Growing up, some of my family members led me to believe that I could not be Jewish and critical of the state of Israel. When I first started attending McGill University in the fall of 2016, I was relieved that I could find a community of fellow young, secular Jews who were critical of Israel and supported Palestinian solidarity.
Little did I know how a reckless tweet from another pro-Palestinian, secular Jew would put me in a very uncomfortable situation.
On February 6, 2017, Igor Sadikov, a then student government representative, tweeted out “punch a Zionist today” on his personal twitter account. Two days later, on February 8, some students started sharing that tweet on Facebook, calling for concern and for his immediate removal.
Sadikov’s subsequent explanation was that his “punch a Zionist” tweet was making a comparison to the “punch a Nazi” meme. Even though I am extremely critical of the Israeli government, I see many problems with that. One being that I think the purpose of comparing the Israeli government to Nazis in such simplistic fashion was only for shock value and to try and rile up Zionist Jews on McGill University’s campus. Perhaps I missed something, but I have never heard of human rights being improved or anyone’s opinion being changed through a four word, inflammatory tweet.
Secondly, I condemn violence, which is why I am critical of the Israeli government and advocate for Palestinian rights in the first place. Peaceful civilian Palestinians have received far too much violence, and the cycle of violence needs to end. I do not think violent rhetoric will help hold the Israeli government accountable.
When I say this tweet went viral, I do not mean just in the McGill community. Nearly every major Jewish and Canadian outlet, including The Forward, Times of Israel, and Canadian Broadcasting Network, had covered this story. McGill, specifically Jewish McGill communities, were put under a microscope. I was in the same Jewish, anti-Zionist group as Sadikov, and I felt ridiculed by my Jewish peers and grouped in with someone who had spread violent rhetoric.
This is not the first time McGill University has received major attention for Palestinian activism or reckless social media use pertaining to Judaism and Zionism, and it will not be the last. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaigns have led to McGill, unfairly in my opinion, being ranked as one of the worst schools for Jewish students, according to Algemeiner in 2016 and 2017.
Many Jewish students, both Zionist and anti-Zionist, do not agree with these rankings. I reported on McGill University’s fourth place ranking on this list in 2016, and everyone who I interviewed said McGill has a vibrant Jewish community, although some were not comfortable with pro-Palestinian solidarity and campaigns for Israeli boycotts. I really enjoyed practicing Shabbat with people my own age every so often, as this was something I did not do growing up in a predominantly Christian suburb.
I also had friends who were Zionist, who were accepting that I had a different viewpoint and vice versa. However, I did feel that some people did not want to associate with me because I had a different view on Zionism. People refusing to associate with others who have different stances only made McGill feel more toxic and polarizing.
For me, being an anti-Zionist Jew at McGill University was both a worthwhile and draining experience. My attempt to distance myself from violent rhetoric within anti-Zionist Jewish circles was extremely frustrating, and the pressure to both defend myself and my beliefs felt like emotional labor at times.
I would not change anything, but I hope the atmosphere changes and the media scrutiny goes away. I felt pressured at times to have a strong stance on Zionism because of my Jewish heritage, and I think the media scrutiny only intensifies the labor that many Jewish students at McGill University are forced to undertake, whether they are Zionist or not.