Post-October 7 Antisemitic and Anti-Zionist Backlash at Montreal Universities

Bonnie K. Goodman
53 min readDec 28, 2023

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: SPHR

Rep Stefanik asking Ms. Magill, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or code of conduct, yes or no?”

Ms. Magill: “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment.”

Ms. Stefanik: “I am asking, specifically: Calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?”

Ms. Magill: “If it is directed and severe, pervasive, it is harassment.”

Ms. Stefanik: “So the answer is yes.”

Ms. Magill: “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman”

Ms. Stefanik: “That’s your testimony today? Calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context?”

On Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, three elite university presidents, including those from Ivy League Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, were forced to testify under oath about the increasing antisemitism on their campuses. It was the first time these elite universities were being held accountable for the attacks on campus on Jewish students over Israel. This phenomenon started ranking on North American university campuses for over twenty years. However, only since October 7 has the world been paying attention to what has been happening to cohorts of students for a long time. An Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International poll revealed that 73% of Jewish college students and 44% of non-Jewish students have experienced or witnessed antisemitic incidents since the start of the 2023–24 school year. The ADL also reported on December 11 that there were “more than 2,000 incidents reported in the U.S. since the Hamas massacre, a 337-percent increase.” [1]

Members of Congress hammered the three presidents on whether they believed their students advocating for the genocide of Jews go against the codes of conduct in their schools. Instead, they unabashedly defended free speech rather than their Jewish students. The House Education and the Workforce Committee, hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, called Claudine Gay of Harvard University, Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to testify on Dec. 5, 2023, nearly two months after Hamas’Hamas’ horrific attacks on Israel. The presidents expressed their strong disapproval of both antisemitism and Islamophobia, indicating their commitment to addressing these concerns through various measures, but refused to condemn the hateful and inciting speech on campus. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) pressed the presidents on whether calls for the “genocide of Jews” violate their university’suniversity’s policies. Stefanik requested yes or no responses, but the presidents gave “conditional” responses, with the President of Penn saying it was a “context-dependent decision,” and the president of Harvard replying, “It depends on the context.” [2]

In the US, advocating for violence in a general sense is safeguarded by existing legal principles. Speech is classified as incitement only when it is deliberately aimed at provoking violence and has a high probability of resulting in violence in the future. In the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969, the Supreme Court established that advocating the moral justification for violence is distinct from actively preparing a group for violent actions. The Constitution generally protects antisemitic speech, along with other forms of discrimination. However, for an act to be considered harassment, it must involve continuous speech that disrupts one’s ability to access education. This differs from sporadic outbursts, posts on social media, or chants during protests. Universities that advocate for free speech cannot guarantee disciplinary actions against students or faculty for speech protected by the Constitution. However, while not legally obligated by the First Amendment, private universities typically adhere to its principles.[3]

The comparison between anti-Zionism and antisemitism has become a prominent topic of discussion, causing heated debates and accusations of prejudice. Despite the Constitution, the presidents are already facing a backlash, and their responses were “underfire.” The U.S. government is investigating several universities, including Ivies Columbia, Cornell, and Harvard, after repeated complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobia. While Republicans have long criticized freedom of speech and conduct on elite college campuses, now Democrats are joining them. In the hot seat more than the others was the president of Penn; Penn’s antisemitism problems were already hitting a fever pitch before Oct. and at the start of the academic year.

A day after the Congressional testimony, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates issued a statement expressing, “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country. Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans.” The same day, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, called Penn’s president’s responses “unacceptable.” Governor Shapiro said, “It should not be hard to condemn genocide — genocide against Jews, genocide against anyone else. I’ve said many times that leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test.”

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said, “President Magill’s comments yesterday were offensive, but equally offensive was what she didn’t say,” he said in a statement. “The right to free speech is fundamental, but calling for the genocide of Jews is antisemitic and harassment, full stop.” Senator John Fetterman, a Democrat, called the testimony “a significant fail. There is no ‘both sides-ism’ and it isn’t ‘free speech,’ it’s simply hate speech. It was embarrassing for a venerable Pennsylvania university, and it should be reflexive for leaders to condemn antisemitism and stand up for the Jewish community or any community facing this kind of invective.”

The university presidents responded to the issue of disciplining students for making statements about genocide using legalese, which were considered lawful by advocates of academic freedom. Nonetheless, numerous Jewish students, alumni, and donors expressed dissatisfaction with their statements, as they believed that these statements did not adequately acknowledge the prevailing climate by explicitly condemning antisemitism. A day after her testimony, there were over 3,000 signatures to a petition demanding Magill’s resignation. The board chairman at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania has requested the board of trustees to withdraw their endorsement of Ms. Magill.

Magill tried to save face, apologizing, “In that moment, I was focused on our university’s longstanding policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” she said in a video. “I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It’s evil — plain and simple. In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation.” She also promised Penn would “initiate a serious and careful look at our policies.” By Saturday, December 9, Liz Magill, the president and chairman of the University of Pennsylvania, had resigned after facing criticism for her testimony regarding campus antisemitism. In her testimony, she did not explicitly denounce the calls for Jewish genocide. Saturday Night Live roasted the three presidents in the evening, their responses becoming a punch line. However, the problem is hardly funny; there is nothing humorous in these constant threats and harassment.

After the October 7, 2023, attack on Israel, antisemitism on university campuses has reached a fever pitch. Antisemitism in North America has increased by over 300 percent. ADL reported that between October and December 2022, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 2,031 antisemitic incidents, a 337-percent increase from 465 in 2022. This included 40 incidents of physical assault, 337 vandalism, 749 verbal harassment, and 905 rallies with antisemitic rhetoric. On average, Jews in America experienced nearly 34 antisemitic incidents per day over the last 61 days. [4] The data indicates a notable rise in antisemitic occurrences at Jewish establishments, synagogues, and within university settings. A single death occurred during a demonstration against Israel in Los Angeles, while 250 instances of harassment or attacks were directed toward Jewish establishments. A minimum of 1,411 occurrences can be attributed to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The attacks and harassment of the Jewish community throughout the continent are unprecedented. However, nowhere has the attacks been more callous, and there have been more celebrations for Hamas than on university and college campuses across the continent. According to the ADL, 400 incidents were documented on campuses, unlike the 33 incidents reported in 2022.

Jews are experiencing the worst wave of antisemitism worldwide since the Holocaust. Irwin Cotler, former Liberal Cabinet minister, McGill Law professor, and human rights lawyer, and serving most recently as Canada’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Remembrance and combating Antisemitism, expressed after the attack, “We’re witnessing the highest rise of antisemitism in 50 years.” Cotler told Postmedia, “We’re experiencing and witnessing the highest rise in antisemitism since audits of antisemitism began in the 1970s. This is true in Canada. It’s true in the United States, and it’s true in Germany… antisemitic beliefs — the number of Americans who believe in six or more antisemitic tropes, tropes such as Jews control the media — has doubled. I found that quite disturbing because beliefs can lead to action.” [5]

Historian and antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, who is serving as the Biden administration’s antisemitism envoy, explains, “I don’t care one where it comes from. What is so frightening is that it is coming from everywhere — right, left, center. It is a most ubiquitous form of hatred, not just the oldest.” Speaking of anti-Zionism as antisemitism, Lipstadt expressed that it is “An insidious form of antisemitism is holding Jews accountable and punishing them for what Israel does. When there are antisemitic incidents in Germany or Jews are attacked at a Hillel on campus, ‘That is not pro-Palestinian. That is antisemitism.’” Lipstadt finds that social media creates a new danger because “‘There is a delivery system unlike anything we have seen,’ because social media spreads and deepens antisemitic myths.” [6]

The situation in Canada has become dire in the last few weeks. Antisemitism is on the rise in Montreal, where two months after the attack, there have been over 300 hate crimes, and other similar events have been reported to the police. The community is afraid — afraid to show they are Jewish, afraid even to have their mezuzahs on their house. The police are constantly driving through predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. The Montreal Jewish community is in a panic for good reason, as firebombings and shootings of schools, synagogues, and community organizations have become everyday occurrences. Parents of Jewish children are afraid to send them to school; rabbis want armed police to protect Jewish buildings. Two Jewish schools were shot at, and one of the schools was targeted on two separate occasions. Bullying is prevalent among schoolchildren, workers face harassment from their colleagues, and university students are targeted based on their pro-Israel stance.

