A photo of the Arts Building at McGill University.
The Arts Building at McGill University. Credit: DXR / Wikimedia Commons

Last month, Jewish service organization B’nai Brith announced that they’ll be funding McGill student Jonah Fried’s lawsuit against the university’s administration after “repeated anti-Israel referendums” occurred at the school. The lawsuit is also targetting the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the university’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) group. 

The lawsuit comes after the SPHR group sought to create a Palestine Solidarity Policy at the university. In doing so, the group held a referendum in which 71 per cent of the McGill student body voted in favour of the policy in March of 2022. However, despite the overwhelming support, the SSMU refused to ratify the policy, which was an unprecedented move for the student union.

Before students voted in the referendum, Fried, who is a fellow of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, tried to block voting. After the student body voted in favour of the policy, Fried also reached out to the SSMU board in an attempt to stop it from being implemented. 

B’nai Brith claims that the SPHR, SSMU and McGill administration endorsed the referendum’s document which accused Israel of engaging in “settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians.” The Jewish rights organization claims that the document “compelled SSMU to boycott virtually all Jewish clubs and associations on campus.”

B’nai Brith also stated that they’re pursuing legal action because the McGill administration has not cut funding to the SSMU, despite saying that they’d do so. 

“We’re standing up for this Jewish student, and through him, all Jewish students on campus who feel unsafe and unwelcome as a result of continued anti-Israel referendums by their student society,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada in a statement.

“They’re actually on their side”

Despite never officially adopting the referendum, the lawsuit claims that the McGill administration and SSMU endorsed the Pro-Palestine policy. Leila Kanafani, a member of SPHR said that this was not the case.

“I find it quite laughable actually,” she said in an interview with rabble.ca. “It’s ridiculous for B’nai Brith to also sue the McGill administration and the SSMU when they’re actually on their side and they’ve succeeded in stopping the policy from being implemented.” 

At a webinar hosted by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute in support of the pro-Palestine students of McGill last month, SPHR member Sarah explained that the university’s administration never offered the group any support, even when they were being harassed while campaigning for the Palestine Solidarity Policy. 

After the McGill administration’s continuous attempts to block the pro-Palestine students and the SSMU’s eventual refusal to ratify and implement the Palestine Solidarity Policy, the SPHR published parodies mocking the board’s decision. As a result, the SSMU board suspended SPHR McGill from their student union for 105 days. 

“They’re attack dogs” 

Despite the hardships that the SPHR have faced from their school administration and student union, they have received support from several outside organizations. 

One of these groups is Just Peace Advocates, a Canadian-based independent human rights organization that sponsored the previously mentioned webinar. The organization has advocated for Palestinian rights for years, and its co-founder, Jonathan Kuttab, also feels strongly about the issue. 

“We feel that those who try to silence Palestinian activism are also hurting people’s Charter rights,” said Kuttab in support of the SPHR. “We thought that it’d be important that there be an organization that can offer them legal protection or information about their legal rights.”

Yves Engler, a fellow for the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, feels that B’nai Brith has been “bullying” the Pro-Palestine students of McGill and that this lawsuit is the latest of their intimidation tactics. 

“B’nai Brith are the attack dogs; that’s how they market themselves within the Pro-Israel lobby groups. So I think that they’re doing this, one, to create a sense of intimidation and, two, for their own internal and institutional rationale,” said Engler. 

Pro-Palestine activist and former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters also voiced his support for the SPHR in an open letter that criticized B’nai Brith and their legal action. Waters has been a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights and was a speaker at the recent webinar hosted by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.

“It’s invigorating us”

With the new school year just around the corner, the SPHR’s future is uncertain as many details and questions regarding this lawsuit remain unanswered. However, Kanafani says that the Pro-Palestine student group plans to return to a business-as-usual approach once their suspension is up at the end of August as they hope to keep spreading the word of their activism on campus.

“I’m really not worried at all. In fact, it’s the opposite, we’re quite proud,” she said. “We’re going to walk on this campus with our heads held high. If this lawsuit is an attempt to intimate us, to try and make us cower and afraid of bringing anything on, it’s invigorating us to do quite the opposite.”

The McGill University administration was contacted but refused to comment.