Association elections at the University of Haifa. The Student Union needs to start fighting for our rights!

Uri Bar-Shalom Agmon  Maavak Sozialisti/Nidal Eshteraki (Socialist Struggle) – the CWI in Israel/Palestine 

In early December, the Haifa University Student Council’s Supplementary Election saw a left-wing election campaign based on a successful collaboration between Socialist Struggle and another movement around a number of key demands. It challenged those candidates of the “Student Committee” who have governed the Association for over 12 years using various names. The left election campaign argued that the Student Union should not only be involved in organising parties and student services but also to fight for student welfare and campus equality. One of the candidates from the list won the election in the History Department.

Among other things, we called on the Student Union to promote a nationwide struggle for the reduction of tuition fees and the building of quality and available dormitories with the aim of making higher education in the country accessible to everyone. We demanded that the Association not only informs and educates, but also fights sexual harassment on campus. It should, we said stand in solidarity with the junior faculty staff, who are opposing the elimination of casual and sub-contracted employment and calling for the transfer of all employees on campus to proper contracts.

As millions of young people worldwide fight the climate crisis that is threatening our future, Student unions in Israel/Palestine should protest and make their voice heard, especially in Haifa, whose residents are severely affected by pollution from industries in the Gulf.

Forgery during last year’s election had already created much suspicion. Because information about how to participate in this year’s election was poorly publicised, not to say distorted and hidden from the students, we demanded that the Association must be run in a transparent and democratic manner.

This year’s election was limited to just a few places as for most positions, partly because of the lack of publicity, current “Student Committee” candidates did not encounter any opposition and were automatically elected.

In the end, the joint left campaign ran candidates in the history department, the multi-disciplinary department and the Ofakim program: Yuval Schleil (Standing together), Itamar Hashan Daniel (Standing together) and Uri Bar-Shalom Agmon (Socialist Struggle).

The results

About 20 students volunteered to help out, distributing over 1,000 flyers, speaking in front of several classes and on election day itself, filling the campus with posters calling for the association to start fighting. We received a sympathetic response from dozens of students. We met students who want a change in the Association, both Arabs and Jews, although many could not vote for us because the election is based on academic departments.

On the morning of the election itself, former Student Union chair and CEO of Initiative (Economic Society Association) Ram Turgman, pulled down our posters hanging on the campus and tried to violently prevent us from taking pictures of his actions. Childishly, the “Student Committee” decided to hang their posters over ours. But these violent and hysterical actions did not stop the campaign from growing and achieving good results.

In the history department, Yuval Schleich succeeded in defeating the “Student Committee” candidate by 30 votes to 20. This is a significant achievement, he is one of the only left-wing representatives to have been elected to the Student Union in a long time! In the multidisciplinary department and the Ofakim program, we achieved very good results – 41 against 62 and 39 against 80 votes respectively. These are more difficult arenas. Unlike other examples, the multidisciplinary student circle is scattered over hundreds of different courses and people do not study together, so the size advantage of the “Student Committee” gave them a crucial advantage.

In addition, the “Student Committee” candidates lost the two seats from the Law Department. In other words, the “Student Committee” group lost 3 of the 5 seats up for election. Disgust at the Association’s behaviour could be felt among a significant layer of students.

After the election – building socialist power on campus

For us in Socialist Struggle, the purpose of the election campaign was not only to “gather votes at the polls”, but also to raise awareness of the issues and to get more students active. During the campaign, we met quite a few students who gave us their phone numbers and expressed interest in working on campus for social change even after the Association election.

We have distributed hundreds of flyers in Hebrew and Arabic to emphasize the need to build a socialist political force that will operate on and off campus for equality, peace and well-being, and to pose an alternative to the capitalist approach that makes corporate profits at the expense of all of us and leads humanity to a dangerous climate disaster.

This semester, socialist activists on the campus will strive to expand collaboration with other left forces on the ground to push forward the issues we raised during the election as well as for other similar struggles, and to prepare to run larger, broader left campaign during next year’s full election.