Additionally, businesses owned by individuals of Jewish descent were subjected to acts of vandalism as well as online harassment and provocation. Police in Montreal say they have control, but only one person and only twenty people in Canada have been charged. The university administrators’ tepid responses have forced students and faculty to go to the courts to seek protection and resolutions. [7] There have been several intense protests directed towards Israel, which a surge in antisemitic sentiment has accompanied. Almost every other weekend, the city is witnessing protests against Israel, calling Israel’s actions “genocide” and chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free,” to obliterate Israel’s existence. One extremist imam called upon Allah to address the “Zionist aggressors” and eliminate the “enemies of the people of Gaza.” [8]

The following Postmedia description of antisemitic incidents in Montreal, Canada since October 7, which ran in all of the country’s major papers, recounts, “A Jewish school for boys has been shot up twice. Another Jewish school, for children as young as Grade 1, has also been hit with bullets. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue. A Jewish community centre was firebombed. Another Jewish community centre — and another synagogue — were firebombed. A Muslim cleric spoke at an anti-Israel rally and called for God to kill Jews ‘and spare none of them.’ Scores of Jewish businesses have been targeted for boycotts, threats and graffiti — including Nazi swastikas.” These are the major incidents reported, and there have been no arrests in the most serious and violent of the crimes. Other Jews within the community spoke to Postmedia journalists anonymously about more incidents and “crimes” they did not report because they feared “retribution.” These are serious and hardly something that should be shaken off, and “growing a spine” is hardly the solution. [9]

Montreal has had more antisemitic incidents and crimes than any other in North America since October 7. Postmedia indicated, “This city has experienced more hate crimes against Jews than any other North American city. No other city seems to have it as bad.” Postmedia asks, “What the hell is happening here? Why is it happening in Montreal, of all places? “The reason that Montreal is the only city in North America that has had multiple violent, targeted attacks against Jewish institutions and people — from gunshots to Molotov cocktails — is because there is no condemnation of jihadist behavior taking place on the streets of Montreal. None.” Troy has lived here long enough; he should understand the dangers and fears members of the community have always lived here. Quebec historically has higher anti-Semitic rates than other places in Canada and North America, partially because it was a predominantly French Catholic minority with a large Jewish population, up until the late 1970s, the largest Jewish center in Canada.

On December 20, the Angus Reid Institute released a new poll on antisemitism in Canada that found three-quarters of Canadians viewed antisemitism (78 percent) as a significant problem. According to the survey, “Indeed, three-quarters see both as significantly problematic, while just 11 percent of Canadians feel that each is ‘not really a problem,’ However, there are varying perceptions of the severity of the problem, both antisemitism and anti-Muslim attitudes pose.” [10]

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has resulted in increased tensions at McGill University and other Canadian universities. Meanwhile, the statements at McGill coming from its administration have been meek, with the Palestinians always mentioned in the same breath and before Israel. Other Canadian universities, including Concordia, also faced criticism for their original statements. Students at Concordia and McGill Universities have to deal with violent anti-Israel protesters, constant fear and harassment, online threats and swastikas discovered on campus, and even a referendum resolution that says Israel is committing genocide. The harassment on campus has been non-stop at both universities, with both students and professors instigating the attacks and weak administrations not doing enough to curb them, whether in Montreal, in the rest of Canada, or in American universities. The first week, they brought immense fear to Jewish students. Avishai Infeld, the advocacy coordinator for the Jewish student organization Hillel Montreal, is concerned that campuses are not providing sufficient support to students who are grieving and scared about returning to classes, particularly in light of the pro-Palestinian protests happening in different cities.”They’re literally scared to leave their dorm rooms, to leave their apartments, to leave their houses, to come to events where the community is coming together to mourn and to be together in solidarity,” including vigils and Shabbat dinners.

Canadian university and college Jewish students are experiencing various challenges that are causing them distress. These challenges include receiving death threats, theft of mezuzot, encountering anti-Israel rhetoric during lectures, and facing official statements from academic departments, student organizations, and unions that are supposed to defend all students who condemn Israel. The students who express their support for Israel are facing similar mental health challenges as the broader Jewish Diaspora community. Canadian Jewish students have initiated lawsuits against prominent Canadian institutions such as Toronto Metropolitan University, Queen’s University, UBC, and York University.

In Montreal, a $15 million lawsuit-representing faculty, staff, and students claims Concordia University failed to provide students a safe space from antisemitism and “psychologically scarred them. While at McGill University, a student filed for an injunction to stop the Student Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) resolution claiming Israel is committing genocide. These legal actions allege that these institutions have been negligent in their duty to address and combat antisemitism over a prolonged period. University campuses have become sites of tension regarding anti-Zionism, as some progressive educators and fellow students openly express antisemitic views. The lawsuits seek to contest the established systems that have historically endorsed antisemitism. [11]

In a Hillel survey released on November 20, the assault on Israel and the ensuing conflict have had a notable impact on Jewish students at universities, with a significant proportion of the 84% reporting feeling affected. Additionally, a considerable number, 68%, expressed sadness, while 54% reported experiencing fear. More than 37% of students have felt the need to conceal their Jewish identity, while approximately 35% have encountered instances of hate or violence while on campus. Many individuals express dissatisfaction with how their respective universities have addressed these incidents. Nevertheless, approximately 78% of Jewish students believe that Hillel and Jewish spaces on campus have gained increased significance in recent times. Additionally, most students express heightened concern regarding the university’s response to such incidents. [12]

On November 29, Hillel International and the Anti-Defamation League released another survey, which has identified an increase in instances of antisemitism among Jewish students. Jewish students are feeling less secure following the terrorist attack that occurred on October 7. According to the survey before October 7, 67% of Jewish students reported feeling physically and emotionally secure on campus. However, following that date, the percentage of Jewish students who felt safe decreased to 46%. Moreover, most Jewish students, precisely 64%, perceived their university environment as inclusive and supportive. However, a smaller proportion, precisely 39%, expressed a sense of comfort in openly disclosing their Jewish identity to others. The results emphasize the necessity of enhancing safety protocols for Jewish students.[13]

A significant majority of American college students, approximately 73%, reported experiencing or witnessing instances of antisemitism during the current academic year (2023–2024). In comparison, the percentage of non-Jewish students who reported similar experiences was notably lower, at 43.9%. Before the attacks, a significant majority of Jewish students, precisely 70%, encountered instances of antisemitism. The majority of students, precisely 80%, consider Hillel and Jewish spaces to be essential, whereas half of the students, or 50%, express feelings of insecurity in these environments, saying they “feel unsafe on campus.” Approximately 50% of non-Jewish students who were mistakenly perceived as Jewish reported experiencing discrimination due to this mistaken assumption. Since October 7, there has been an increase in the percentage of non-Jewish students who are mistakenly identified as Jewish, rising from 7.2% to 12.7%. Additionally, 29.5% of these students have reported experiencing offensive anti-Jewish comments. About $1 million is required to enhance security measures, provide mental health support, and support programming related to Israel. [14]

