Student Government officers may face an investigation concerning their trip to Israel this week.
UF philosophy senior and former independent senator Alfredo Ortiz submitted a complaint May 12 requesting an ethics investigation into two high-ranking SG members: Senate President Elizabeth Hartzog and External Affairs Director Noah Fineberg. It concerned a trip to Israel the two took alongside other senators and executive officers.
Hartzog canceled the May 17 Senate meeting at its last meeting May 10. Several senators and executive chairpersons posed for a photo posted on Fineberg’s Twitter May 11 while leaving for Israel.
The Senate must hold a body meeting at least once every two weeks, according to its constitution. Senate rules and procedures give Hartzog the discretionary power to cancel a meeting 24 hours in advance. The next scheduled meeting is May 24.
UF Senators are responsible for passing SG’s budget every Summer semester. Last year, it distributed over $22 million to clubs, organizations and projects across campus. Ortiz thinks canceling the meeting is a way for senators to avoid the absence on their record for the week they will be gone.
Ortiz said his main concern is Hartzog, Fineberg and others went on the trip in their official capacities as SG officers. The trip was not sponsored or officially approved by SG.
“I have no problem if the senators want to go on their own time,” Ortiz said, “but they shouldn’t be canceling Senate meetings to do it.”
Hartzog and Fineberg both have ties to Gator Party. Fineberg — a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity — is a former UF Senate President Pro-Tempore and now serves in SG’s executive branch.
“This trip was taken 100% entirely in my personal capacity and has absolutely nothing to do with Student Government in any way, shape, or form,” he wrote in an email to The Alligator. “Let me be crystal clear, SG resources were not used in connection to this trip, and to suggest otherwise demonstrates how this entire complaint should be thrown out immediately.”
Minority Leader Faith Corbett announced Change Party’s support of Ortiz’ complaint and its plan to present its own investigations May 24.
Ortiz said he also intended to draft a resolution to address the recent death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian journalist, with Change Party senators.
“When tensions are so high, when stakes are so high, when Senate meetings are being canceled, when journalists are being killed, I think that the student body has the right to know what it is that their senators are doing in Israel,” Ortiz said.
Hartzog said her decision to cancel the Senate meeting did not break any rules or regulations. She said she decided to go on the trip months before her term began.
“While my role as Senate President is part of my identity as a student at UF, I am also an individual human with a personal life,” Hartzog wrote in an email to The Alligator. “I stand firm in my stance that this does not and will not impact my ability to serve within my role as Senate President.”
The investigation cannot begin until senators are appointed to the Rules and Ethics Committee’s five open positions May 22.
In his complaint, Ortiz argued the required preliminary investigation into Hartzog could not be carried out by Rules and Ethics Chairwoman Tanner Thompson because the two serve on an executive board together. According to the Student Body Codes, an investigation into Hartzog would need to be completed by someone with no ties to SG; the Chief Justice of the SG Supreme Court, Ryan Wiele, would have to appoint them.
Fineberg wrote the complaint is “littered with anti-Semitic tropes” and should not be tolerated or seriously considered due to lack of evidence. He thinks it is an attempt to intimidate and harass him.
“I cannot be so easily threatened,” he wrote. “I will not allow this distraction to prevent me from continuing to serve the administration and the student body as I have done so faithfully for the past few years. In terms of the complaint itself, I will be considering and evaluating all of my options in responding to it and the individuals involved.”
Ortiz submitted a second complaint against Fineberg for his response to The Alligator. He claimed Fineberg defamed him by suggesting he was anti-Semitic.
Contact Sandra McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald.