In what some are calling a “sickening” display of anti-Semitism, the student government at UCLA interrogated a young student about the fact she is Jewish, and nearly scrapped her acceptance to its group because of her religious heritage.
Student Rachel Beyda this month applied to be a member of the UCLA Judicial Board, and while members initially agreed she was qualified to hold a position, the meeting devolved into discussion of a potential “conflict of interest.”
The four students who opposed Beyda’s candidacy were Fabienne Roth, Manjot Singh, Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed and Sofia Moreno Haq.
Roth started the inquisition by asking whether Beyda could hold an “unbiased” view.
“Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” Roth asked Beyda, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
Beyda was asked to leave the room, and as she paced outside the door, a long, heated discussion took place.
“What followed was a disgusting 40 minutes of what can only be described as unequivocal anti-Semitism during which some of our council members resorted to some of the oldest accusations against Jews, including divided loyalties and dishonesty,” said Beyda’s roommate, Rachel Frenklak, who published an op-ed in the campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin.
“All council members swiftly agreed Rachel was amply qualified for the position, but half of the council had strong reservations stemming from Rachel’s Jewish identity.”
During the discussion, Roth claimed: “My issue is, I’m going to be upfront about it, I think she’s pretty great. She’s smart, she like knows her stuff, she’s like probably going to be a really great lawyer. But I’m like not going to pretend this isn’t about conflict of interest. … It’s not her fault … but she’s part of a community that’s very invested in USAC (Undergraduate Students Association Council). … Even if she’s the right person for the job.”
Sadeghi-Movahed added, “I’m not 100 percent comfortable. I don’t know why. I’ll go through her application again. I’ve been going through it constantly, but I definitely can see that she’s qualified for sure.”
Frenklak explained, “The initial telling vote of 4-4-1 was dismissed when Cultural Affairs Commissioner Irmary Garcia said she was ‘not ready’ for the vote. A faculty member in attendance eventually stepped in to point out the problems with the council’s reasons for denying Rachel the position. And in the end, the council unanimously approved her appointment. However, Rachel’s justified appointment to the Judicial Board is not enough to right the wrongs.”
Watch KCAL-TV’s coverage of the issue:
Council President Avinoam Baral had argued Beyda’s Jewish identity has no bearing on her qualifications to make student-policy decisions.
Baral told the Daily Bruin, “It was definitely very difficult for me to sit there as they were discussing the appointment and were quite clearly biased against her because of her Jewish identity and her affiliation to the community.”
“As a Jewish student, this for me echoed a centuries-long sort of connotation of Jews being unable to be truly loyal,” he said, noting he is working on a draft resolution against campus anti-Semitism.
Heena Doshi, a UCLA student, told KCAL-TV in Los Angeles: “I was honestly just sickened at the way they questioned her.”
Some on the student council have already apologized publicly.
“When a community feels offended by any behavioral conduct of an individual, especially an elected official, it is the responsibility of the aggressor to acknowledge their faults,” wrote Sadeghi-Movahed on her Facebook page.
“Moreover, I am an individual who prides herself on being sensitive to community issues, it is with much humility that I ask the UCLA community, particularly the Jewish community, to accept my apology for my comments at Tuesday’s (February 11th) meeting. As I grow and learn from my mistakes, I look forward to continue learning more about community conditions and the identities of my peers to educate myself further.”
Fallout has been intense on campus, and UCLA’s chancellor issued a letter stating Beyda’s grilling was “unfair” and that “no student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion.”
The UCLA “Principles of Community” states:
We do not tolerate acts of discrimination, harassment, profiling or other conduct causing harm to individuals on the basis of expression of race, color, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religious beliefs, political preference, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship or national origin among, other personal characteristics. Such conduct violates UCLA’s Principles of Community and may result in imposition of sanctions according to campus policies governing the conduct of students, staff and faculty.
The Daily Bruin published an editorial warning council members.
“Religious affiliations and ethnic identity should not and do not disqualify someone from being an effective judge,” it stated. “And yet, at Tuesday night’s Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting, that’s exactly what council members were arguing.”
“Barring the dubious legality of not appointing someone based on his or her religious identity, the controversy over Beyda’s appointment makes little logical sense,” the editorial continued. “The extent of Beyda’s involvement in Jewish community groups is irrelevant to her ability to execute her job on the Judicial Board. Suggesting otherwise implies that any person with any kind of community identity cannot make objective decisions on the board.”