Since October 7, the percentage of Jewish students who feel comfortable revealing their Jewish identity on campus has declined by nearly 50%. Many students, irrespective of their religious affiliation, hold the view that their university administration has not effectively addressed cases of anti-Semitic prejudice. A considerable number of students, precisely 48.2% of Jewish students and 38.5% of non-Jewish students, believe that campus administrators are responsible for this issue. A significant proportion, over 33% of Jewish students, encounter unease when engaging in conversations about their viewpoints on Israel and antisemitism. Around 32% of Jewish students feel hesitant to voice their concerns about antisemitism at their educational institution, while only 17.6% of non-Jewish students feel the same way. A significant number of Jewish students on campus experience a sense of insecurity regarding their physical safety. Around half of non-Jewish students who are mistakenly identified as Jewish have encountered discrimination as a result of this misperception. Since October 7, there has been an increase in the proportion of non-Jewish students who are being erroneously classified as Jewish. The percentage has risen from 7.2% to 12.7%. Furthermore, a considerable proportion of these students, precisely 29.5%, have reported encountering derogatory remarks targeting the Jewish community.[15]

Before October 7, a majority of Jewish students, 66.6%, reported feeling “very” or “extremely” physically safe on campus. However, this percentage decreased to less than half, precisely 45.5%, after the attack. Before October 7, a significant majority of Jewish students, specifically 65.8%, reported feeling a high level of emotional safety, characterized as “very” or “extremely” safe. However, following October 7, this percentage decreased significantly to one-third, 32.5%. Students, particularly those who identify as Jewish, may hesitate to report incidents of antisemitism on campus due to a lack of knowledge about appropriate actions and concerns about potential negative consequences. A significant number of Jewish students, approximately 55%, chose not to take any action in response to an antisemitic incident. Many of these students cited fear of facing negative consequences as their primary reason for not responding. For instance, a study found that 14.8% of Jewish students who experienced anti-Jewish comments chose not to respond out of concern that the perpetrator might target them again. [16]

Commenting on the survey, Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, noted, “Jewish students are experiencing a wave of antisemitism unlike anything we’ve seen before, but shockingly, non-Jewish students barely see it. Since the October 7 massacre in Israel, Jewish students feel increasingly threatened on campus — but college leaders are not doing enough to address this very real fear of antisemitism. No student should feel threatened or intimidated on campus. No student should feel the need to hide their religious or cultural identities. No parent should ever have to wonder whether it’s safe to send their kids to certain schools — but that’s the sad reality for American Jews today. University administrators need to wake up and recognize that Jewish students uniquely need protection now — and policymakers must step up, provide resources, and enforce Title VI.” While Adam Lehman, President and CEO of Hillel International, remarked, “The data in this survey presents a disconcerting picture of the state of hate on campuses nationwide.” Widespread experiences with antisemitism, as reported in this survey, are driving Jewish students to hide their identities. This data reinforces the critical importance of Jewish spaces on campus and our mission at Hillel to build vibrant Jewish life.” [17]

Graham Wright, Sasha Volodarsky, Shahar Hecht, and Leonard Saxe conducted the Brandeis University research study “In the Shadow of War: Hotspots of Antisemitism on US College Campuses.” The report highlights the varying perceptions of Jewish students regarding the campus climate at different institutions. The Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies published the study. Their objective was to survey Jewish students at colleges and universities and identifies areas where incidents of antisemitism were particularly prevalent following the commencement of the Israel-Hamas conflict. The survey inquired about participants’ perspectives regarding hostility towards Jewish individuals and Israel, as well as their general level of concern regarding antisemitism.

The results were used to assign each institution a quartile ranking. They investigate the viewpoints of Jewish students regarding antisemitism on 51 college campuses in the United States after the Israel-Hamas conflict. The study seeks to examine the frequency of unfriendly school environments by analyzing survey responses from approximately 2,000 Jewish undergraduate students who attended the free Birthright Israel trip. The research merged data on negative attitudes towards Jewish people and Israel, as well as concerns about antisemitism, to create a comprehensive assessment of how Jewish students perceive a hostile and antisemitic environment in their schools.

The level of hostility towards Jews and Israel on college campuses varies greatly, with certain schools having a more hostile environment and others having fewer Jewish students. Jewish students enrolled in these educational institutions are at a higher risk of encountering offensive remarks or mistreatment, witnessing antisemitic visuals, slogans, or defacement, and being held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government solely due to their Jewish identity. Nevertheless, the differences among schools are relatively minor in comparison to the general perceptions of hostility. A greater number of students express worry about the connection between criticism of Israel and antisemitism rather than being concerned about traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes. Approximately 45% of individuals who hold unfavorable opinions of the Israeli government express significant concern regarding antisemitism associated with criticism of Israel. In the war’s context, Jewish students exhibit greater concern regarding antisemitism originating from the political left as opposed to the political right. Nearly 40 percent were afraid about letting others know they are Jewish, and half were uncomfortable about anyone knowing their views on Israel.

Jewish students often face anti-Israel hostility from fellow students on campus rather than from faculty or administrators. In schools characterized by high levels of hostility, approximately 80% of Jewish students reported experiencing frequent or occasional hostility towards Israel from their peers. Jewish students attending universities with higher levels of antisemitic hostility experience reduced feelings of safety, comfort, and a sense of belonging on their campus. There was no significant correlation observed between the levels of antisemitic hostility and the reporting of Jewish students regarding the impact of antisemitism on their daily lives. [18] According to the study, the major antisemitic hotspots include: “Boston University, Columbia University, George Washington University, New York University, Ohio State, University — Columbus, Queens College — CUNY, University of California — Berkeley, University of California — Los Angeles, University of California — San Diego, University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Wisconsin — Madison.”[19]

Although McGill’s administration constantly threatens to cut off the student group the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR), it never does, and even when they do not make the news, they are always maligning, attacking, and holding rallies against Israel. However, the October 7 attack was the perfect storm for them, holding contentious rallies every couple of days denouncing Israel and making pro-Israel Jewish students feel threatened. SPHR responded to the attacks with celebration, calling the attack “heroic” and telling supporters at the Day of Resistance rally on October 12 to “celebrate the resistance’s success.” Days after the attack on October 10, Christopher Manfredi, the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) of McGill University, already expressed disapproval of the social media posts made by SPHR McGill and instructed them to cease using the university’s name. Later the same week, SPHR brought what would become a regular occurrence of rallies participating in the “Day of Resistance.” [20] Michel Proulx, a McGill spokesman, also condemned SPHR, “McGill University denounces these communications; the celebration of acts of terror and violence is completely antithetical to McGill’s fundamental values.” They said that SPHR is now “wholly independent from McGill.”[21]

SPHR responded, “We reject the claims by the McGill administration that SPHR McGill’s social media posts ‘celebrate recent acts of terror and violence. We are not celebrating violence, we are looking at the prospect of liberation.” Oct. 19 SPHR McGill officially responded to the administration, “In the face of active genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, rather than offering its Palestinian students and allies support, McGill is doubling down on its complicity with the Zionist state of Israel. Intimidated by the presence of our activism, the McGill administration is attempting to erase SPHR McGill’s right to represent the students of our university, pressuring SSMU to revoke our name and penalize us.” The administrations threats of defunding is never going to be enough to dissuade SPHR.

On October 18, the Delegates’ Council of AGSEM announced their decision to support Palestine and SPHR McGill by approving two distinct motions and joined the SPHR for their pro-Palestinian rallies. The union expressed in their statement entitled, “AGSEM’s Executive Committee and Delegates’ Council Stand in Solidarity with Palestine and SPHR,” discussed the two motions passed about the recent conflict in Palestine and Israel, as well as the response of the employer towards the student-led organization Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill. The start of the statement sounded as if they might be sympathetic to Jews and against antisemitism. However, just the way they do not realize the priority pool in hiring is systematic discrimination, the AGSEM seems not to understand that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. According to the statement, The Executive Committee of AGSEM expressed its solidarity with Palestine, recognizing the severe violence and loss suffered by civilians in both areas. The committee also offers support to all affected members.

