On Friday, the Students’ Society’s Judicial Board will hear Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights’ case against Zach Newburgh, SSMU’s speaker of council and SSMU president-elect.
SPHR claims that by acting as chair of the Winter General Assembly, Newburgh “placed himself in a serious conflict of interest, making it impossible for him to perform his task in an impartial manner” during the debate over the motion “Re: The Defence of Human Rights, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection.” The motion, which passed, expanded the mandate of the Financial Ethics Review Committee, but caused controversy due to preamble clauses that singled out the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories as “unlawful” and “unethical.” SPHR claims that, because Newburgh is also the president of Hillel Montreal, he should not have acted as the GA Speaker.
SPHR’s case hinges on three issues: precedent, procedure, and prejudice. All three have little legal merit, and the Tribune encourages the Judicial Board to dismiss SPHR’s case against Newburgh.
Newburgh’s decision to permit a motion that struck all mentions of Israel from the preamble to “Defence of Human Rights…” is the main focus of SPHR’s case. Since it was previously thought that preambles (statements of fact that precede the motion) were unalterable, past SSMU GAs have not entertained motions to amend them. However, Newburgh was correct to break with precedent and allow an opponent of SPHR’s motion to amend the “Israel clauses” in the preamble. Robert’s Rules of Order – which govern GAs – allow for amending preambles, and so an argument of “precedent” holds no water. If the precedent is an incorrect reading of Robert’s Rules as this was, it should be struck down.
SPHR also argues that Newburgh didn’t follow the proper procedure for amending a preamble. They may have a point. In the chaos of the Winter GA, he may not have perfectly followed every nuance of Robert’s Rules. However, voting on the amendment was fair and democratic. Anyone who has been to SSMU Council or a previous GA knows that Robert’s Rules are exceedingly difficult to follow to the letter. Newburgh was almost entirely accurate and – most importantly – fair. That should be enough to satisfy even the harshest critics.
Finally, SPHR claims that Newburgh’s ties to Hillel Montreal and to Hillel McGill President Mookie Kideckel (disclosure: Kideckel is a Tribune columnist) create a bias that prejudiced Newburgh against the motion. The Tribune feels that Newburgh handled himself admirably in a difficult environment at the GA, and that his decisions showed no bias. Furthermore, Newburgh approached SSMU President Ivan Neilson before the GA to discuss his potential conflict of interest. Neilson, and the SSMU Executive Committee, decided that any potential conflict of interest was irrelevant. Newburgh is a SSMU employee; therefore, any onus to remove him from his position was on the executive.
SPHR’s case is nothing more than a personal vendetta against Newburgh. The motion passed – as it should have once the specific mention of Israel was struck from the preamble – so we’re unsure why they have brought this case to judicial board. No one likes a sore winner – we hope the Judicial Board will see through SPHR’s petty politics, so we can finally put the awful Winter GA to rest.