A student's Jewish affiliation became the subject of a heated debate at University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) earlier this month, after the student government nearly scrapped her acceptance due to her background.
Student Rachel Beyda applied to be a member of the UCLA Judicial Board in February, and presented herself as a candidate in front of the Board.
However, the meeting quickly dissolved into a debate over whether her Jewish background and affiliation with Jewish life on campus is a "conflict of interest," as can be seen in the video below. The debate begins at 47:30.
After some 40 minutes of debate and an intervention by a faculty member, Beyda was eventually voted in in a 9-0 vote. Four students who opposed her candidacy – Fabienne Roth, Manjot Singh, Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed and Sofia Moreno Haq, as named by student newspaper the Daily Bruin – also made a public apology following their comments.
Roth had begun the debate by asking whether Beyda could have 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 then asked to leave the room, wherein a long debate ensued over the issue.
“I feel like we should be working on a way to make sure that we make things better at USAC, and we have a legacy that's not being more divisive towards things,” Roth then said. “She’s part of a community that is very invested in USAC and in very specific outcomes that Judicial Boards make decisions on every year.”
Sadeghi-Movahed added that “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.”
However, other student board members – including president Avinoam Baral – argued that Beyda's Jewish identity has no bearing whatsoever on her qualifications to make student policy decisions.
The issue was only resolved after a faculty member intervened, noting the difference between "conflict of interest" and "perceived conflict of interest," according to the Jewish Journal – and noted that a "perceived conflict of interest" could apply to any member of the board.
The incident garnered a significant backlash from the Jewish community on campus.
Baral later stated to 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, adding that he is working on a draft resolution against anti-Semitism on campus.
Fallout over the incident was so strong that UCLA's Chancellor issued a letter over the debate, noting that the interrogation was "unfair" and that "no student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion.”
On Tuesday, UCLA Hillel's incoming executive director, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, expressed alarm to the Journal over the apparently brazen show of anti-Semitism. Lerner noted that this is not the first time the student government has engaged in virulent anti-Semitic activity; in May 2014, it debated heatedly over whether the votes of two Jewish members who had visited Israel should be disqualified during a vote on whether to adopt Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) measures on campus.
“The same group of elected student leaders who were instrumental in bringing an anti-Israel resolution to campus earlier this year felt it was appropriate to publicly question a fellow student's qualifications as a candidate because of her ethnic and religious identity,” Lerner stated.
While Lerner praised the offending students' apology, he indicated that the issue is ongoing, "especially given the way it has allowed itself to become polluted by an inability to distinguish between advocating for Palestinian rights versus freely mingling with and even sponsoring anti-Semitic speakers and events.”
The incident made headlines less than 24 hours after a landmark study by Trinity College revealed that 54% of Jewish American college students experienced anti-Semitism on campus in 2014 – and 10% specified that discrimination had been levied against them in student organizations.
UCLA was named Tuesday as one of the "Top Ten" colleges in the US for anti-Semitic activity by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative think tank based in Southern California.