However, they wrote, “We reject the conflation of support for Palestine with antisemitism and of Judaism with Zionism.” The remaining statement sounded like a cliché of full antisemitic tropes when those who say them do not realize anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Those types of remarks only incite hate, harassment, and violence towards pro-Israel Jewish students, not giving them a chance at fair treatment with the union and TA hiring processes at McGill. No organization that writes a statement takes a position that clearly discriminates towards a segment of the student population is only discriminatory. They wrote, “We express our disapproval of acts of antisemitism, anti-Palestinian sentiment, anti-Arab sentiment, and white supremacist incidents that occur globally.” However, they called Israel an “illegal military occupation” and condemned the Canadian government’s support of Israel. Worst, the claimed occupation was the reason for Hamas’s brutal and barbaric attack on Israel. A summary was that the DC and EC acknowledge the ongoing Palestinian conflict, condemn the Israeli occupation, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians, condemning Canadian government support and media distortion…

The AGSEM also expressed support for McGill’s Students for Palestinian Human Rights (McGill SPHR) and their motion accusing Israel of genocide. To summarize, they indicated McGill University has selectively condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians, silenced the Students for Palestinian Human Rights (McGill SPHR) voice, and framed Israeli actions as a retaliatory response to Hamas’ actions. This has been a pattern of employer-sponsored silence and suppression of student organizing. They then argued that the AGSEM DC and EC urge McGill to reverse their premature and heavy-handed reaction to SPHR, supporting freedom of expression, academic freedom, and Palestinian liberation.

A summary of the Motion of solidarity with Palestine passed by the AGSEM Delegates’ Council on October 18, 2023, follows:

The AGSEM Delegates’ Council has condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinians and the ongoing genocide of Palestinians, arguing that support for Palestine is falsely labeled as antisemitism. The council acknowledges the physical and psychological costs of military violence on civilian populations and stands with its Muslim, Jewish, and Palestinian members. The council also condemns the Canadian government’s support for the Israeli state and the distortions of mainstream media in its coverage of the conflict. The council mandates the AGSEM Executive Committee to mobilize AGSEM members to participate in Palestinian solidarity actions and submits a motion to the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) to publicly support the Palestinian struggle and oppose Canadian imperialism’s role in the oppression of the Palestinian people. The council condemns McGill’s recent emails condemning a Students’ Society of McGill University-supported student-run club, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), and condemns any further harm that may come to Jewish, Muslim, Arab, or other racialized students or staff due to misplaced aggression resulting from inflammatory or accusatory media surrounding recent events in occupied Palestine and Israel. [22]

Their social media page might be the sister to the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR), filled with images of the members wearing Palestinian keffiyeh scarves at their collective union bargaining meeting with the McGill administration. A recent article in Reuters explains the controversy and offensiveness of those wearing the scarves. The keffiyeh head scarf represents solidarity with the Palestinian cause; supporters of Israel see it as a provocative gesture and an indication of endorsement of terrorism. Israel supporters claim that wearing the scarves shows support for the actions of Hamas militants during the October 7 cross-border raid, which led to the deaths of 1,200 Israelis, showing a lack of concern for the circumstances. The keffiye is a symbol associated with Palestinian nationalism and was worn by the late Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO. He would fold it to represent the outline of historic Palestine. Since then, it has been affiliated with support for the Palestinians and was worn by militants and terrorists. [23]

On December 6, the Post-Graduate Student Society voted on their pro-Palestinian motion. Their motion sided with the SSMU, accusing Israel of genocide, reiterated their support for SSMU, and condemned Israel. The resolution made it clear that at McGill, faculty, staff, and students are against Israel. The motion began:

“Whereas, since October 7, the Israeli army has waged a relentless, indiscriminate genocidal bombing campaign in Gaza, murdering over 15,900 Palestinians; Whereas, close to a thousand Israeli, Palestinian, and international scholars and legal practitioners have denounced the Israeli army’s atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza as a “textbook case of genocide” and have called for a permanent ceasefire;

The summary of their motion follows:

The Israeli army has been waging a genocidal bombing campaign in Gaza, killing over 15,900 Palestinians. Scholars, faculty, and students have criticized the atrocities and called for a ceasefire. McGill students voted 78% in favor of adopting the “Policy Against Genocide in Palestine,” calling for McGill to condemn the ongoing genocide and divest from companies that profit from it. McGill faculty, staff, and students have condemned McGill’s responses to the Gaza crisis. The PGSS, a representative and democratic body, has committed to human rights and equitable treatment for all peoples. The PGSS calls on McGill to cut ties with companies and divest from companies complicit in genocide.[24]

One of the significant rallies happened on October 20 in front of the Arts Building. Around 200 students and staff at McGill University participated in a protest against Israel organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill. The demonstrators vocalized slogans such as “Free free,” “Palestine,” and “We are present today to fulfill our obligation and exercise our right to show solidarity with the Palestinian population.” The protesters disapproved of McGill University’s collaboration with Tel Aviv University in Israel, citing concerns about its historical record of oppressive actions. Among the speakers were members of SPHR McGill, representatives from the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), and a professor from McGill University. The groups endorsed SPHR McGill and gathered in solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

The PYM organized a protest at 1 p.m. before the student protest on the McGill campus. The protest began in front of the U.S. Consulate General at the intersection of Rue Stanley and Rue St. Catherine. Approximately 100 individuals assembled to express their opposition to the Canadian and American governments’ endorsement of Israel, with chants of “Free free, Palestine” resonating in the background. Around 2 p.m., the crowd increased to approximately 300 individuals and proceeded towards Premier François Legault’s office on Rue Sherbrooke. They intended to join members of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an anti-Zionist Jewish organization that supports Palestinians. The IJV members were obstructing the entrance to the building. There was a significant police presence in the area, with streets closed around the university.[25]

On November 9, pro-Palestinian students at significant universities planned a “national day of shutdown” on the same day as the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht. McGill University organizers were concerned about the planned pro-Palestinian protest on campus, which they believe could pose a threat to Jewish students and other participants. However, there have been pro-Hamas rallies almost every week in front of the Arts Building at McGill. With the student group, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights is sponsoring and advertising most university students’ anti-Zionist activities. The principal of McGill University, Deep Saini, has increased security measures on campus due to concerns regarding the presence of promotional posters for a rally that promotes antisemitism.

Principal Saini described the posters displayed during a pro-Palestinian rally as “antisemitic” to the students. He was specifically referring to an image depicting individuals breaking glass windows in solidarity with Gaza during the “national day of shutdown.” In a statement, Saini wrote, “The poster features an image of a group of individuals kicking and breaking glass windows.” Publicizing an event through allusions to the destruction of property is troubling. Far worse is using an image of people breaking glass to encourage participation in an event planned for November 9, the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a series of violent attacks in Nazi Germany that saw mobs smash the windows of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses.”

The rally at McGill University in Canada happened after a forceful clash between factions supporting Israel and Palestine at Concordia University. This incident led to an arrest and injuries. The rally was organized as a component of a broader day of scheduled protests in response to appeals from politicians and university officials for peacefulness on campuses. The organizers criticized McGill’s depiction of the rally and the comments made by Concordia’s principal regarding the confrontation. The gathering subsequently participated in a peaceful protest outside Scotiabank, expressing their opposition to the bank’s role in supporting Israel’s policies of apartheid and the mistreatment of Palestinians. Police officers watched the protesters, who placed red posters over the bank’s entrance.

On November 8, 2023, three people were injured in an altercation at Concordia University’s Hall Building in Montreal. The fight took place between two groups of students at a university hall; the pro-Palestinian group was raising funds for Gaza by selling keffiyeh scarves, black and white scarves associated with Palestinian nationalism, and holding Palestinian flags. The Jewish, pro-Israel group was trying to raise awareness about the hostages taken captive by Hamas with a table draped with Israeli flags and pictures of Israeli hostages. The tension between the groups led to the fight and the arrest of one individual. Videos circulating on social media depict confrontations between the students. The Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and StartUp Nation student groups assert that their members were merely organizing events without participating in the altercation. They were unaware they had booked tables for the exact date and time. The spokesperson for StartUp Nation explained that the initial tension arose from a video showing a man wearing a keffiyeh scarf approaching a member of a Jewish group and speaking loudly.

