National student federation head quits amid misconduct accusations

Printed in the Jerusalem Post, February 28 2008

National Student Federation chairman Itay Shonshine, who ran a 36-day student strike in universities and colleges last spring, announced his resignation on Sunday.

In a three-page letter to his colleagues, he said a leader “has to know when to move on,” and cited harm to his studies as the primary reason for the move.

But federation activists said a far likelier motivation was a motion by the leaders of the student unions that make up the federation to demote him over allegations of severe misconduct and mishandling of student funds, as well as dissatisfaction with his leadership of the strike.

According to the activists, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity, Shonshine was presented with an ultimatum on Sunday – either an immediate resignation, or a forced removal on Monday morning.

National Student Federation leaders have been trying to depose their once-firebrand leader for close to a year. There was frustration over the end of the strike, which saw the students go back to university in return for promises from the Finance Ministry to “consult” them over any tuition increase, a promise that was broken in November.

While federation activists spoke of internal intrigues and backdoor politics that “wouldn’t have shamed a medieval court,” the union leaders had less personal issues.

A Ma’ariv expose last month uncovered a string of accusations against the federation chief, including trying to sell the student-owned ISSTA travel agency to tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak (while using his lawyer flatmate as a private mediator at an expected fee of $1.5 million), appointing his personal accountant to perform an internal review at ISSTA, and giving the Student Federation’s lawyer’s son NIS 400 for his bar mitzva – using the checkbook of the College of Management student union, which he chaired at the time.

Shonshine denied all the allegations, and federation activists lodged a complaint with the police’s Fraud Investigation Unit. The complaint is being processed, and an official investigation has yet to begin.

Speaking to the Post, Shonshine denied all allegations and played down his decision to stand down. “I did not resign, I just decided to shorten my term and advance the elections. I was a chairman for two years, and achieved everything I could as a chair of the federation – politically, socially, in the media, and more. Then there is the issue of my studies, which I want to complete. I also intend to run for the Petah Tikva municipal council, and it would be unethical to be politically active on two different fronts.”

Shonshine denied the existence of an ultimatum. “There was no such thing, just talk by some opposition activists. The overwhelming majority of chairmen and students still support my leadership,” he said.

He went on to call the police complaint “nonsense” and attacked the Ma’ariv journalist who wrote the expose. “What people don’t know and Ma’ariv doesn’t tell them is that Youval Lidor was a spokesman for the federation four years ago. He is still in contact with several factors in the organization, and he should have told this to his readers.”

Lidor, who served as the federation’s spokesperson in 2000, said the allegations were “absurd” and that he did not care to comment.

Ma’ariv also declined to speak on the issue.

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