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Support for the Black Students' Network at McGill after defamatory attacks for endorsing BDS

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Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is appalled at recent attacks on the Black Students Network (BSN) at McGill University in the wake their support, as part of a coalition of 19 campus groups, of a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel's violation of Palestinian human rights. While the resolution was ultimately defeated at ratification, attacks posted on BSN's Facebook page charged that the group's tweets, sent during the vote, were anti-Semitic. As BSN has said, their tweets "did not use any language that would suggest anti-Semitism -- nothing about religion, Israel or Judaism. BSN does not conflate whiteness and Jewishness, recognizing that Judaism has roots all over the world. BSN stands against all oppressions, on and off campus." In stark contrast, those criticizing BSN singled out this Black student group, some delivering their attacks using jarringly racist and Islamophobic language.

Allegations of anti-Semitism against Palestinian human rights activists and the BDS movement represent a desperate attempt by the Israel lobby to discredit what has become a powerful global phenomenon. As Black student groups have begun to build alliances with the Palestinian struggle, institutional Jewish organizations in the United States have responded by targeting Black student groups in an attempt to drive a wedge between Black and Palestinian organizations and activists. As Robin D.G. Kelley notes, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) attempts to use Black students as "moral shields" to make the case for Israeli impunity, creating a seemingly anti-racist defence for Israel. To this end, anti-BDS strategists have specifically sought out Black student group alliances on campuses in the U.S. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has recently endorsed and begun to put similar practices into effect in Canada.

One disturbing way this is happening is through Zionist organizations' appropriating and coopting the idea of "intersectionality" -- a concept created by and for Black women -- to garner the sympathy of people of colour for the Zionist project on campus. This deep erasure of Black women's voices and Black knowledge is particularly evident in the Canadian context, where an insidious culture of Black invisibility and silencing operates on university campuses. Such a culture predominates at elite institutions like McGill, where there are no courses focused on Black Canadian history or life, often no Black profs or lecturers (of 1686 profs at McGill, three are Black), and where the language of intersectionality is widely appropriated in white feminist discourse and syllabi in ways that completely erase Black women's intellectual and organizing traditions. In this context, to single out and target a Black student group from among the numerous groups that supported the BDS motion is ethically abhorrent.

These spurious accusations of anti-Semitism seek to accomplish several ends. Importantly, they distort our ability to identify real instances of anti-Semitism. Moreover, they serve to reinforce racial hierarchies that simplistically classify "Jews" as white and position Black Canadians and other racialized people as subordinates in the Canadian racial hierarchy. Such a move both erases Jews of colour and seeks to secure racial dominance for white Jews. Finally, this "divide and conquer" strategy is part of a campaign to undermine the powerful solidarity networks that unite those who fight tirelessly for the rights of Palestinian and other oppressed people and which sees these struggles as profoundly interconnected. Rachel Zellars, a lawyer and lecturer at McGill, has described the work of BSN as "organizing around anti-Black racism and strategically, reflectively creating allyships in the context of anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles, inherently linked."

IJV commends the BSN on their support of BDS and their careful attention to Jewish racial and political diversity in their response to undeserved accusations of anti-Semitism. They represent a model for principled participation in coalitions across difference. Indeed they remind us that expressions of racism or anti-Semitism have no place in a movement that seeks a more just world. Those of us who challenge Israeli state violence and seek justice for Palestinians must fight against efforts by the Israel lobby to fracture our coalitions and alliances. We will not be deterred by false accusations of antisemitism and other strategies intended to deflect attention away from the unbearable conditions under which Palestinians continue to live, and die, in increasingly large numbers.

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