A University of California at Los Angeles student was nearly denied a position on the student government’s judicial board last month after student representatives questioned whether her ties to the Jewish community were a conflict of interest.
The sophomore candidate, Rachel Beyda, originally failed to win the majority of votes she needed to serve. She was later unanimously approved for the position, after a faculty member intervened. The votes came after an interview with the student, in which she was asked, “Given that you’re a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
Critics have said that they are stunned that being Jewish and active in the Jewish community could be cited as a reason to reject a candidate for a student government position.
A video distributed by a pro-Israel group (embedded here) shows the questioning. While this video only shows highlights, a review of a video of the entire meeting suggests that these clips are an accurate reflection of what was said.
During the meeting, the council members frequently agreed that Beyda is a qualified candidate, but several students said they were concerned about her affiliations with Jewish groups on campus. Beyda is the president-elect of a Jewish sorority, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, and a member of Hillel at UCLA.
“It’s not her fault that she’s a part of a community, that’s fine,” Fabienne Roth, a general representative on the council, said. “But she’s part of a community that is, like, very invested in [the Undergraduate Students Association] and in very specific outcomes that judicial boards make decisions on every year. And I can’t separate those two from being not together.”
During a 30-minute discussion about Beyda, three other students said they were similarly concerned. Avinoam Baral, the council’s president, interjected numerous times to say that the members’ comments were inappropriate. “What I’m seeing right now is someone potentially being denied a position because they’re Jewish,” he said. “I see no other reason. She’s a great candidate, obviously. And she’s fantastic. And so, I’m extremely disappointed right now.”
In an op-ed published two days after the meeting, the editorial board of UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, questioned why Beyda’s religion was relevant to her role on the judicial board.
While the council has recently voted on resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the judicial board is not involved in those types of decisions. Instead, the board reviews the actions of the officers and funding bodies of the students association. Last November, the judicial board did decide a conflict of interest case brought against two students who were accused of committing ethical violations by voting on a divestment resolution after taking part in educational trips to Israel with certain pro-Israel groups.
But, the Bruin editorial board argued, “the extent of Beyda’s involvement in Jewish community groups is irrelevant to her ability” to be an effective judge even in those kinds of cases.
“Suggesting otherwise implies that any person with any kind of community identity cannot make objective decisions on the board,” the board wrote. “If Beyda cannot make decisions about issues that affect her community, can a Muslim student in the Muslim Student Association or a black student in the Afrikan Student Union do so?”
Since the meeting, the council’s questioning of Beyda has been denounced by Jewish groups on campus and nationally, including the Anti-Defamation League. In open letter, 12 other organizations -- including the Israeli-American Council, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity -- called on UCLA to “condemn this incident publicly.”
The letter, written by pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, urged the university to require the four council members to undergo antibias training or be asked to resign. The members released a public apology on Feb. 20.
“The discussion was overtly anti-Semitic, stereotyping Beyda's political affiliations based on her ethnicity and resurrecting the traditional anti-Semitic canard of divided loyalty,” the StandWithUs letter stated. “These council members, elected to represent the entire student body, instead demonstrated unabashed discrimination against Jews.”
Last week, Gene Block, chancellor of UCLA, released a statement, saying he was “troubled by recent incidents of bias” on campus. Along with the students association’s questioning of Beyda, posters have recently appeared around campus that label a pro-Palestine student group as a terrorist organization.
"These disturbing episodes are very different, but they both are rooted in stereotypes and assumptions," Block stated. "Political debate can stir passionate disagreements. The views of others may make us uncomfortable. That may be unavoidable. But to assume that every member of a group can’t be impartial or is motivated by hatred is intellectually and morally unacceptable. When hurtful stereotypes -- of any group -- are wielded to delegitimize others, we are all debased.”