This incident later led to a more significant altercation involving multiple individuals that lasted hours, although there are conflicting reports about the exact cause. A female student who was 22 years old committed an act of assault against a security guard who was 54 years old. As a result, both the student and another guard sustained minor injuries. Students were forcefully pushed, and Israeli flags were forcibly torn down. Hillel Concordia characterized the incident as aggressive and emphasized the existence of widespread antisemitic sentiment. Concordia banned two people from the campus, and neither were students. One was a Université de Montréal (UdeM) history lecturer, Yannis Arab, who was later suspended. [26]

Videos are circulating online of the incident, with anti-Israel protesters screaming, making threats, and ultimately resorting to physical violence. The instigator was Yannis Arab, who screamed, “Go back to Poland, sharmouta!” an Arabic slur for “whore.” Another video showed a 29-year-old woman screaming obscenities and a racial slur at the Jewish students. At the same time, another shows a crowd chanting “ceasefire now” at Jewish students and demonstrators from the pro-Palestinian side attempting to tear an Israeli flag before police arrived. In another video, a demonstrator yelled at the Jewish students, “You came and invaded my land; your land is in Europe!” Security guards tried to wall off the Jewish students to protect them. The videos have received millions of views online. [27]

Graham Carr, president and vice-chancellor of Concordia, responded to the attack: “For the good of our students, I strongly believe we need a cooling-off period to allow them to focus on their academic achievement. I’m confident we can agree that a line has been crossed in our city and on our campus, that there’s no place for hatred or violence in our midst, and that we must do our utmost to protect the sanctity of the university as a home for the collegial pursuit of knowledge and understanding.” Carr also remarked about the Swastikas found on the campus, “The university unreservedly condemns these deplorable acts and will make every effort to identify and bring those responsible to account for their behavior. I believe that the overwhelming majority of our community shares my complete abhorrence of these incidents and is appalled by them.” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante issued a statement on X saying, “Acts of violence such as those that affected Concordia students today and the attack on a synagogue are unacceptable. These hateful acts have absolutely no place in Montreal, a city of peace, security, and kindness.” [28] Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also denounced the recent events: “For me, violence and hate, antisemitism, and scenes such as the ones that we saw at Concordia University or shots fired at Jewish schools overnight — all of that is unacceptable, and it’s also not who we are.” [29]

A week later, on Thursday, November 17, Jewish students held a rally at Concordia in front of the same building where there had been a confrontation. Several hundred individuals of all ages, students, and non-students gathered outside the Hall Building at the downtown campus to express their opposition to an increase in antisemitic incidents occurring on Montreal campuses during the Israel-Hamas conflict. Anastasia Zorchinsky, the founder of StartUp Nation, an Israeli student group, organized a protest to advocate for the release of Israeli hostages. Last week, a conflict arose between individuals supporting Israel and those supporting Palestine on Concordia University’s campus. As a result, it became necessary to condemn acts of antisemitism occurring on campuses in Montreal publicly.

Zorchinsky highlighted that the primary motive behind the students’ presence was to ensure their safety rather than to cause delays in exams or extensions of assignments. She raised concerns about the growing acceptance of attacking individuals based on their beliefs in Canada. Zorchinsky expressed, “Why do I, a student, need to stand here today and fight for the safety of our students? Not for the delay of an exam or to extend an assignment, but simply to fight for the fact that they want to be safe. How have we gotten to the stage that in Canada it is OK and it is acceptable to attack someone for their beliefs?” At the periphery of the protest, a poster displaying a missing child was adorned with stuffed animals and red balloons. Many attendees wrapped themselves up in Israeli flags. They participated in singing along to live songs while holding signs that conveyed messages such as “Our love surpasses your hatred” and “Antisemitism is not solely a Jewish issue, but rather a concern for everyone.” After the event, the red balloons were released, floating above the surrounding buildings. [30]

After a month of rallies and rising tensions at McGill’s campus, the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) added a proposed motion to their fall referendum at the end of the list of referendum questions a Policy Against Genocide in Palestine. The motion was a simple one-line question hidden and almost not noticed until voting started on November 14 through the 20, asking on the ballot, “Do you agree to the SSMU’s adoption of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine?” As part of the motion, there is a call for the university to denounce the bombing campaigns in Gaza, which are described as genocidal. Additionally, there is a request to sever connections with corporations that are implicated in activities such as genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing. The public comments made by McGill officials are criticized for being perceived as threats toward students who express support for Palestinians in the aftermath of the war.

The Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) released a public notice addressing the increasing tensions and divisions on campus, which have resulted in heightened fear and anxiety among students. Nevertheless, Alexandre Ashkir, the president of SSMU, holds a different perspective. He argues that the university’s assertion that the policy might breach the SSMU’s memorandum of agreement could potentially undermine student democracy. Ashkir recognizes that dissolving the agreement would put the SSMU in a disadvantageous position. However, Ashkir emphasizes that there are several necessary steps, such as conducting a legal review, that need to be completed before the policy can be officially approved. “If we had thought that bringing this to referendum would create these divisions, we would not have let it go to referendum.”

McGill University has expressed disapproval of the student union’s suggested policy implementation. McGill argues that this policy would breach the university’s constitution and memorandum of agreement with the student union. These agreements regulate the union’s utilization of the McGill name and emblem, access to campus facilities, and funding obtained from student fees. University officials were concerned that the motion would add to campus conflicts, with a statement that expressed, “This proposed policy stands to further sharpen divisions in our community and render more vulnerable all students, including those who are Jewish, Muslim and/or Arab. This is a matter of serious concern to all of us.”

A pro-Israel student group at McGill University distributed an open letter requesting the university to remove the question from the referendum ballot. The letter discussed the concern about the existing challenging climate at the university and in Montreal, suggesting that the policy could potentially exacerbate the situation. They were considering the recent occurrences within the city, such as instances of gunfire targeting Jewish schools, a firebombing at a synagogue, and Jewish restaurants experiencing incidents of antisemitic profanity. The students express their support for freedom of speech and express deep concern over the loss of life caused by the war. However, it contends that the referendum question exceeds acceptable boundaries, perpetuates negative stereotypes concerning Jewish individuals, and amplifies the prevalence of antisemitic attitudes. The letter expressed, “The SSMU represents McGill University as an institution. Its current referendum not only tarnishes the reputation of our university, but it spreads inflammatory messages contributing to the distress of the community at large.” [31]

According to the results of the referendum, 78.7% of undergraduate students at McGill expressed their support for the ‘Policy Against Genocide in Palestine’ put forth by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). However, only 34% of McGill undergraduate students participated in the referendum. The policy mandates that McGill University’s administration publicly condemn the Israeli Defence Force’s bombing campaign, which is characterized as genocidal. Additionally, the policy calls for the severance of any connections between the university and entities involved in acts of genocide, settler colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.

In order to prevent the SSMU from ratifying the results, the Québec chapter of B’nai Brith filed a legal request known as an injunction in the Québec Superior Court. The plaintiff remained anonymous because they were scared for their safety. Their affidavit observed the situation at McGill, “The atmosphere on [the] McGill campus has become tense and frightening for Jewish students,” some of whom “hide any religious symbols of being Jewish, such as jewelry bearing the Star of David.” Henry Topas, B’nai Brith’s regional director for Québec, says no “segment of society is as affected and is subjected to hatred, harassment, intimidation and violence as is the population of our universities. And B’nai Brith Canada has taken the position that we wish to help in any way we can, especially in the legal area.”

