UJS elec­tion process un­der fire

STU­DENT LEAD­ER­SHIP VOTE: Can­di­date slams the na­tion­wide poll for ‘dis­en­fran­chis­ing’ much of its elec­torate. By Nathan Jeffay

The Jewish Chronicle - - HOME NEWS -

JUST DAYS be­fore the start of na­tional bal­lots to choose the next chair of the Union of Jewish Stu­dents, one of the two can­di­dates has cried foul over the elec­tion process, say­ing it dis­en­fran­chises many stu­dents.

For the first time, an­nual elec­tions are tak­ing the form of a “road­show”, with can­di­dates trav­el­ling to var­i­ous cities where they will hold hus­tings and ask stu­dents to vote. Can­di­date Rachel Friend has crit­i­cised the method, say­ing it de­prives large num­bers of stu­dents of a voice, a prob­lem ac­cen­tu­ated by the choice of city venues.

The elec­tions, which be­gin on Sun­day and run un­til Thurs­day, the­o­ret­i­cally af­fect more than 10,000 peo­ple, as ev­ery Jewish stu­dent in the UK is en­ti­tled to vote.

This year’s choice of leader will have far-reach­ing con­se­quences for stu­dents across the coun­try, as Ms Friend wants to over­haul UJS’s re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal Jewish so­ci­eties, an area with which her op­po­nent Jes­sica Tru­man is largely con­tent. Ms Friend is mainly happy with the cur­rent level of po­lit­i­cal and Is­rael-ad­vo­cacy work, whereas Ms Tru­man seeks to ex­pand it.

De­spite the high stakes, Ms Friend told the JC that the cho­sen elec­tion process means that much of the elec­torate will not even get a chance to en­gage with the is­sues. She be­lieves that UJS was mis­taken in last year’s de­ci­sion to scrap the na­tional res­i­den­tial con­fer­ence, held in vacation time, in re­sponse to fall­ing num­bers. Al­though the new for­mat works well for stu­dents in the five cit- ies the road­show is visit­ing — Leeds, Ox­ford, Not­ting­ham, Manch­ester and Lon­don — oth­ers “who can’t take five hours off to travel don’t get to vote”.

She claims this prob­lem is in­ten­si­fied by the fact that Birm­ing­ham, one of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lated cities in terms of Jewish stu­dents, is not on the itin­er­ary, with the clos­est elec­tions tak­ing place in the less-pop­u­lar Not­ting­ham. “Cam­bridge J-Soc is dis­en­fran­chised by this way of do­ing it,” she added.

Joe Wolf­son, co-pres­i­dent of Cam­bridge J-Soc, en­dorsed this cri­tique, say­ing that UJS’s prom­ise to re­im­burse travel costs, and run coaches where there is de­mand, is not enough to get his af­fil­i­ates to at­tend. He told the JC: “While I recog­nise that the road­show al­lows UJS to reach out to more peo­ple, it is a shame that our mem­bers are be­ing dis­en­fran­chised and not be­ing given the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate.”

Ms Friend also said it is “un­rea­son­able” that by hold­ing elec­tions in termtime “I have to take a week, that is an eighth of a term, off univer­sity”, with her fi­nals ap­proach­ing.

The cur­rent UJS chair, Jon Levy, de­fended the process, say­ing the cities “were cho­sen to be one in each of the five re­gions”, and that se­lec­tion was nec­es­sary. “Too many peo­ple want to re­turn to the good old days,” he said, re­fer­ring to calls to rein­tro­duce the na­tional con­fer­ence. He added that the likely turnout was still not high enough to make it prac­ti­cal.

In con­trast to Ms Friend, her oppo- nent Jes­sica Tru­man en­thused about the road­show. She said: “I think it will be a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to get more peo­ple to re­alise what UJS does.

“Stu­dents like things to be easy, and the only way in this case is to take the elec­tions to them. This is the first time in my time as a stu­dent I have heard peo­ple ex­cited about the elec­tions.”

She added that she is not con­cerned about the choice of cam­puses, say­ing: “It is a shame it is not go­ing to an­other cou­ple of cam­puses, but it [the bal­lot] was in Birm­ing­ham last year.”

The road­show will also elect re­gional chairs and a stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Board of Deputies, a po­si­tion that has been va­cant for over a decade.

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