Home Media Action Alerts2022 McGill Tribune Publishes Retraction of Anti-Israel Group’s Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory

McGill Tribune Publishes Retraction of Anti-Israel Group’s Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory

by Robert Walker

On November 11, HonestReporting Canada issued an alert about how the McGill Tribune had given a platform to an anti-Israel group on campus to spew the baseless antisemitic theory that “Zionist donors” control McGill University.

The Tribune’s November 8 article covered a supposed controversy that had erupted since late October, when the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) announced a $5-million donation to the institute from billionaire philanthropist Charles Bronfman.

According to McGill University, the gift will help launch a new initiative aimed at bringing Canada’s top minds together for discussions relating to the country’s economic, social and political future.

As if on cue, anti-Israel voices at McGill University were already complaining about the donation.

The Tribune’s article entitled: “Charles Bronfman’s $5 million donation to MISC raises concerns about academic freedom,” quoted the anti-Israel campus group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, who claimed that because Bronfman is a prominent pro-Israel philanthropist, his gift to the university surely must be tarnished as a result.

“Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill worries about the implications of Bronfman’s donation for student activism and governance, especially surrounding Palestinian liberation,” the article’s author, Ghazal Azizi, wrote.

The article originally quoted SPHR who claimed that “Accepting such large donations from so-called Zionist ‘philanthropists’ ensures that no pro-Palestine policy will ever be adopted at McGill University,” adding that it makes the school “puppets to their Zionist donors who can threaten to cut their funding anytime the word ‘Palestine’ is uttered on campus.”

That egregious antisemitic language, in particular, prompted HonestReporting Canada’s alert, and the response from HRC subscribers was swift, with hundreds of individuals writing to the Tribune expressing their revulsion at the inclusion of SPHR McGill’s quote.

To its credit, The McGill Tribune issued a partial retraction, acknowledging that including SPHR’s inflammatory language was a mistake and removed it from the article.

The Statement of Retraction says:

“The original version of the article below quoted Students for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR) about Charles Bronfman’s latest donation. A portion of the quote played into anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish people being “puppet masters” of institutional decisions—a trope that is both harmful and untrue. The Tribune apologizes for allowing this language to be published and deeply regrets any harm this caused to Jewish readers in the McGill community and beyond.”

But the newspaper’s retraction does not get it or SPHR McGill off the hook for making it and publishing it.

Not only was SPHR’s critiques of Bronfman’s influence at McGill University unfounded, by claiming that the university administration are “puppets to their Zionist masters,” the group once again engaged in classic antisemitic imagery and tropes, of a global Jewish conspiracy.

While SPHR’s recent tantrum over Charles Bronfman’s donation is troubling enough, it is also worrisome that it was given any coverage by The McGill Tribune.

SPHR McGill has shown its utter failure to influence university policies to achieve its anti-Israel ends, and has become a fringe group on campus. Therefore, its sophomoric opposition to Bronfman’s donation merits neither attention nor news coverage.

The McGill Tribune, however, has unfortunately shown a track record, particularly in recent months, of amplifying SPHR McGill’s voice, and providing it with a platform to spew its nonsense with no critical context, including in its coverage of Bronfman’s gift, which phrased his background as showing “support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Zionist agenda.”

In an attempt to give context to Bronfman’s history with McGill University, the newspaper had stated that the McGill Faculty of Management’s building, named after Charles’ father Samuel, had made a donation in 1947 to help “Canadian weaponry for Israel in 1947, before the state’s founding in 1948.”

This statement was a complete non-sequitur. Samuel Bronfman was a noted philanthropist who supported many causes in Canada and elsewhere, and citing one example shows no undue control or influence at McGill University. Instead, it serves only to poison the entire Bronfman name by association with Israel. We take note that the Tribune has deleted this statement from its online news article.

This alarming example of the Tribune’s anti-Israel bias isn’t an anomaly, but is systemic as we’ve extensively documented.

The McGill Tribune, by giving space to marginal anti-Israel groups like SPHR McGill, who have engaged in antisemitism and were previously suspended by the SSMU – even while retracting the most egregious quote and other problematic content- continues to give such organizations undue attention, influence and credibility.

The claim that a donation by a Jewish philanthropist who supports Israel is challenging the university’s moral compass is not only unmoored to reality, it is once again feeding oxygen to the age-old image of a widespread Jewish conspiracy to control the world.

While the Tribune’s issuing this retraction is a step in the right direction, but to fully make amends, it’s incumbent upon The McGill Tribune to provide a fulsome explanation to Canada’s Jewish community and to its readers, about how it will implement editorial oversight measures to ensure objective, fair and accurate reporting about matters relating to Israel and affecting Montreal’s Jewish community.

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