Letter to Student Direct re: Israeli Deputy Ambassador

March 2, 2010

in Letters

Dear Student Direct,

Joe Sheffer writes last week that “the Executive… should remember
that they were elected on an extremely limited Mandate” and for that
reason the Israeli Deputy Ambassador should have been allowed to
speak in our union. While I agree entirely with this statement, the
Constitution outlines that the mandate of the Executive is, first and
foremost, to uphold Union policy, policies that are chosen and passed
by us, the student body. The Union policy that bans Israeli diplomats
from our union was passed by an overwhelming majority at the largest
General Meeting in living memory, with nearly 1200 people in
attendance. However, as it has been discovered, it would have been
against the law to cancel the talk (but not to have refused to let it
happen in the first place).

So the problem that our Executive faced was not simply whether to act
in their own interests or those of the student body. It was whether to
break the law and obey the will of hundreds of students who cared
sufficiently about a cause to mandate our officers to act on it,
something virtually unseen in UMSU for years, but which left those
officers personally liable for a potential multi-million pound lawsuit
as Trustees; or to keep the law and disregard their responsibilities
as members of the Union’s Executive to uphold Union policy, which is
ultimately the reason for their existence. This was a decision that
caused many of the Exec deep angst, and their votes were recorded
accordingly in Student Direct last week. I have my own opinions on
that decision and I’m sure that many do too.

This is all in hindsight – as Co-Chair of myUMSU I have spent nearly
10 hours cumulatively trying to get hold of all the relevant
documents, policies, and laws, and looking through them to try and
work out whether the Israeli Deputy Ambassador was allowed in our
union or not – could we expect sabbs who have actual jobs to do the
same? Our Executive had to make a decision under pressure and facing a
large number of students liable to be disappointed with them whatever
they decided.

This issue simply wasn’t a case of Action Palestine vs. All Other
Students. It was, and is, an issue of union democracy and what to do
if the policies that are passed by a democratic majority of the
student membership conflict with the law. If our Exec take it upon
themselves to claim they have no mandate to uphold the explicit wishes
of the student body because a belief they hold that some other
students, who have remained silent, disagree with that policy, we may
as well just stop pretending that Union listens to us at all.

So Joe simplifies the issue far too simply as “students wanted to hear
someone from Israel speak and our Exec wouldn’t let them”: try “the
Politics Society accidentally arranged a talk against union policy on
Israel and all hell broke loose when the Exec believed they couldn’t
cancel it”. I would suggest the solution is to sit down and work out
how to prevent such situations happening again, or I do fear Gabriel’s
beard will fall out from stress. And then where would we be?

Yours,

Sarah McCulloch

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