A blacklist is terrorizing pro-Palestine students at McGill

A blacklist is terrorizing pro-Palestine students at McGill

On May 29th, 2021, SPHR McGill was approached by a student — to whom we will hereafter refer as Anonymous to protect their identity — who discovered a list circulating on campus. Seemingly compiled by a group of Zionist McGill students, the list contains the names and personal information of countless pro-Palestine students at McGill. According to several witnesses who have come forward, the list may have existed for decades. One of its goals is to surveil and document students suspected of pro-Palestine sympathies. The list has been used for covert mobilization against candidates running for SSMU positions who were branded “anti-Israel” by the users of the list. When Anonymous discovered their name on this list, they sought institutional support from the Dean of Students who dismissed their complaint on the grounds that they “lacked evidence.” Immediately after Anonymous consulted with the Dean, they began receiving text messages from strangers inquiring about their sexual activity, with some even attempting to “coordinate a rendez-vous.”

Sexual and Gendered Violence:

To their horror, Anonymous discovered that their name and personal phone number had been circulating on a website stating that they were offering sexual services in exchange for monetary compensation. The ad deployed vile, racist, and orientalist tropes against them and sought to smear them as an anti-Semite. We are worried for the safety of Anonymous as well as the many other students whose name and personal information is listed on this document. We are also incredibly disturbed by the timing of this vicious attack on Anonymous. Given that the attack occurred only a few days after Anonymous sought institutional support, it is certain that the attackers were seeking to terrorize them into silence.

Anonymous’ traumatic experience with this list is evidence alone of the politics of surveillance, harm and violence that Zionist groups and students engage with and actively uphold — and in this case even create. By publishing their private information and illegally impersonating them, the online attackers placed Anonymous in grave danger. The perpetrators deployed orientalist tropes which reduced them to an exotic, sexual object. They utilized Anonymous’ identity to facilitate the sexual harassment and sexual violence against them as a racialized student. Additionally, those who have access to the list threatened Anonymous’ safety by exposing them to sexual requests without their consent, while also putting them at risk of physical and sexual harassment. This also constitutes gendered and sexual violence specifically through its harmful assumptions that sex work is a tool to defame one’s character, and that sex work is inherently undesirable. It is a horrific tactic that was used to undermine and threaten a student looking for help when their personal safety was put at risk, by an online attack using racism, sexual and gendered violence and demeaning tropes that criminalize sex workers. Moreover, this instance of racial, gendered and sexual violence being weaponized to terrify a McGill constituent into silence threatens the safety of all those who have been arbitrarily deemed a “threat” for their pro-Palestine views.

The SSMU Board of Directors’ complicity in terrorizing pro-Palestine students:

According to the witnesses, several members of the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) have access to this despicable ‘blacklist,’ that has been circulating for decades, and have deliberately chosen to keep it hidden from their peers and the McGill public. The individuals who may have known about, had access to, or contributed to the list are Director and Arts Representative Chip Smith, Director and Arts Representative Alex Karasick, and SSMU Speaker and Chair of the Board of Directors Lauren Hill. The list is also in the possession of Arts Representative Libby Williamson, and former Director and Science Representative Jordyn Wright. The fact that they, and likely other individuals in positions of power, have secretly maintained, and perhaps developed this list makes them directly complicit in the surveillance, intimidation, and doxing of McGill students that they are supposed to represent. It remains unclear to what extent they may have contributed to the creation of the list, or even made use of it for political gain. According to several witnesses, the list has existed for decades, and has been regularly “passed down” to a select group of student leaders, in order to assist them in excluding and repressing pro-Palestine and racialized students from participating in student government at McGill. For instance, the outcomes of several SSMU elections in previous years were allegedly impacted by the concerted actions of multiple individuals and organizations, who sought to field their own candidates against students who had been marked in the list as “anti-Israel.”

This is all the more alarming considering the BoD’s recent efforts to delay and derail democratically approved SSMU policies that some of its right-wing members have opposed. During the past few months, the Board has repeatedly refused to ratify the Divest for Human Rights Policy, after it was overwhelmingly approved by the student body and by its elected representatives. According to one witness, one of the Directors has openly discussed the fact that the users of the list have influenced efforts to block the ratification of the Policy. Just a few days ago, the BoD also refused to ratify a joint SSMU-SPHR statement acknowledging the Palestinian Nakba, despite the fact that it had been endorsed by both of SSMU’s democratic bodies, the Legislative Council, and the Executive Committee. This latest BoD decision was made entirely in secret, and SPHR members and other students were barred from attending the meeting where the statement was discussed. The BoD has also refused to explain the reasons for this secrecy, which only further illustrates the arrogant, anti-democratic, and dishonest nature of a decision-making body that claims near-absolute power over our student union.

This latest revelation, however, suggests that some Directors are willing to go much further. By using this list and maintaining its secrecy, these Directors have made themselves complicit in a vicious, racist campaign that attacks the fundamental right of racialized Palestinian and pro-Palestine students to exist at this university, without fear that they will be targeted in reprisal for signing petitions, sharing content on social media, or even expressing their views in private.

Systems of surveillance and racist violence upheld by the McGill administration:

It is crucial to understand that the McGill administration’s recent MRO and its pervasive hostility to Palestine solidarity breed an environment where this underground listing of pro-Palestine voices can exist without consequence, and where its creators and accomplices can harass and dox McGill students with impunity. In the past decade, many pro-Palestine McGill students have faced death threats and hate speech, or been blacklisted by far-right Zionist websites like Canary Mission, without a single expression of concern or disapproval from the McGill administration.

