On February 6, 2017, Igor Sadikov, an undergraduate student at Montreal’s McGill University, tweeted: “Punch a Zionist today.”
Sadikov sat on the Legislative Council and board of directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). He is reportedly a strong supporter of the BDS movement at McGill and a former news editor of The McGill Daily, a once storied campus paper that has launched the careers of many fine journalists.
These days, the paper refuses to publish articles which “promote a Zionist worldview.”
Sadikov explained his outburst in a very sober apology posted on Facebook on February 16 – a full 10 days following his tweet – as a “misguided joke with a political meaning, rather than a credible call for violence.”
His miscalculated humor was clearly referencing the “punch a Nazi” meme, which, a week earlier, had been trending sharply on social media, after an “alt-right” American was punched in the face while being interviewed.
That incident gave rise to much navel gazing in the press as to whether it is acceptable to incite and applaud violence against, well, a Nazi.
Sadikov, who has very strong views about the legitimacy of the State of Israel, likely sees Zionists as quite similar to Nazis. Hence his adoption of the offensive meme. His tweet was no joke.
He was clearly surprised that his comment resonated well beyond his few hundred Twitter followers. He refused to step down from the SSMU, despite widespread calls for his resignation.
For 10 days. A man of integrity, he stood firm in the view he expressed.
A vote put to the SSMU in mid-February to oust Sadikov was defeated.
On his Facebook page, he was appreciative of the embrace of his online community, “liking” many supportive comments, including one stating: “I can punch one [Zionist] for you if your position does not allow you to.”
One would expect, if his contrition and regret were at all sincere, that he would use his newfound notoriety to rebuke the continued celebration of violence. Not Sadikov. He “liked” it.
He used his platform to explain that he was not attacking Jewish students per se, in fact, he and many members of his family are Jewish, explained the Russian-born activist. He was expressing opposition to a political philosophy – Zionism – that “Jewish people – should not support.”
Sadikov is free to hold whatever political views he wishes. What is not sanctioned in a civilized society, however, is the incitement to physically assault those with differing views.
Finally, on February 24, Sadikov resigned as a director of the SSMU, but remains a member of the Legislative Council. In a statement, he explained his resignation as being due to the “interference of [university administration].”
Indeed, the McGill administration considered Sadikov’s conduct to have potentially breached the SSMU constitution.
As the McGill Daily reported, the SSMU was “threatened” by the administration that if it did not publicly condemn Sadikov’s conduct further action might be taken – which might, ultimately, involve the withholding of funds allocated to student government.
This appears to have caused much consternation among the SSMU and others. As Sadikov was reported to have said: “This level of interference in student government is a new low for the University. The Principal made it very clear that what she cares about in this situation is bending to political pressure from donors and alumni, rather than acting in the best interest of the campus community and respecting the decisions of the student groups affected.”
Actually, what this sounds like is the university upholding its standards of governance and not submitting to petulance. This is exactly why we have constitutions and laws – to safeguard threshold standards of decency when judgment is so skewed.
Nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify Sadikov’s cavalier incitement to violence.
Last year, the online publication Algemeiner ranked the University of Toronto and McGill University the third and fourth worst campuses in North America, respectively, for Jewish students. The rankings reflect the level of hostility on campus toward Israel and, by association, Jews.
Israel Apartheid Week began at the U of T in 2005 before spreading globally, and Toronto still hosts the largest such event in the world.
Igor Sadikov is a symptom of something far more serious and widespread in Canada, and elsewhere.
Meme or no meme, this unfortunate incident is, regrettably, not an anomaly. It was just the one that received widespread attention.
The author, the former Canadian ambassador to Israel, resides in Tel Aviv.