December 3 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 53  

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Where student gov't dare tread

By Laura Katsirdakis
Gazette Staff

Should student governments take a stand on international conflicts or should they focus on local issues that affect students directly?

At York University, an election held last week for the York Federation of Students played out this debate. A group calling themselves Progress Not Politics was formed with the stated purpose of returning student government to local issues and ran a slate of candidates during the election.

Election results, revealed last Thursday, showed that York students had voted in 26 of the 31 PNP candidates, confirmed Paul Cooper, president-elect of the YFS and president of PNP.

“The frustration York students felt with the Federation dealing with international politics [prompted the formation of the group]”, Cooper explained, adding the YFS had been known for taking stances on international issues such as the war in Iraq and for taking a decisively pro-Arab stance. “They were grossly anti-Israel.”

Cooper claimed that the YFS was alienating over 4,000 Jewish students on campus. “They were not representing students — we all pay student fees.”

The election was largely perceived as a contest between pro-Arab groups and pro-Israeli groups, but this was not true, Cooper said. “I am the president of the Young Zionist Partnership, this may have led to this perception.

“The people in our group are not all pro-Israel — we have a diverse slate of people,” he said. “The main slate [of candidates] we were running against were [Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights] members.”

The controversy is not over. “There have been complaints filed [with the elections committee] with respect to overspending,” he said, noting the committee is in place to entertain such concerns. “We’ve definitely been targeted.”

“York students voted very clearly and very loudly,” Cooper said.

The election committee and the opposing slate of candidates could not be reached for comment.

Matt Huether, VP-student affairs for Western’s University Students’ Council, commented that nothing like this has occurred in Western’s student government in recent memory. The USC does not take a stance on international issues; this is left to the clubs, he explained, noting the USC tries to ensure the opportunity for all types of expression of views on campus.

Huether said he had heard rumours that PNP was also planning to leave the Canadian Federation of Students and join the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
“CFS hasn’t heard anything about this — I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on this at this time,” said Ashkon Hashemi, internal co-ordinator at CFS.

“I would like to see less hostility and I would like to see a position taken [by student government] with regard to such issues — the verbal barrage between groups on campus is just as bad,” said Doretta Klaric, a second-year social science student at Western, when asked whether she thought student governments should be neutral on political issues.

“I don’t think it’s their position to take a stance [on such issues] — to be honest, what does it matter what the student government thinks?” asked Kevin Carter, a fourth-year honours biology student at Western.



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