Cassandra Frankel reflects on the relationships forged through her time as a UofMosaic Fellow, and how she has learned to navigate the tense waters of campus activism at McGill University.
On Sunday, February 21st, the UofMosaic Fellows in Montreal collaborated on two dialogue sessions pertaining to the upcoming General Assembly motion seeking to stand in solidarity with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This was not the first motion pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to come to McGill – a divestment motion was defeated at the Winter General Assembly last fall, following the Fall defeat of a motion which sought to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza under Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. Last winter, Concordia saw the success of a BDS motion from the student union, though the administration declined to take action.
We partnered with an existing dialogue group at McGill, formerly known as McGill Students for Peacebuilding Initiatives, now operating as simply McGill Israel/Palestine Dialogue Group. The group has met, and continues to meet, bi-weekly, having begun as a reaction to the divisive rhetoric surrounding General Assembly campaigns and in response to calls for dialogue from all sides. Since my decision to apply for a UofMosaic Fellowship was largely related to my personal desire for dialogue during these campus campaigns, I decided to join the dialogue group this semester along with another UofMosaic Fellow George Ghabrial.
The dialogue group, though small, does important work on campus, allowing a degree of humanization as well as a place to listen and learn, rather than argue, defend, and persuade. As UofMosaic Fellows, we helped the leaders of the group frame questions pertaining to the role of BDS on campus, the role of the General Assembly as a venue for campus activism, and, on a broader level, the role of diaspora activism in its various forms. Later that evening, we provided similar support to a group of Floor Fellows (resident advisors) in Gardener Hall, who had decided to host a dialogue session after simmering discussions of the motion amongst their residents.
While both of these events were successful and had small but positive impacts on the political climate of campus, it was behind the scenes of this General Assembly season where I came to truly appreciate the importance of the UofMosaic Fellowship and its role both on campus and within my personal life. In the aftermath of the General Assembly, accusations of anti-Semitism abounded, garnering much media coverage. These accusations mostly stemmed from comments made anonymously on online forums and by a few student activists through social media. As a Jewish person, I was horrified. The hope I had gained from the dialogue sessions vanished; I had always thought that the claims that BDS emboldens anti-Semitism were mere fear-mongering.
While I was utterly floored, I felt fortunate to have a good friend whom I knew would understand, be empathetic, and maybe most importantly, help me pragmatically proceed. Contrary to most conventions and assumptions, my best resource was in fact another UofMosaic Fellow and good friend, George Ghabrial, who is of Palestinian descent. The BDS motion’s authors released a statement denouncing anti-Semitism, and I personally met with particular student activists who had made questionable remarks to discuss the concerns and ultimately attempt to resolve the misunderstanding. Through this conversation we had invaluable dialogue pertaining to North American conceptions of marginalization and the often misconstrued notion of “safe space”.
These instances may seem small, as a few Facebook statuses by McGill affiliated clubs may bear little importance to the rest of the world, and none of these actions happened under the official name of the Mosaic Institute. However, without this UofMosaic Fellowship, without George, I would not have had the resources or network to “think-and-do,” to literally implement both intercultural dialogue and action. These personal relationships, facilitated through the Mosaic Institute’s campus-wide and nation-wide mandate, are arguably the most meaningful and important aspects of this project and certainly what will have the most impact long beyond the term of my fellowship.