Following McGill University student rep Igor Sadikov advocating violence against Israel supporters, Marina Cupido, editor of the McGill student newspaper The McGill Daily, has penned a piece defending him and his statement, while herself ripping Zionism.
Over the course of the following day, Thursday February 9, an intense storm of criticism developed around Sadikov and his tweet, with many at McGill and in the wider world portraying it as an incitement to anti-Semitic violence.
This interpretation rests on the conflation of Zionism with Jewishness which, while widely believed, is in fact a misconception; many Jewish people do not identify with the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism or the goals and actions of the state of Israel.
Moreover, it should be noted that Sadikov himself is Jewish, a fact which has been ignored by many media outlets and in the discussion surrounding this controversy.
The piece also goes on to describe the infamous meeting discussing Sadikov’s conduct, which led at least one participant to feel very targeted, disgusted and disappointed. And while it does not describe the antisemitic ugliness that was apparently on display, what it does describe is in itself revealing.
Like the turnspeak on display, in which Sadikov and other Israel haters claimed they are the ones who feel unsafe.
It was in this incendiary context that SSMU Council met on Thursday evening. While such meetings are generally only attended by the councillors themselves and a few members of the student press, this one had attracted a crowd of roughly 50 students.
Some came with the intention of confronting Sadikov for perceived incitement to violence, while others wished to stand in solidarity with him and call attention to what they saw as political bias underlying the attacks against him.
After a number of lengthy presentations which were previously scheduled for that Council meeting, a question period began during which members of the gallery could air their concerns, and have them addressed by members of Council.
In response to this, engineering student Laura Khoury said that as a Palestinian, she felt unsafe due to the presence of Zionists on Council.
“Since SSMU has a social justice mandate,” asked Khoury, “why does it allow Zionist councilors on Council, when Zionist ideology is inherently [linked to] ethnically cleansing Palestinians?”
“Your question I think is really inappropriate,” replied Social Work Representative Jasmine Segal, “because freedom of speech [means that] people are allowed to believe what they want.”
Segal publicly identified herself as a Zionist, and characterized Sadikov’s tweet as a “hate crime.” When this statement elicited criticism from some in the gallery, she stated that she had consulted thoroughly with her constituents before the meeting, and was using vocabulary which they had endorsed.
Much of the question period involved heated debate over how exactly to define Zionism, and over who had experienced violence.
Iris Madeleine asked Council what would be done “to guarantee Igor’s safety after this hateful campaign against him.”
AUS President Becky Goldberg, who was present in the gallery, replied to Madeleine, making it clear that she was speaking as an individual, not as the voice of her Society.
“It seems to be a little bit of […] a political witch-hunt,” said Goldberg, “and I have tried to ensure Igor’s safety just in providing my personal support […] but we have been contemplating formulating a statement that does not condone the use of […] defamation or […] the promotion of harm in response to something that people perceived as harm.”
Indeed, on the following day, AUS published a second statement on its Facebook page, condemning the violence enacted or threatened against Sadikov in recent days.
“I am grateful for President Goldberg’s support provided on a personal level,” responded Sadikov at Council. “That said, I’m in agreement with [Madeleine] about the need for institutional support. Over the past 24 hours I have received hundreds of insults and threats on social media, my personal information has been posted online, it has been reported to various institutions and authorities. I cannot say that […] I feel safe.”
Remember, Sadikov implored his social media followers to “Punch a Zionist today” and now he is being portrayed as the victim.
In many ways, this is a microcosm of the Arab-Israeli conflict, where Israel is portrayed as the aggressor.