McGill, News

Dozens of students rally, call on McGill to divest from companies supporting the Israeli regime

On Dec. 14, dozens of students gathered in front of the Arts Building and demanded that the university end its investments in companies supporting or operating in the state of Israel, amounting to around 20 million dollars in total. The Divestment From Genocide rally—organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill*, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill, and the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM)—took place at the same time as the university’s second Board of Governors (BoG) meeting of the semester. 

SPHR McGill has found that, as of June 30, 2023, the university invests in 12 companies that are tied to the monetary or arms funding of the Israeli state. Some of these investments include $1,608,930 in Thales, which manufactures weapons and collaborates with Israeli defense companies, and $1,507,748 in Safran, which provides military technology to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. 

Organizers started assembling at 4 p.m., chanting “Free Palestine” to warm up a crowd of around sixty protesters. The number of students grew closer to a hundred as the rally moved in front of the James Administration Building, where the BoG was meeting to discuss, among other matters, the university’s investments for the next fiscal quarter. Kareem, a representative from SPHR McGill addressed students, informing them of the BoG’s plans to end the university’s investment in fossil fuels, and claiming this is insufficient.

“You should be angry, because McGill tomorrow will send an email, assuming the divestment vote passes, touting this accomplishment and they will use it to advertise itself as an institution motivated to bring about positive social change,” Kareem said. “We deny this because our university has offered not one word of acknowledgement for the [19,453] innocent Palestinians who have lost their lives.” 

Alice Maitlis, U1 Arts and a representative of IJV McGill, then addressed the crowd and asserted the Jewish community’s support for Palestine. 

“Since October 7, my Jewish peers and I have seen the McGill administration constantly weaponize our identities to justify their support of the genocidal state of Israel,” Maitlis said. “We are here to say not in our name [….] We condemn the blatant attempts to conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism. We know that to stand against apartheid and genocide is not antisemitic.”

The speech was followed by the crowd chanting “McGill, McGill, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

In an interview with The Tribune, a representative of the McGill Lebanese Students Association who wished to remain anonymous expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.  

“All of our freedoms are interlinked at the end, so by fighting for the Palestinians, [students] are able to dismantle the system that is oppressing all of the smaller groups and minorities,” they said.  “I hope to see more and more people protesting and speaking up, advocating for divestment, for freedom, and for liberation because it is crucial for everyone to know about what is happening in order for Palestine to be free, and in order for them to be free.”

Protesters’ “Divest now” chants grew louder at around 5:30 p.m., as members of the BoG walked out of the James Administration building, greeted by cries of “Shame.” Members of the administration walked away from the rally without responding. 

In a written statement to The Tribune,  McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle explained that they do not invest in individual stocks or companies, but rather go through external fund managers who select investment for mandates in segregated accounts and in pooled funds, “the composition of which change continuously.” 

“In July 2022, McGill became a signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), a leading global network for investors who are committed to integrating [environmental, social and governance] (ESG) considerations into their investment practices and ownership policies,” Mazerolle wrote. “As a result, 99 per cent of the [McGill Investment Pool] (MIP) assets are managed by those who follow an ESG Policy or are signatories of the UNPRI.”*At the time of the event, discussion between the McGill administration and SPHR concerning the removal of “McGill” from the group’s name had not yet concluded.

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