Human Rights

UCLA Board Objects to Jewish Student’s Appointment on Account of Her Religion

A student who had applied to join UCLA Undergraduate Students Association’s judicial board was accepted to the post only after objections were raised on account of her Jewish identity, The College Fix reported Thursday.

At the Feb. 10 hearing, several members did not want to confirm Rachel Beyda to the association’s judicial board, the committee that determines if the student government’s actions comply with its bylaws. Essentially council members argued Beyda’s Jewish heritage is not compatible with the interests of the UCLA student government. …

Student government member Fabienne Roth commenced the question period by asking Beyda: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, given that recently…(inaudible)…has been surrounding cases of conflict of interest, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view in…(inaudible)…?”

At this point the Undergraduate Students Association president, Jewish student Avinoam Baral, interjected that “questioning a candidate’s ability to remain unbiased simply on the basis of her being a member of a particular community is an inappropriate question that we would not feel comfortable asking student members of other communities.”

The incident was immediately condemned in an editorial appearing in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s undergraduate newspaper:

The main objection to her appointment was Beyda’s affiliation with Jewish organizations at UCLA and how they might affect her ability to rule fairly on cases in which the Jewish community has a vested interest in the outcome, such as cases related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. …

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 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.

If Beyda cannot make decisions about issues that affect her community, can a Muslim student in the Muslim Students Association or a black student in the Afrikan Student Union do so? A Latino student in MEChA?

The editorial also observed that from “a council seemingly obsessed with celebrating diversity in student positions and advocating against discrimination, the proceedings of Tuesday’s meeting were particularly hypocritical” and called the objections to Beyda’s appointment “illogical and immoral.”

Beyda’s experience is not an isolated instance of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel discrimination at UCLA. Tessa Nath described the culture of intimidation Jewish and pro-Israel students face at the campus in Why Are Student Leaders and Jewish Bruins Under Attack at UCLA?, which was published in the June 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine.

The resolution in question called for divestment from Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and Cemex, claiming that all these companies committed human rights violations against the Palestinian people. If passed, the resolution would be purely symbolic, since the Regents of the University of California had already declared that they would not divest from any companies that maintain operations in Israel.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestinian organization, authored the resolution, which was sponsored by three council members. SJP has long been active on campuses across America and its ideology is well known. Its website states,
As a solidarity organization, we support the Palestinian call for three basic rights, outlined in 2005: The right not to live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the right to equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. As a group, we focus on supporting these rights instead of advocating for a particular political solution (such as one or two states).

The issue most pro-Israel students had with the resolution was that it did not allow a dialogue on whether or not Israel committed human rights violations; it assumed Israel’s sole culpability without looking at any event in a historical context. Bruins for Israel (BFI), the primary pro-Israel group on campus, was thus the most vocal organization opposing the resolution. BFI is an entirely mainstream and moderate group. As outgoing President Miriam Eshaghian has said, “By framing factual current events in a historical context, we give the campus community the tools to comprehend the turmoil…. We advocate for a negotiated two-state solution: A Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state…. We stand firmly against any form of delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state.” To BFI, the resolution was part of the global anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to delegitimize the Jewish state, and therefore had to be strenuously opposed. The USAC meeting to vote on the divestment resolution was scheduled for February 25, 2014. For weeks before the deciding USAC meeting, both pro-divestment and anti-divestment groups lobbied individual council members intensely, bombarding them with fact sheets, presentations, explanations of historical context, and, in some cases, friendships that proved to be false and exploitative. By the time the council actually voted on the issue, the meeting had extended into the wee hours of the morning on February 26. It lasted for nearly 12 hours, with nine hours of public comments, despite each speaker being limited to only two minutes per statement. As a student in the audience, I watched with a sense of helplessness as blocks of students went up to the microphone to gush hate, bias, and one-sided claims from all sides of the divestment advocacy spectrum.

When it was finally my turn to read my statement to the council, three hours after I had gotten in line, my whole body began to shake with the force of my words and the knowledge that hundreds of eyes in the room—and thousands of ears listening to a live stream—were focused on me. I shook with the power of conviction and the feeling that I must fight to do something, anything, to carve out a place for myself in a university that was threatening to stifle not only my voice, but also my identity and my connection to the Jewish homeland. After sitting through the public comments, the council members deliberated on what they had heard. After two straw votes, former USAC President John Joanino decided to move to a secret ballot—though many believe that secrecy was compromised, since the two straw votes clearly revealed the council members’ opinions.

[Photo: Better than Bacon / Flickr ]