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