The Arab-Israel conflict flares in York student politics

Jewish Tribune

The Arab-Israel conflict flares in York student politics

Jewish Tribune, Dec. 11, 2003

By: Lindsay Soberano

The student government, “Progress Not Politics” (PNP), won 26 of 31 seats at the York Federation of Students (YFS) election on Nov. 27, including the four executive positions, only to be accused of breaking campaign-spending limits.

PNO is endorsed by Hillel at York. The president-elect, Paul Cooper, is also the president and founder of the Young Zionist Partnership (YZP), and the slate includes several members of Hillel’s board. PNP triumphed at the December 4 hearing, called by the five-member Elections Committee (members of the current student union), and moderated by the current president, Michael Novak.

Talia Klein, the Director of Hillel at York, says, “There is no basis for this argument,” and that “the main opposition is a group comprised of students from the Muslim Student Association, The Middle East Association and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.” The PNP campaign was apolitical and strove to shift the government’s focus away from the Arab-Israel conflict, which has dominated student politics at York for the last two years, to look more at local issues such as rising tuition and parking lot congestion.

The political climate at York has been uneasy, as one candidate fro council was disqualified because he slandered Cooper and his slate at a Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights event, and some of Cooper’s election posters were defaced with graffiti and a Hitler moustache. This was not the focus of the hearing though. Rather, it was about whether or not PNP should be disqualified because they are suspected of failing to purchase campaign materials at “fair market value”.

According to YFS Bylaws, the only body able to hear such a case is the impartial Government Affairs Tribunal (GAT) yet the Elections Committee illegally insisted on proceeding with the hearing. Furthermore, at the onset, members of the PNP were denied the right to legal counsel. However, the PNP did end up seeking legal counsel from Edward Prutschi, a York alumnus.

When Prutschi informed the Elections Committee that they were breaking the Bylaws, Novak stipulated that, “that’s a typographical error,” and that the “GAT no longer exists, therefore, issues such as this go to YFS council.” GAT ceased to exist in 2001. Prutschi asked, “how can we rely on anything?” and then resigned PNP’s own right to appeal to a divisional court. The PNP stated their concern that the members of the committee may have already predetermined their votes based on personal political motives. Novak replied, “the members of this committee are impartial, and according to the bylaws we can be here.” He also suggested that the PNP put an end to their “delay tactics.” The complainants consist of Erica Joy-Henry, who came in third for president; Pablo Vivanco, who came in second for VP Academic and University Affairs; and Jeff Granell, who came in fourth for president. Both Henry and Vivanco based their arguments on quotes they compiled from printing houses, such as Kinkos; they stipulated that PNP could not have purchased their campaign materials at “fair market value.”

Henry retrieved a quote from the same printing house that PNP used – Continental Press – which surpassed the budget. However, Prutschi questioned if Henry pressed hard enough for the best possible price. He also asked how students, who are clearly entrepreneurial and did their shopping around to find the best value, could possibly be disqualified. Yaakov Roth, the campaign manager of PNP, says “we did spectacularly well in the actual election. No one can remember when one team won over all four executive spots.” He says the PNP handed in their expense report on November 14, and finds it peculiar that complaints were only made once they had won. Cooper says, “we have proof that we did not overspend: a) our invoice b) three letters from printing companies stating that the price is fine.”

“There are a number of forces at work,” Roth says. He explains that there has not been an election at YFS since March 2002. It was cancelled in March 2003 due to “irregularities” that are suspected to be due to YFS’s desire to keep issues such as this from flaring. There was supposed to be an election in the fall, however, it was pushed back until the end of November. “Now they are trying to outrun the results. The Elections Committee is threatening to cancel the entire election and keep with last years’ government.” Also, besides the allegations against the PNP, the polling results are deemed unofficial until the current student union approves the results.

“The students at York clearly said they want change,” says Roth. The underlying question remains: What is “fair” market value and who can determine that? It was all too clear to Cooper that the accusations made against PNP reach far beyond paper and pennies. “It all comes down to the fact that the election was really between Arabs and Jews,” says Cooper.

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