In addition, we are extremely disturbed to learn about the extent of surveillance that occurs on campus, with the purpose of barring students from participating in student government because of their affiliation to Palestine. There is a clear connection between how pro-Palestine students and mostly racialized students are being surveilled and how that data is being used to threaten, intimidate, and restrict students in their campus life. It is highly probable, and equally alarming that this list may continue to impact McGill graduates in their professional careers. The users of the list, most of whom appear to be white Zionist individuals or Zionist groups, are mainly targeting racialized students and replicating practices that emerge from a system of structural surveillance in North America, which seeks to criminalize Black, Brown and other racialized peoples. The practice of surveilling racialized students is an especially despicable, racist, and dangerous practice, given that Black and Brown peoples in North America are systematically portrayed as criminals first, and victims never. It is this dangerous condition that McGill University is upholding, by allowing hate speech and blacklists to go unchallenged, thereby denying Palestinian and Pro-Palestine students the right to safety on their campus.

The politics of surveillance on campus has always been starkly felt and experienced by racialized McGill students. Yet the existence of this list is particularly vile given that for many years now, Zionists have frequently recorded or videotaped students without their consent, for expressing support for Palestine at demonstrations, workshops, tabling events or during legislative councils, general assemblies, and other public SSMU spaces.

It is crucial to understand that this list is not a passive, harmless document: it is being weaponized daily by Zionist students, who are employing racist, Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, and anti-Black practices that put racialized students at risk. Not only are Zionist students replicating systems of surveillance and harm without any repercussions, and with the protection of people in positions of power at McGill; they are also misusing and appropriating the language of ‘safety,’ ‘equity,’ and ‘violence’ despite being the very ones making campus unsafe by facilitating the doxing, harassment, and bullying of racialized students. Not only should the people who created this list be held accountable, but the names of those who have facilitated its circulation must also be made public for the sake of justice and accountability.

The fact that this list of Palestinian students, pro-Palestine organizers, supporters, and allies has existed for decades means that serious harm has almost definitely gone unpublicized and consequently unaddressed. This list exists as a threat that can and has prevented racialized students from being vocal as they could be, by relying on their positions in student government and organization to fund their degree, or for personal and professional development. This abominable list and the criminal treatment Anonymous received following their attempts to raise the alarm, constitute yet another instance of what we decried in our open letter: Palestinian students and their allies at McGill are consistently silenced through blatant, racist intimidation, with the complicity of SSMU officials and McGill administrators in positions of power.

Our immediate demands:

We demand that McGill University recognizes that the existence and circulation of a list that has arbitrarily deemed certain constituents as a threat based on their personal beliefs or opinions alone is a threat to all students, faculty, and staff on campus. While the list was not necessarily created by current students it has continued to be upheld and updated by current Zionist students and has been circulated by people in positions of power who consistently protect other perpetrators of this list, despite it putting racialized people at risk. It is a gross violation of power, student conduct, and equity policies. The current students and constituents who continuously update the list utilize methods such as non-consensual videotaping, incessant surveilling, and documentation. In doing so, they are recreating racist tropes that Black, Brown, and other racialized students are criminals whose identities, movements, thoughts, and opinions are worthy of being watched, surveilled, and harassed.

While McGill touts their policies and their seemingly ongoing and constant working groups to “foster a safer” campus for McGill students, they fundamentally fail the first step to doing that, which is listening and believing in students who bear the most harm that they claim to address. We will no longer accept to be part of an academic institution that will allow harassers to cause harm, escape accountability, and gaslight their victims. The use of scare tactics to prevent people from vocal political alignment is an infringement and violence of the freedom of political association but also a violation of racialized people’s trust. SPHR McGill is publishing this letter of demand on behalf of victims of those who have been targeted and on behalf of all racialized students on campus who have been denied the right of safety on their campus.

As such, we demand:

  1. That all those who have concealed the existence of this list, which may include but is not limited to Director Chip Smith, Director Alex Karasick, Board Chair and SSMU Speaker Lauren Hill, Arts Representative Libby Williamson, and former Director and Science Representative Jordyn Wright fully disclose the contents of the list to all students who have been “listed” therein.
  2. That all those who have concealed the existence of this list, which may include but is not limited to Director Chip Smith, Director Alex Karasick, Board Chair and SSMU Speaker Lauren Hill, Arts Representative Libby Williamson, and former Director and Science Representative Jordyn Wright publicly reveal and denounce all other users of this list, so that they may be held accountable by the SSMU and by the McGill administration.
  3. That all those who have concealed the existence of this list, which may include but is not limited to Director Chip Smith, Director Alex Karasick, Board Chair and SSMU Speaker Lauren Hill, Arts Representative Libby Williamson, and former Director and Science Representative Jordyn Wright publicly apologize for deliberately concealing the existence of such a repulsive list, which violently endangers the personal safety of Palestinian and other racialized students on campus.
  4. That all those who have concealed the existence of this list, which may include but is not limited to Director Chip Smith, Director Alex Karasick, Board Chair and SSMU Speaker Lauren Hill, Arts Representative Libby Williamson and all other complicit officials immediately resign from all their respective positions, in light of this shocking betrayal of their constitutional responsibilities to their McGill constituents.
  5. That the McGill administration launch a full investigation and hold the creators and users of this list publicly accountable.
  6. That the McGill administration apologize for breeding an environment wherein Zionists on campus are able to create, circulate, and weaponize such a list with impunity.
  7. That the Provost and Vice-Principal Academic Christopher Manfredi apologize for the recent MRO, which has contributed to and encouraged the aforementioned toxic environment.
  8. That the administration reconsider their abhorrent position on our most recent open letter and abide by our demands that would help make our campus safer.

We demand that McGill ceases its complicity in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights

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