McGill, News

Profs4Palestine campus tour highlights McGill’s academic ties to Israel

In the late afternoon of April 10, a crowd of around 50 staff and students gathered in front of the Nahum Gelber Law Library for a subversive “esprit rassembleur” tour of McGill. Led in collaboration by Profs4Palestine—a group of McGill professors united against the ongoing genocide of Palestinians—and students, the event took participants across campus to discuss the complicity of several McGill faculties in the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. 

Omar Farahat—an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and an organizer of the event—acknowledged the importance of student-led mobilization on campus in support of Palestine over the last several months in a written statement to The Tribune

“[The idea of collaboration] came after the administration sent several messages threatening police intervention and legal prosecution against protesting and striking students, which made this collaborative effort more urgent as a sign of solidarity among students and professors,” Farahat wrote.

On March 28, Provost and Executive Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi sent an email to the McGill community defending the university’s choice to call police to campus on student demonstrators, also noting that the police had made at least one arrest and that McGill was pressing charges. Manfredi ended the email by reinforcing the university’s commitment to protecting McGill’s esprit rassembleur—the idea of the university as a site where people come together and exchange ideas. The tour’s name is a reference to Manfredi’s use of the term in this email.

In an email to The Tribune, McGill’s Media Relations Office wrote that the university respects community members’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly as long as they remain within the limits of McGill’s policies and the law. The office stated that when demonstrators’ actions violate these rules, police will intervene to protect the safety of everyone on campus. They also explained that McGill will not sever academic ties with Israeli institutions “simply because of where [they are] located.”

“As the president [Deep Saini] stated in his Nov. 2 message to the community, weighing in on geopolitical crises around the world lies beyond a university’s mandate and role,” the office wrote. “Our academic mission is most faithfully served when institutional views are limited to what happens here on our campuses, so that all students, faculty, and staff feel included as members of our community, regardless of their identities and personal beliefs.”

After discussing the Faculty of Law’s complicity in the genocide of Palestinians, the tour moved to the Education Building. On the front steps of the building, speakers criticized the faculty’s academic partnership with Tel Aviv University—which is involved in research and development for the Israeli military—through the Sylvan Adams Sports Science Institute. They also denounced the faculty’s failure to recognize the ongoing scholasticide in Gaza, including the destruction of all 12 universities.

Following stops in front of the Bronfman Building and McConnell Engineering Building to discuss the faculties of management and engineering, the tour headed to the Macdonald-Harrington Building to discuss the School of Architecture’s academic ties to Israel. There, a student speaker and Professor Ipek Türeli condemned the faculty’s celebration of being gifted the professional archive of Moshe Safdie, who designed the Israeli settler city Modi’in on dispossessed Palestinian land. They also criticized the faculty’s curriculum for failing to make students aware that the buildings on which they attend class—as well as the “vacant plots” where they are asked to design architectural proposals—are on unceded or stolen land. 

One of the main student organizers for the tour, Alex*, told The Tribune that the tour also reflects the changing strategies of activist groups for Palestine on campus over the course of the academic year.

“Last semester, we did a broader divestment strategy, so that targeted McGill’s investment portfolios,” Alex said in an interview with The Tribune. “This semester, we pivoted towards academic complicity, which I think is more dangerous, because it does the job of normalizing these institutions and the work that they do to support the Israeli state and the military. So the pickets and such have been like a shift in that kind of strategy, and this tour […] parallelled that shift.”

Rula Jurdi Abisaab, a professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies, was also among the event’s organizers and speakers. Abisaab noted that Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at McGill and Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill organized a similar student-led alternative campus tour last semester. This event inspired a group of professors—including Abisaab and Professor Michelle Hartman—to bring together staff and students to create the Esprit Rassembleur tour. 

“[SPHR and IJV] have created an atmosphere of awareness that is phenomenal [….] They were an inspiration to us,” Abisaab said. “We built on some of the scripts they had actually prepared earlier, and then we did our own scripts or additions.”

The tour ended at the Hochelaga Rock near Roddick Gates. Anna Shah Hoque, a course lecturer in the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, highlighted that McGill positions the rock as a symbol of Indigenous representation on campus while they fail to take real steps toward decolonization.

“The rock gains more meaning than actual living lives and lost lives, so it mutes settler accountability in amending existing practices and policies on campus and elsewhere,” Shah Hoque said. 

Furthermore, Shah Hoque emphasized the need to connect colonialism in Montreal and Quebec to that in Gaza. 

McGill’s Media Relations Office stated that the university is working towards achieving its commitments to reconciliation as part of the 52 Calls to Action outlined in a 2017 Report of the Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Reconciliation. 

Abisaab also underscored the importance of connecting the university’s complicity in the genocide of Palestinians with its ties to slavery, colonization, and the oppression of Indigenous people to educate professors at McGill. 

“Bringing all of these threads together was very important for professors to hear about,” Abisaab said. “[For] a lot of professors, unless you look, you’re not going to know how implicated McGill is.”

Poet El Jones, who was visiting McGill for a roundtable discussion on prison abolition at the Faculty of Law later that evening, concluded the tour by reciting a poem she wrote for Palestine.

“And they’ll say that our love is just hate in disguise, but there’s so much solidarity that can’t be denied, refusing their narrative of grow and divide to call for the value of each human life,” Jones said. “So we chant and we sing, and we march side by side, and our voices cry out as our crowds grow in size, ‘Long live Gaza, long live Palestine.’”

Farahat noted that rather than instill a sense of helplessness, the tour’s focus was to both educate attendees on McGill’s complicity in genocide and motivate them to take action against it.

“The idea is to dispel the myth that we live and operate in a neutral space, or that our lives are somehow separate and unrelated to the suffering of those facing occupation and genocide,” Farahat said. “By highlighting the ways our institutions participate in discriminatory and genocidal practices […] we show that we all have ways in which we can act or speak up that would contribute to the liberation of occupied and oppressed peoples.”

*Alex’s name has been changed to preserve their confidentiality.

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