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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Jewish groups endorse moderate candidates at Carleton

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Alexandra Izso

The incoming student union executives at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa aren’t the only ones celebrating their recent victories.

Hillel Ottawa, which openly endorsed candidates at the two schools who didn’t have an anti-Israel agenda, is also looking forward to working with the new executives, who are both committed to dialogue and inclusivity.

Hillel Ottawa president Alexandra Izso said members of Hillel and the student-run Israel Awareness Committee (IAC) worked tirelessly last month to endorse “A Better Carleton” slate in the Carleton Student University Association (CUSA) elections, as well as two U of O students who ran for executive positions in the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa (SFUO).

“We helped with postering, we helped with getting people out to vote, sharing election information on Facebook, openly endorsing them by sending letters out to our membership list to get them to vote for the slate we were endorsing,” said Izso, a political economy student at Carleton.

“The slate we elected isn’t so much openly pro-Israel, which I appreciate, because what I didn’t like about the other slate [‘Fresh Carleton’] is that they openly chose a side, and I couldn’t ask the same of the side I supported, because that would be hypocritical.”

Last year, Carleton was embroiled in controversy when CUSA was scheduled to consider an anti-Israel motion put forward by the group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) during a student council meeting.

In response, the IAC influenced a CUSA executive member to present a similar but more neutral motion that didn’t single out Israel. When the neutral motion passed, cancelling out the motion that singled out Israel, the SAIA members who tabled the original motion became aggressive and confrontational.

Last month, when Iszo learned that the “Fresh Carleton” slate – which was ultimately swept by “A Better Carleton” – included four members of SAIA, she was concerned that if they were elected, they’d use their positions to further their anti-Israel agendas.

For example, Rabita Sharfuddin, who ran for vice-president of student issues for the Fresh Carleton slate, posted a campaign video in which she boasted about her role with SAIA and her plans “to fight for socially responsible investment policies” and to correct the fact that Carleton has “invested in war, military occupation and other violations of human rights.”

Thanks in part to Hillel’s campaigning efforts, more than 4,300 Carleton students – 500 more than last year – turned out to vote in this year’s Feb. 15-16 election.

At U of O, about 15 per cent of the 34,000 undergraduates cast a ballot in the SFUO elections, held Feb. 14 to 16.

Iszo said she’s encouraged that although the student union executives at both schools are not necessarily pro-Israel, they’re not anti-Israel, either.

“We felt it’s important to have a student union that is representative of all students, and if we have a student union that is openly taking sides and has marginalized some of their membership, then they are not accountable to all students who are paying members of this union,” she said.

SFUO’s incoming president Ethan Plato and vice-president, social, Jozef Spiteri were the two candidates endorsed by Hillel.

“They are pro-dialogue and are about bringing the campus together,” Iszo said.

Incoming CUSA president Alexander Golovko, who won by just 79 votes, told Carleton’s campus paper, the Charlatan, that he’ll focus on “student issues, student unity… and the spirit of democracy.

“My personal diplomatic background, where I try to resolve conflict and unite people and try to understand everybody’s approach… has always been to a certain extent criticized because I tend not to always take sides. I try to understand everybody. I try to get everybody together,” he said.

Emile Scheffel, a former Carleton student and vice-president, external, for the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students, said he’s confident Golovko will work to ensure Carleton students feel safe, valued, and included on campus.

Scheffel said he experienced a campus climate that was toxic, hostile and divided when he ran for CUSA’s vice-presidency in 2010.

“I was targeted with a whisper campaign that I was Jewish and had radical pro-Israel views,” said Scheffel, who is not Jewish, but served as a member of the IAC.

Nick Bergamini, also a non-Jewish, pro-Israel student, was a 2010 presidential candidate who was also targeted with posters accusing him of being an untrustworthy Zionist, he added.

“A Better Carleton slate represents a major victory for students who believe in an open, tolerant campus that rejects the toxic politics of the past.”

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