The $29M Isr*eli Investment Up the Hill: McGill’s Partnership with Tel Aviv University

8 min readMar 25, 2024

Written by Radical Educators Cultivating Equitable & Sustainable Spaces (RECESS)

In August 2022, McGill University simultaneously announced and launched the Sylvan Adams Sports Science Institute (SASSI) after receiving a $29 million donation from Quebec-born, Isr*eli settler and billionaire Sylvan Adams. It marked the largest-ever donation to a faculty of education in Canada.

The SASSI established a financial and academic partnership between Tel Aviv University and the McGill Faculty of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (DKPE). The SASSI’s has a sister institute at Tel Aviv University (TAU), Sylvan Adams Sports Institute (SASI), founded in 2017, which is where funding for the McGill institute’s researchers in the DKPE, and their graduate students, originates.

According to the page for the SASSI’s graduate student fellowships, despite its formal launch in 2022, it has been funding graduate research since 2020. If it seems strange to soft-launch a supposedly world-class institute at a university that routinely celebrates itself, that’s because it is. Most things regarding the SASSI are shrouded in a veil of bureaucratic obscurity that make it difficult to ascertain its origins and how it functions.

With a few context clues, however, it becomes clear that was a deliberate effort on the part of all stakeholders. The announcement and launch of the SASSI coincided with the McGill administration threatening to terminate the Memorandum of Agreement with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) following the adoption of the Palestine Solidarity Policy. The partnership with a billionaire settler, who describes himself as a “self appointed ambassador at large to the state of Isr*el,”came amid renewed calls for a Black and Indigenous Studies institute which were all but ignored.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem in contemporary higher education. Over the past decades, public universities in Canada have increasingly relied on private donations, which threaten the democratic nature of our schools by disproportionately placing decision-making power in the hands of ostensibly philanthropic individuals. This is especially true when the donation legitimizes an apartheid state and establishes a partnership with a university is both participant and beneficiary of a genocide.

TAU has been implicated in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians for decades. The university developed the Dahiya doctrine, which employs disproportionate force against civilian infrastructure. It was used by the Isr*eli Occupation Forces (IOF) during the 2006 war in Lebanon and has been used in Gaza from 2008 through the present. International law professor Richard Falk has referred to the Dahiya doctrine as “a violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war” and “state terrorism.”

In January 2024, three TAU alumni helped represent Isr*el at the International Court of Justice in an attempt to have South Africa’s invocation of the genocide convention dismissed. The attempt failed and the team was swift to embarrass itself on the global stage.

Ultimately, and most damningly, TAU has always existed on occupied territory — something McGill is all too familiar with — only 71 km from Gaza, where every university has been destroyed by the IOF since October. While TAU academics develop prosperous partnerships with institutions across the world, over 100 of their peers in Gaza have been murdered in war crimes committed with weapons and military strategies conceived at TAU.

While McGills partnership with TAU is the primary target of our campaign as students unilaterally push for academic boycott and divestment from Ir*eli university and institutions (and other groups with interests in the occupation of Palestine), we would be remiss not to address the titular “philanthropist” himself.

Sylvan Adams was born and raised in Quebec and spent nearly 25 years as the president and CEO of Iberville Developments, one of Canada’s largest real-estate developers, which was founded by his father, Marcel Adams. In 2016, Sylvan Adams moved to Isr*el. There, he became co-owner of the Isr*el Cycling Academy and eventually started the SASI in 2017.

Since moving, Adams has been eager and transparent in his mission as an ambassador for the occupation of Palestine. In 2021, he wrote, for The Jerusalem Post, that “through world-class cultural and sporting events, we can reach the silent majority,” where the silent majority are apolitical sports fans. This aptly describes the strategy of sportswashing as a means to protect a group’s image.

While sportswashing the brutal occupation of Palestinians is nothing short of sinister and genocidal, in its own right, and should be enough for the people to judge anyone’s character, Sylvan Adams himself has left no room for even the most egregious misinterpretation. On March 20, 2024, the Tel Aviv University Podcast posted an interview with Adams in which he claims:

“Journalists regurgitate the propaganda, including, let’s say, the casualty figures, which are just nonsensical. They just throw out figures and they say “The Gaza Ministry of Health” [laughs] reports that there are 30 thousand Gazans dead, and they talk about women and children and they never talk about combatants. We know that about half of those killed so far are terrorists and nobody’s sorry to see them leave the earth. We haven’t finished the job.” (emphasis ours)

There is such a wealth of hatred in his words that they warrant some analysis. First, Sylvan Adams suggests that the Palestinian Ministry of Health — Gaza, is illegitimate and inflating casualty figures. This is patently untrue and constitutes anti-Palestinian racism, sure, but Adams is correct that the death toll he alludes to, 30 000 Palestinians since October 7, 2023, is nonsensical. By any educated estimate, it is much higher — conservative estimates place it at 40 000. Next, he suggests that half of Palestinians killed have been “terrorists,” presumably referring to members of the Palestinian armed resistance. While we know this to be untrue, he entirely dismisses the deaths of women and children while proceeding to claim that no one cared about them. That no one cares is, plainly, delusional. More importantly, Adams seems to be clear that he feels no remorse for Isr*el’s genocide in Gaza and calls for more.