In 2022, B’nai Brith initiated a legal proceeding against a referendum concerning motions with antisemitic undertones that were not heard as the vote on the matter expired before it could be addressed. Topas said the case pertained to allocating funds from the SSMU to the SPHR. Montreal Superior Court temporarily halted the ratification of an anti-Israel referendum by McGill University’s undergraduate association because their lawyers withdrew. The results will not be officially approved or put into action until the subsequent hearing scheduled for late March 2024. The inclusion of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine on the Fall Referendum ballot of the Students’ Society of McGill University has raised concerns due to evidence of discrimination and contravention. [32]

What has not made the news is the three letters that 28, then 70, and 90 professors, librarians, and support staff at McGill have signed supporting the SPHR and the Palestinians and opposing Israel using the age-old excuse universities do to allow the anti-Zionism to continue; its free speech. One letter was entitled, “McGill Professors, Librarians, and Staff support students’ democratic endorsement of the ‘Policy Against Genocide in Palestine.’” The second letter supported the SPHR’s referendum claiming genocide in Israel. As they noted in their letter, “Generations of students at McGill University have spoken out about justice in Palestine,” proving from their mouths that the harassment towards Jewish students has been going for years without stopping. They argued that McGill students had expressed their support for justice in Palestine. They expressed their rebuke of the administration’s inability to engage with the issue fairly and impartially, citing the university’s public statements and financial ties with the Israeli weapons industry.

In the letter they expressed:

In adopting this policy, the SSMU has acted in accordance with the clear letter of its constitution, specifically that “[t]he Society commits to demonstrating leadership in matters of human rights [and] social justice…” Contrary to allegations by the University’s administration, adopting a policy against the crime of genocide is in line with the SSMU’s obligations to respect universal principles of human rights and human dignity in general. In opposing genocide, a violation of human rights as such, the SSMU did not discriminate against or single out any specific nation, ethnicity or religion.

Neither is SSMU in violation of any of the rights of any particular McGill student groups, as alleged by some pro-Israel organizations. The Policy clearly targets corporations, institutions and donors complicit in acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Palestine, the gravity of which has already been emphasized by countless human rights organizations, international organizations, legal experts, and scholars around the world. We are confident that the student union will implement the Policy in full accordance with its constitutional obligations, as it is already doing with its other existing policies.

A week earlier, November 13, 2023, another petition entitled “Statement by Professors, Staff, and Librarians at McGill in response to the Principal’s and the Provost’s Biased Messages on Occupied Palestine.” According to the statement, the McGill professors and librarians said it was “about the biased, divisive, and non-factual nature of the messages sent by the Provost and Principal regarding the ongoing violence in Occupied Palestine. The upshot of the language used in these two messages is that McGill will, exceptionally, choose sides in a political conflict in favor of Israel, and that the loss of Arab lives is not of major significance to the administration. We also question how the decision to offer community-wide statements is made, given that the administration on some previous occasions has declined to offer statements when other devastating events affecting our community have occurred.”

Since October 7, “The McGill Daily” has continued its attacks on Israel, including editorial support for the Pro-Palestinian side and among their assaults included an “Open Letter: McGill for Palestine” published on November 29, with McGill student groups, both undergraduate and graduate, proclaiming their official support for the Palestinian side and defacto against the pro-Israel Jewish students. They expressed, “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’sUniversity’s recent emails on the ongoing genocide in Palestine.” Additionally, they demanded “That McGill’sMcGill’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.” With the number of professors and student groups spanning the different faculties and departments at McGill, how can Jewish students get fair treatment? How is this allowed to continue, and why is this happening? [33]

Both professors and students seemed afraid of reprisals. We are constantly seeing Jewish McGill defending the actions of the administration, believing the principal and top administrators are doing all possible to condemn and help the university’s Jewish students. However, are they if this antisemitism and anti-Israel activity continues regularly? From the 1930s, when rabbis and Montreal Jewish leaders worked with McGill admissions to limit Jewish students applying to the Faculty of Medicine being complicit with the quota system, to 2013, when the parent Jewish organizations refused to condemn McGill’s decision to award an honorary degree to anti-Israel Jewish philosopher Judith Butler. In contrast, the anti-Israel faction has been very outspoken, rallied, and control of McGill’s two student papers. They have faculty support with 103 professors who petitioned to uphold the Palestinian Solidarity Policy. The professors try to justify their support, claiming it supports freedom of speech and respect for democracy. “We support the students’ right to utilize democratic channels in order to campaign for these matters that impact the entire academic community.”

However, it is a misinterpretation to believe Canada considers freedom of speech a right, as it is in the United States. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights protects almost all speech. Canada is not a true democracy like the US; it is a commonwealth nation under the British monarchy, with a Parliament and Governor General under the Crown. There are too many exceptions to freedom of expression in Canada, and it is easier to be arrested for hate speech, slander, libel, and harassment in Canada than in the US. The rhetoric we have seen on the McGill campus would qualify as one or more of those offenses, but on the campus, students can hide under the university banner and find ways to justify their behavior, hiding behind democracy and human rights; but what about the rights of the university’s Jewish students.

In November 2023, education historian Jonathan Zimmerman and a University of Pennsylvania professor wrote an op-ed about the challenges of stopping campus antisemitism without limiting free speech, which equally protects Jewish students’ rights to defend Israel. His opinion piece was entitled, “Fight antisemitism by protecting free speech.” Zimmerman stated, “1. Antisemitism at American universities is real, and we should raise our voices against it. 2. We must protect free speech, even for ideas that we find antisemitic.” Zimmerman continued, explaining, “That sounds like a contradiction, I know. But if we erect new rules to restrict what we can say — about Jews, Israel, or anything else — we’ll lose the ability to function as teachers, scholars, and citizens. Rather than censoring antisemitism, we need to speak up wherever we see it.” “Let’s be clear: Violence is illegal, and so are direct threats of the same. It’s not enough for universities to denounce these acts; we must discipline people who engage in them. Nobody on campus should fear for their physical safety. But at the same time, nobody should expect that our schools will be safe from offensive speech. We can denounce hate and defend the right to say hateful things, all at the same time. It’s the mark of a first-rate intelligence. And, I hope, of a first-rate university.” [34]

The issue over campus activism and free speech in the US and Freedom of Expression in Canada has not to do with as much with the words but also the delivery and whether it explicitly targets a group as harassment. I have been seeing a complete lack of compassion for the Palestinians entirely from the Jewish community; not every one of them is Hamas. Suppose we are angered, disgusted, and horrified by Hamas’s brutality. In that case, we cannot denounce any peaceful sympathy for the millions of Palestinians, women, children, elderly, and babies caught in Hamas’s crossfire. However, that is not the advocacy we are seeing on campus. We are not seeing the peaceful rallies and gatherings prevalent all over North American Jewish communities and rallies. Supporting free speech would be supporting similar support for the Palestinians. Instead, we are seeing militancy, threats, harassment, instilling fear in Jewish students, and even violence for all the advocacy of free speech. This is where the line has to be drawn. Instead, militancy is being confused with freedom of speech; the administration is not drawing a red line, the red lines in the student and youth protest movements of the 1960s. University administrations then knew they had to prevent or at least attempt the anti-war protests from spewing onto their campuses.

Political historian Nicole Hemmer, an associate professor of history and director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Center for the Study of the Presidency at Vanderbilt University, recently made the connection between the two movements in her CNN op-ed “Why student protests against Israel are so painful, polarizing and complicated.” Hemmer’s article, however, is a pro-student movement examination. From a historical perspective, they seem less offensive than today’s pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist protests. However, the lessons from the 1960s can teach university administrations today how to confront out-of-control students and keep their campuses safer, or at least make a conscientious effort.

Hemmer pointed out that the ongoing crisis in the United States can be traced back to the historical background of student radicals. The students have been criticized since the 1960s for their demonstrations against issues such as anti-Black racism, the Vietnam War, poverty, and censorship. Although students have played a role in significant social change movements, their influence has been limited compared to politicians, business leaders, and university presidents. As a result, their political activism may be considered less impactful than that of other prominent figures and leaders in society. Hemmer’s remarks are my point exactly; the students are making noise, but it is the administration that allows for the antisemitic activity on campus to continue.

