Over 100 students gathered outside the McGill Arts Building on Feb. 2 to stand in solidarity with Palestine and demand divestment from corporations complicit in Israel’s ongoing siege on Gaza. McGill students joined those from Concordia and walked toward Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), waving Palestinian flags and chanting “free, free Palestine.”
The walkout was organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, SPHR Concordia, Al Raya Dawson, and Solidarité pour les droits humains des Palestiniennes et Palestiniens at Université de Montréal (UdeM) and Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM). The event was part of a broader national week of action coordinated by National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) and Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM).
In a statement to The Tribune, SPHR underlined the tremendous scale of student activism for Palestine.
“Our demands towards McGill administration are not isolated but part of a broader, powerful nationwide call to end Western complicity as a whole,” said a representative of SPHR who wished to remain anonymous.
Chief among SPHR’s demands was a call for McGill to divest from weapons manufacturing companies and corporations profiting from the Palestinian occupation. In particular, SPHR urged McGill to divest from Lockheed Martin, a weapons manufacturer that continues to sell planes and weapons to Israel.
In an email to The Tribune, McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle did not give a definitive answer as to whether the university would consider divesting from corporations complicit in the genocide in Gaza. Instead, she maintained that “McGill’s approach to investments aligns with its Statement on Investment Policy as overseen by the Investment Committee of the Board of Governors.”
SPHR’s continued demands for divestment come after the Quebec Superior Court ordered the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to postpone the ratification of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine until a final verdict is reached at a court hearing in March. The policy, that 78.7 per cent of non-abstaining McGill student voters supported in the fall referendum, would have mandated that SSMU take an official stance in support of Palestinian liberation and lobby McGill to divest from corporations complicit in the Palestinian genocide.
SSMU President Alexandre Ashkir told The Tribune that SSMU remains committed to contesting the injunction and supports SPHR’s activism.
“SSMU supports mobilization for the Palestinian cause and therefore this week of action,” Ashkir wrote by email.
However, at the rally, SPHR and student protesters criticized SSMU’s response to the court order.
“An injunction such as the one they are facing must be consented to, and the fact that [SSMU] lawyers consented means that the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine has been stalled for months,” said one student protester who wished to remain anonymous.
Another protestor, who also wished to remain anonymous, asserted that “[SSMU] has failed to represent the student body who voted in a historic referendum.”
Despite the ongoing legal challenge to the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine, students at the rally highlighted that student activism has successfully led McGill to divest in the past.
“It was student advocacy that got McGill to divest from fossil fuel companies, and it will be student advocacy which gets McGill to divest from the ongoing genocide,” said one student protester who wished to remain anonymous.
A representative from Independent Jewish Voices echoed the importance of student mobilization.
“Student activism forced McGill to divest from apartheid South Africa in the ‘80s,” the representative, who wished to remain unnamed, said. “Once again we will leave this administration no choice but to stand on the right side of history.”
SPHR’s representative also emphasized that Friday’s walkout demonstrated solidarity with the broader Palestinian struggle.
“This week of action was another successful effort to be coordinated with all student groups across Turtle Island, including SJPs and SPHRs from the United States and across Canada. We are showing once again the unity, coordination, and strength of the Palestinian student front.”