Equally telling is TAU’s decision to include his remarks in their podcast and posted it to YouTube. This co-conspiratorship between Isr*eli universities and settlers, including academics, is one of the many reasons the Palestinian BDS Movement calls for an academic boycott.

With this context in mind, let us proceed to address the SASSI institute currently operating at McGill University.

At all levels of bureaucracy, McGill students have passed BDS motions that call for a full academic boycott of Isr*eli universities such as TAU. McGill proceeded with the SASSI launch, against the vocal objections of students, and it has been operational since 2022. It has now begun construction on the new SASSI facility, which accounts for $24.4 million of Adams’ donation. Despite their deliberate attempts to mystify this $29 million commitment to legitimizing the occupation of Palestine, here is what we know:

  • The new SASSI facility is being constructed in four row-houses on Avenue des Pins, civic numbers 515, 517, 523 and 527, next to the Currie Gym and just down the street from the New Vic, another project McGill insists on moving forward while silencing Indigenous peoples

Construction site for the SASSI. (Source: McGill Facilities Management)

  • The construction project was awarded to Construction PCL Inc. in November 2022
  • The construction of the new facility is expected to be completed in December 2024
  • Dr. Julie Coté (; 514–396–2364) was actively involved in founding SASSI McGill and was appointed director in 2023.

Dr. Julie Côté (Source: SASSI Website)

In addition to Dr. Coté, the following researchers are also funded by SASSI and their graduate students have received SASSI fellowships between 2020 and 2023:

  • Dr. Caroline Paquette (; 514–398–4184 Ext 00890, Associate Dean, Faculty of Education)
  • Dr. Benoit Gentil (
  • Dr. Lindsay Duncan (; 514–398–4184 Ext 00919)
  • Dr. Dennis Jensen (; 514–398–4400 Ext 0541)
  • Dr. Charlotte Usselman (; 514–398–4400 Ext 089684)
  • Dr. Shane Sweet (; 514–398–4400 Ext 09903)
  • Dr. Tyler Churchward-Venne (; 514–399–9684)
  • Dr. Jenna Gibbs (

A list of graduate students who have received the SASSI fellowship is available on their website

In an email to students and faculty, McGill president Deep Saini recently said that the university “will not unilaterally sever its research and academic ties with Isr*eli institutions. Moreover, McGill will not interfere with the academic freedom of individual members of the university community to engage or partner with an institution simply because of where it is located”

The critical question for president Saini is: how much “academic freedom” do students and faculty in DKPE, or elsewhere on campus, have to oppose the genocide of Palestinians in any meaningful way when their facilities and jobs are paid for by Isr*eli “philanthropists” and universities? And, of course, Deep Saini knows that, in fact, McGill can and will cut ties with institutions because of where they are located, as when it divested from South African apartheid in 1986. He also knows it’s why McGill university must preface every public facing statement and event with a land acknowledgement. After all, the land on which people and institutions are situated is precisely the root of settler-colonialism.

We must invoke Saini and his words, much like Sylvan Adams, in the discussion of the SASSI, as they evidently do not represent the will of the students, despite holding disproportionate power in shaping the culture at McGill. The majority overwhelmingly supported the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine last Fall. There are students who have been on hunger strike for over a month, demanding divestment and academic boycott. Student organizations have bravely shut down classes and events that normalize complicity in the occupation of Palestine. Since October 2023, McGill students have been building a coalition through solidarity with the Palestinian people, a shared commitment to divestment and academic boycott, and a will to resist the McGill administration and their wealthy donors. We do this because we know it is right and we know that ultimately, our efforts will prevail.

We are calling on every student to renew their calls to end McGill’s complicity in genocide and the occupation of Palestine. We call on students to show Sylvan Adams, Deep Saini, Julie Coté, the Faculty of Education and every one their genocidal co-conspirators that there will be no business as usual at the SASSI as long as the partnership with TAU persists and as long as it bears the name of a billionaire “philanthropist” settler who brazenly calls for mass murder.

As the chant goes: students over donor money.

There will be no genocide gym on our campus.


Radical Educators Cultivating Equitable & Sustainable Spaces (RECESS)

Graduate Students for Palestine McGill

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill




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