Hemmer takes a position on the side of the pro-Palestinian students, but she does notes recent events indicate that there is a lesson to be learned from the 1960s. It has been observed that influential individuals have historically utilized student protests and radicalism driven by the youth as a means to achieve political objectives. This tactic has had the effect of undermining the credibility and legitimacy of entire political parties and movements. This phenomenon has become increasingly noticeable in recent times, with social media and news platforms emphasizing extreme viewpoints while suppressing more nuanced conversations. However, here the noise is to avoid the real conversation about anti-Zionism and antisemitism on college campuses and that monetarily university administrators rather silently side with the pro-Palestinian side. This position makes them appealing to as defenders of free speech and the underprivileged, and the discriminated, while at the same time discriminating against Jews as they have been historically doing for over a century.

During the 1960s, student radicals in the United States expressed their support for Vietnam and opposition to American imperialism by utilizing symbols such as the Viet Cong flag and the Little Red Book of Mao Zedong. This political stance was uncommon in the US at that time. These symbols gained significance as essential reference points for students. The difference in those student protests was that the enemy was political leaders. Here, the pro-Palestinian protesters are making their fellow students the enemy because of their religion and pro-Israel position. They use the excuse of the outlier Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). This anti-Zionist Jewish organization supports the Palestinians to try to prove the movement is not anti-Semitic, when still more Jews support Israel than do not.

The anti-war student protesters provided ammunition for antiwar advocates to claim that the entire antiwar movement was against America. This allowed them to disregard the perspectives of young individuals and left-wing ideology, labeling them as ignorant and unpatriotic, without addressing their criticisms of American influence. The power of students was restricted, as universities, police, and political parties had the authority to suspend, expel, and apprehend protesters. The Democratic Party underwent a reform to enhance the inclusion of young individuals, yet this adjustment did not have a substantial impact on the party’s political stance in the subsequent years.

On April 23–30, 1968, leftist students took over Columbia University, NYC, occupying five buildings on the campus before forcibly being removed by the police. The year 1968 was one of the most turbulent years in modern American history and in the student movement, just as 2023 will go down as the most turbulent for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anti-Zionism on campus. The year was beginning, yet as early as April, it was already volatile. Opposition to the Vietnam War was at an all-time high, so much so that President Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for another presidential term. Just a few weeks before Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, student protests raged across the country’s universities, peaking in April 1968 with the standoff at Columbia University. Today’s university administrators can learn many lessons from the errors of the Columbia standoff. Administrators and government officials had to balance with letting the students run amok because of the optics of taking a stand against them and taking control.

Historian Jeffrey Meyers recounts in his article “Lionel Trilling & the Crisis at Columbia,” the protests “took place during a volatile and often explosive period in American history: between the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (September 1964) and the student riots in Paris, May 1968, between the assassinations of Martin Luther King in Memphis, April 4, 1968 and of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, June 5, 1968, between the March on the Pentagon, October 1967 and the bloody protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, August 1968, between the Tet Offensive February 1968 and the My Lai Massacre, March 1968, and the escalating protest against the war in Vietnam.” (Myers, 2003) On April 23, leftist students began a strike at Columbia University, which lasted eight days, culminating in a riot in the early hours of April 30 when the police busted the students. The administration needed to do more to stop the protests than just now.

After eight days into the standoff, there was no solution in sight. The two groups could not meet in agreement, and university officials were concerned that the confrontation was only escalating. President Kirk granted police permission to remove student radicals from campus facilities eight days into the occupation to end the stalemate. Mayor Lindsay feared a riot, and a massacre led to prolonged strikes. Mayor Lindsay looked for advice from Yale’s President Kingman Brewster, who told him, “the very future of the American university depended on punishing the strikers.” (McCaughey, 456) His advice helped persuade the mayor to allow the police to move in. However, forcibly removing the students led to violence and mounting injuries as the police forcibly removed the students and dealt with a rowdy crowd. Then, as the Yale president’s advice was right, the students going too far needed to be punished; university officials needed to decide and act before they had to involve the police. University officials need to take a stand before it goes too far; students are testing officials, and the administrators are allowing them to go too far.

In December 2023, McGill University finally took a stand and prohibited the student Palestinian rights group from using the name “McGill.” This decision was made after the group expressed support for the October 7 Hamas attack on Israeli civilians, describing it as “heroic.” However, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) has committed to persisting in utilizing the McGill brand on SPHR’s social media channels. A representative for the group told the press, “We are rejecting this name change because we are McGill students who have a right to political expression on the McGill campus. This is just another blatant way to smear the only group on campus which is representing Palestinian students.”

McGill’s interim executive director of marketing and communications, Susan Murley, refuted allegations of suppressing political expression. Murley explained, “The university asked the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to revoke permission from the SPHR based on particular posts by the club on social media that described the Hamas attack of October 7 and hostage-taking as ‘heroic,’ The university cannot be, or seen to be, associated with a celebration of taking of civilian hostages. This post by SPHR was antithetical to the university’s values and stands to undermine the important work aimed at bringing our community together through the Initiative Against Islamophobia and Antisemitism (IAIAS). Murley continued, “While SPHR may choose to express itself in the manner it wishes, it may no longer use McGill’s name. The university has clearly indicated to the SSMU that the revocation should not be interpreted as the university taking a position on the Middle East and emphasized that the university would act in the same manner concerning any club that used the McGill name when posting content of a similar nature.”

McGill University’s decision to revoke recognition stands in contrast to the hesitation of Harvard and some other American universities in addressing student organizations that support and celebrate the Hamas attack on Israel. On November 10, Columbia University also suspended their campus Palestinian groups cutting off their funding. Columbia University has taken the decision to temporarily suspend two student organizations, namely Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, for the remainder of the fall term. This action has been taken as a result of these organizations’ violation of campus event policies. The ban was enacted due to a “unauthorized event” that occurred on Thursday, which involved a student walkout advocating for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. According to Gerald Rosberg, a senior executive vice president at the institution and chair of a safety committee, the groups are required to show their commitment to adhering to university policies and engaging in discussions with Columbia officials in order to have the suspension lifted.[35]

Cutting off funding and preventing the student groups from using the university’s name is minimal for the university administration and leadership to do and show the public they are trying to combat antisemitism on their campuses, but is it enough? The Quebec Superior Court temporarily halted the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) pro-Palestinian policy motion following a request for an injunction made by a Jewish student. However, members of the Canadian Parliament are speaking out against Canadian universities’ inaction over the outbreak of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Five Members of Parliament (MPs) have written a letter to the presidents of twenty-five of Canada’s most prominent universities, seeking clarification on their actions taken to address incidents of antisemitism occurring on their campuses.

Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather initiated the letter with former justice minister David Lametti, former public safety minister Marco Mendicino, Winnipeg MP Ben Carr, and Montreal MP Anna Gainey. Collectively, they addressed the presidents of Canadian universities, seeking their input regarding the measures implemented to ensure the safety and well-being of Jewish students and staff members. The Members of Parliament anticipate receiving replies by January 20 and aim to incorporate an examination of antisemitism on university campuses. Toronto Metropolitan University and York University are currently facing legal action due to allegations of negligence in ensuring the safety of Jewish students.[36]

Housefather wrote about the letter:

“I was joined by my Liberal friends and colleagues Marco Mendicino, Ben Carr, David Lametti — LaSalle Émard Verdun and Anna Gainey as we sent a letter the Presidents of the 25 biggest Canadian universities. We asked them what efforts they are making to deal with the wave of antisemitism on their campuses and whether the calling for genocide against Jews would violate their code of conduct. We gave them until January 20th to respond. Note that both of these initiatives were things that I was able to do as an MP. They had nothing to do with the government or what party I belong to. MPs have a lot of power and the person you elect in your riding counts a lot.” [37]

MP Housefather has been the most outspoken government member in advocating for the Jewish community and students on campus. In a December 14 social media post, he expressed the December 13 motion:

