upon it, usually siding with the students; both Yale and Stanford Universities recently learned that lesson. [4]

The Associate Dean did not care she had a double standard, taking a hard-line approach with me. Still, he had no issue with a professor stopping to teach me for personal reasons, leaving me academically stranded. I continued working based on an outline he gave me in October. Afterward, she returned with his revised method to evaluate me, which changed the course’s content after the course was supposed to end. A vital part of the McGill Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities, Charter of Students’ Rights, which guarantees students’ a syllabi professors would go by at the start of the semester. All this happened as I had a law school student advocate helping me with my case. We went to the Dean of Students, whose meetings seemed empathetic to my situation. He said he would work with the Student Accessibility and Achievement Office to get me accommodation and clear up the disparities in the course outlines. The SAA supervisor noted that she works with the Dean of Students to accommodate students affected, as she put it, the Middle East situation, writing me, “Dean… and our office will often work together regarding specific student requests. Requests for support that are related to the war in the Middle-East, is one such example. In these situations, it is the Office of the Dean of Students that works with students and faculty.”

The Dean of Students took over two weeks to come back with a decision and did not allow me to meet even once virtually with my supervisor to go forward on the thesis prep course. A course defined as a “Bibliography and preparation of a research proposal.” He gave the excuse” I apologize for the long delay, we have had several major, complicated issues over the last few weeks that has taken much of our time.” My student advocate could not understand why the Dean of Students refused all my requests and did not want to meet me halfway. The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, the same one who tried to push me out of my studies, was already calling all the shots and promising me an F for the thesis prep course.

Yesterday, the final decision came in. Not only were they not going to accommodate me at all claiming a university wide policy, where I know accommodations are being made, they were going to punish me for being a Jewish student, a Zionist, and not allow me to make up the time. They would not let me start the course and penalize my grade. As my professor wrote to me “Deans… have been in communication with me to make clear the in-person university policy. It has also been communicated to me that the time missed thus far for JWST 696 cannot be made up retroactively.” I have a granted a “Reasonable Consideration Request: Extensions,” so essentially McGill administration is revoking and denying me all accommodations as a disabled student. How can we in the 21st century still punish a Jew for being a Jew, for being afraid of the hostile antisemitism on campus? This is a direction violation of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights, and clearly defined as discrimination.

The situation at McGill’s campus and the faculty and administration’s lack of support for Jewish students have created a tense environment for pro-Israel Jewish students and adversely affected my education this academic year, caused stress, and monopolized time that I wish I could have devoted to my studies. This fall, I wrote an article about the position of Jewish studies professors in the campus debate. One scholar I cited summed up my experience at McGill. Jarrod Tanny, an associate professor and Charles and Hannah Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and the founder of the Jewish Studies Zionist Network, just published an article criticizing a Jewish studies professor. Tanny’s article entitled “Silence of the Lambs: Dissecting the Failure of Jewish Studies Programs” claims, “Whenever events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heat up and the academy singles out Israel, Jewish studies faculty either remain silent or publicly side with the anti-Zionists, much as they did in May 2021.” [5]

I understand what Tanny has been saying about blacklisting; I am known for my outspoken and controversial history on campus, anti-Zionism, and my frequent works on antisemitism. Activists throughout history have been punished for trying to change the status quo or injustice, and although I do not consider my waves that overwhelming, we as a Jewish community still have that fear that if we go beyond the outside’s view of how we should be, it could be detrimental. McGill Historian Gil Troy’s article, entitled “Our Failed Colleges: Time to Get Radical,” describes the problem with the politics at these universities and why pro-Israel Jewish students, especially those declaring themselves as Zionists, are shut out in the cold. Troy explains the climate at universities today: “A generation of professors now views scholarship as advocacy, treating the lecture podium as a political platform. This goes far beyond who gets hired or promoted. Most scholarly associations have turned anti-racist, anti-colonial, and thus activist. That means that anyone seeking letters of recommendation, searching for jobs, or hoping for prizes must embrace the reigning ideology.” [6]

This past semester, I again felt unsafe on campus with a heightened profile as a Zionist writing about Zionism after the October 7 attack, where Zionism has become an even dirtier word than ever on university campuses. All Jewish students need to feel safe on campus regardless of their viewpoints. My mother long worried about me taking a public stand. As all Jews, we are all fighting and teaching about antisemitism and strengthening Jewish identity enough to stand up to it. We are living in a time when antisemitism on campus has reached a dangerous level. No student should feel pressured to opt out of their education or any activity because of their Judaism or support for Israel, which is precisely what McGill’s administration is doing to me. They want me out. They want to ruin my academic career and my professional brand because I am a Jew and Zionist with a disability. We should all be outraged. This is antisemitism, no matter what they want to call it.

The double standard remains: we, as Jews, are killed, harassed, bullied, and mistreated; others can accuse us of genocide, but we are the ones at fault and punished. The administration thinks they will ruin me, that I will shrivel up and leave, but what they do not know is every hardship I experienced made me stronger, made me a fighter, an advocate against what is in just, because they did it to me, they can do to the next student or employee and so forth. If I stay quiet and ashamed, they have accomplished their goal; I did nothing wrong, and neither does any other Jewish student fearful of the university campus. As Jews, we should all be in this fight together. Antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university campuses has to end. Until something is done to stop campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism and university administrators and officials are held accountable and protect all their students, pro-Israel Jewish students will not feel safe and comfortable on university campuses, and this repeating cycle has to stop. Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania had it right: the administration needs to be fired, and next should be McGill.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.”

Ms. Goodman is also the author “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South,” among others. She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu.

[1] https://www.thetribune.ca/news/students-demand-mcgill-divest-from-companies-supporting-israels-siege-on-gaza-in-national-week-of-action-06022024/

[2] https://www.adl.org/resources/report/campus-antisemitism-study-campus-climate-and-after-hamas-terrorist-attacks

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/why-campus-antisemitism-matters

[4] https://bonniekgoodman.medium.com/bell-lets-talk-about-mental-health-discrimination-at-universities-208be2356e98

[5] https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/opinion/362642/silence-of-the-lambs-dissecting-the-failure-of-jewish-studies-programs/

[6] https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/opinion/366505/our-failed-colleges-time-to-get-radical/



Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a historian, librarian, and journalist. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.