McGill president denounces intimidation tactics from anti-Israel encampment protesters, reveals school's offer

McGill president Deep Saini expressed concern over the cutout of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was hanged from the school's Roddick Gates over the weekend.

McGill president denounces intimidation tactics from anti-Israel encampment protesters, reveals school's offer
The Canadian Press / Christinne Muschi
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The president of McGill University is denouncing intimidation tactics by anti-Israel protesters who have set up a tent encampment at the institution's downtown campus.

Deep Saini, who started serving as the school's president in April, also revealed the university's offer to the protesters, which he says was swiftly rejected despite its terms.

Saini also said in a statement that masked demonstrators have targeted the homes of school administrators. Additionally, a senior administrator was followed and harassed by masked individuals from the encampment.

He noted graffiti that has appeared on campus “comes very close to, and occasionally crosses, the lines into discriminatory speech.”

One of the McGill teams' offices was also targeted.

“There, a table was set with rotted food next to a sign that named each team member with red handprints painted to look like blood. A sign posted stated ‘Food You Deserve.’”

“None of this is peaceful protesting; it is designed to threaten, coerce and scare people. It is completely unacceptable. In each case, we have reported what has happened to the police and urged them to act.”

Saini also expressed concern over the cutout of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was hanged from the Roddick Gates over the weekend. “Protesters hung an effigy of an Israeli political figure dressed in a striped outfit that resembled a prisoner’s uniform,” Saini said.

“That outfit also bore a close likeness to the uniform that millions of Jews and other marginalized peoples who suffered and died in concentration camps during the Second World War were forced to wear,” he noted, adding that as he understands it, the police watched the events unfold without preventing them.

“This baffles us, and we have asked them to take every action possible under the law. If those who committed these acts are found to be members of the McGill community, the university will also apply its disciplinary processes,” Saini said.

A lawyer representing two unnamed McGill students formally requested that Montreal police investigate the incident as a hate crime on Wednesday.

The Montreal police did not comment to the Montreal Gazette on the matter “since an investigation is underway.”

Saini also revealed the school's offer to the protesters that “align with McGill’s mission and principles of academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness.”

He told the Gazette that McGill has offered to:

  • Examine “divestment from companies whose revenues largely come from weapons. McGill has an established process that allows any member of the community to bring any concerns about investment before the Board of Governors; we offered to accelerate the timeline for that review and to provide support through that process.”
  • Increase “McGill’s links to scholars and institutions in Gaza and the West Bank, and provide urgent support to displaced students and scholars.”
  • Extend “McGill’s transparency in our investment reporting by publicly listing the companies in which we have equity holdings under $500,000, where that is permitted. The university already provides public reports on equity and fixed income holdings above this threshold.”

Saini said divestment over geopolitics “serves to divide, not unite. Experience has taught us that maintaining a neutral institutional stance best supports (members of the McGill community) who hold varied political views, represent diverse identities, origins, and beliefs, and ardently espouse various causes.”

He said the university “must not boycott academic institutions or shut out scholars and students for geopolitical reasons. McGill’s mission is to advance knowledge, not to limit it. The free exchange of ideas … is a powerful force for good in the world.”

“In many other institutions, we’ve seen encampment leaders work with campus administration to find some common ground that represents positive change, despite disagreements,” said Saini. “Yet, McGill’s offer, which is comparable to that made by other universities who have reached resolutions, has been rejected by the encampment on our campus.”

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