“Last week, we heard the presidents of American universities Harvard, MIT and Penn testify before a parliamentary committee. They were unable to answer clearly that calling for the Jewish genocide violated their code of conduct. Earlier this week, I presented a motion to the House Justice Committee to study antisemitism with a focus on college campuses. Today, my Liberal friends and colleagues Marco Mendicino, Ben Carr, David Lametti, and Anna Gainey joined me in sending a letter to the presidents of Canada’s 25 largest universities. We asked them what efforts they are making to counter the wave of anti-Semitism on their campuses and whether calling for genocide against Jews violates their code of conduct. We have given them until January 20th to respond. It should be noted that these two initiatives are things that I was able to do as an MP. They have nothing to do with the government or my party. Deputies have a lot of power and the person you elect in your constituency matters a lot.” [38]

In November, the SSMU (Students’ Society of McGill University) temporarily halted its resolution, which had called for the university to denounce Israel’s bombing in Gaza as genocide and sever connections with corporations implicated in acts of genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. This decision was made after the deputy provost, Fabrice Labeau, determined that the Students’ Society had violated the terms of the memorandum of agreement. Labeau commented, “We have had multiple meetings with both parties attempting to reach a mutual agreement and understanding to resolve the issue without removal of the McGill name. However, this effort was not fruitful and we were not able to reach an agreement. As such, we regret to announce that SPHR will no longer be able to use the McGill name.” [39]

In a December 20 statement, Hillel commended McGill’s administration for the small gestures and steps to combat these attacks. “The Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) group continues to defy orders by McGill University as well as the SSMU student union to withdraw their use of the McGill name. The revocation of the McGill name was in response to the group’s celebration of acts of terror and violence as being “antithetical to McGill’s fundamental values.” SPHR is also responsible for reprehensible, anti-Semitic chants on and off campus. Their actions have caused much division and angst among students. There is no place for Jew-hatred on campus on anywhere in our society. McGill took appropriate and effective action given SPHR’s conduct. However, more must be done to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors.” Hillel is right. More has to be done; SPHR is one of the symptoms but not the root of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on McGill’s campus.[40]

All McGill administrators and other university administrators ever do for Jewish students is rhetoric, nothing more than words with zero threat of repercussions if the group does not adhere to it. That is the problem of all administrators in this fight against antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus: they give statements, but there are no actions, and in history, the only clear actions were against Jewish students, from quotas to the passive aggressiveness of today. In a recent article, McGill Historian Gil Troy, “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.” [41]

Troy calls university presidents and administrators “academic racketeers, these gatekeepers guarding access to America’s most cherished credentials, who have executed the greatest bait-and-switch in educational history. Decades ago, it was corrupt enough: Parents paid thousands, thinking they were buying the best teachers for their kids, while we professors were hired based on research skills not classroom effectiveness. Today, parents pay hundreds of thousands, while donors fork over tens of millions, thinking they are buying the best liberal education for their kids, fostering critical thought. However, many professors now are hired based on fealty to one particular ideology, which they impose in the classroom. How odd. Millions of parents collectively pay billions so their children can be bullied into buying an anti-American, Marxist-infused ideology demeaning those who can afford the insane tuition bills these very institutions charge. No wonder this scam’s beneficiaries keep smirking.”

Universities are bastions of leftist ideology and activism as long as the activism is not favorable towards Israel; that is why Jewish studies professors frown on their Jewish students being pro-Israel activists and why they stay out of the conversation and debate on Israel. Some Jewish studies are too afraid that the optics of any activism might ruin their place and favor in the eyes of the university administration; Jewish students are left to fend against antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus. Although this type of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS speech is epidemic on almost all university campuses in North America, and in the past semester, the activity has increased all over the country at campuses, one cannot blame the students alone.

The university administration has to take responsibility; too many North American universities have antisemitic pasts, with a majority having participated in an unofficial, official quota system that limited the admission of Jewish students in the years after the First World War and extended past the post-Second World War era. McGill is continually Canada’s top university; the Harvard of the North is also the most prestigious university in the country based on reputation if not statistically and ranking-wise. McGill and other universities continually allow the antisemitism and anti-Zionism to continue in their history and present positions, insisting that the rhetoric and action are free speech and justifiable. This study aims to examine how McGill, Quebec, and Canadian universities hide behind this excuse to continue this endless cycle of antisemitism plaguing generations of students.

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, 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

[1] ADL, Adl Reports Unprecedented Rise In Antisemitic Incidents Post-Oct. 7 |. “ADL Reports Unprecedented Rise in Antisemitic Incidents Post-Oct. 7 | ADL.” ADL, December 11, 2023.

[2] NBC News. “White House Condemns University Presidents after Contentious Congressional Hearing on Antisemitism,” December 7, 2023.

[3] Willick, Jason. “College Presidents Reveal Three Surprise Truths about Free Speech and Antisemitism.” The Washington Post, Dec 09, 2023.

[4] Adl, Adl Reports Unprecedented Rise in Antisemitic Incidents Post-Oct. 7 |. “ADL Reports Unprecedented Rise in Antisemitic Incidents Post-Oct. 7 | ADL.” ADL, December 11, 2023.

[5] “We’re Witnessing the Highest Rise of Antisemitism in 50 Years: Irwin Cotler.” Montreal Gazette, Oct 14, 2023.

[6] Rubin, Jennifer. Lipstadt: ‘Antisemitism is Like a Virus for which there is no Cure’. Washington, D.C., United States Washington, D.C.: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, 2023.

[7] Forward. “Gunshots at Montreal Jewish Schools as McGill U Braces for a Pro-Palestinian Rally Advertised with Images of Broken Glass.” The Forward, November 10, 2023.

[8] Gee, Marcus. A Famous Community, an Ancient Hatred: Montreal Jews are Confronting a Wave of Antisemitism Like Many have Never seen. Toronto: The Globe and Mail, Nov. 17, 2023.

[9] Kinsella, Warren. “Weak Political Will Allowing Anti-Semitism to Rise in Montreal.” The Toronto Sun, Dec 21, 2023.

[10] “Indeed, three-quarters see both as significantly problematic, while just 11 per cent of Canadians feel that each is ‘not really a problem,’” the survey explained. “However, there are varying perceptions of the severity of the problem both antisemitism and anti-Muslim attitudes pose.”










[20] Lowrie, Morgan. “Canadian Universities Navigate Campus Stress Caused by Israel-Hamas War.” Canada’s National Observer, October 13, 2023.

[21] Lowrie, Morgan. “Canadian Universities Navigate Campus Stress Caused by Israel-Hamas War.” Canada’s National Observer, October 13, 2023.




[25] Admin. “Pro-Palestine Protests Rally against McGill University and Legault — The Tribune.” The Tribune, November 14, 2023.

[26] Montreal. “Montreal Lecturer Suspended in Fallout of Concordia Altercation over Israel-Hamas War,” November 10, 2023.


[28] The Canadian Jewish News. “A Clash between Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian Student Groups at Concordia University Led to One Arrest,” November 9, 2023.


[30] Thomas, Katelyn. “Peaceful Concordia Rally Condemns Antisemitism; Demonstrators Call for End of Hatred and Return of 240 Israeli Hostages.” Montreal Gazette, Nov 17, 2023.

[31] “Amid Tensions, McGill Students Vote on pro-Palestinian Policy | Montreal Gazette,” November 16, 2023.


[33] The McGill Daily. “Open Letter: McGill for Palestine,” November 30, 2023.

[34] Zimmerman, Jonathan. “Fight Antisemitism by Protecting Free Speech: That Sounds Like a Contradiction, but if we Erect New Rules to Restrict what we can Say, we’ll Lose the Ability to Function as Teachers, Scholars, and Citizens.” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov 12, 2023.

[35] Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy. “Columbia University Suspends Two Pro-Palestinian Student Organizations.” Higher Drive, November 10, 2023.

[36] “MPs Ask Universities about Code of Conduct Violations: Focus on Response to Antisemitism.” Toronto Star, Dec 15, 2023.



[39] DERFEL, AARON. “Palestinianrights Group Defies Order from McGill.” Montreal Gazette, Dec 20, 2023.


[41] Troy, Gil. “Our Failed Colleges: Time to Get Radical.” Jewish Journal, December 20, 2023.



Bonnie K. Goodman

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