ICYMI: A Jewish Candidate Freaked Out UCLA’s Student Government

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 11, 2015 8:00 AM
ICYMI: A Jewish Candidate Freaked Out UCLA’s Student Government

At The University of California, Los Angeles, the Undergraduate Students Association Council serves as the campuses student government. It has something called the Judicial Board, which according to their website, is “similar to the Supreme Court, J-Board reviews cases of actions taken among the officers, commissioners, and funding bodies to ensure compliance with the USA Constitution & Bylaws, among many other types of cases.”

Well, last month, the “J-Board” confirmation process took a nasty turn concerning the candidacy of 20-year-old Rachel Beyda due to her religious background. She’s Jewish. And the whole fiasco was caught on tape, which the council tried to delete from YouTube, but was happily re-uploaded by Legal Insurrection. Beyda’s friend and roommate, Rachel Frenklak, wrote an op-ed in the student paper–the Daily Bruin–about the ordeal, where she described the incident as “unequivocal anti-Semitism.”

Rachel had been unanimously approved by the Appointments Review Committee consisting of three council members before she flawlessly introduced herself to the council. However, the first question directed at her by General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth was an attack on Rachel’s ability to be a justice based on her involvement in the Jewish community. At President Avinoam Baral’s insistence, the question was phrased slightly more considerately by Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, but this first question set the tone. Rachel finished the interview, making two important points: first, anyone qualified for the position would be a critical thinker who is knowledgeable about campus issues and therefore, has his or her own opinions and second, she has no significant political affiliations. Furthermore, she demonstrated an understanding of what actually having a conflict of interest means and acknowledged that a justice should remove herself from the decision-making process under those circumstances. Rachel was asked to leave the room for council discussion. 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.

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. “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. … Even if she’s the right person for the job,” claimed Roth. Sadeghi-Movahed added, “For some reason, 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.” Throughout this discussion, Rachel anxiously paced outside, where, she later informed me, she could hear “conflict of interest” being yelled and concluded that it could only be about her being Jewish. Undoubtedly, the Israeli-Palestinan conflict is one of the most contentious issues on our campus. However, Israel was not mentioned during the discussion of Rachel’s appointment, only her affiliation with Jewish organizations, making the extensive deliberation a definitive act of discrimination.

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.

This nasty episode even caught the attention of the New York Times [emphasis mine]:

Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, began, looking at Ms. Beyda at the other end of the room, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

For the next 40 minutes, after Ms. Beyda was dispatched from the room, the council tangled in a debate about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel, a popular student group, meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions that come before the board, which is the campus equivalent of the Supreme Court.

The discussion, recorded in written minutes and captured on video, seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes — particularly about divided loyalties — that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries, students and Jewish leaders said.

But in the weeks since, that uncomfortable debate has upended this campus of 29,600 students that has long been central to the identity of Los Angeles. It has set off an anguished discussion of how Jews are treated, particularly in comparison with other groups that are more typically viewed as victims of discrimination, such as African-Americans and gays and lesbians.

The Times piece also mentioned that this campus’ student council also passed a resolution supporting the Boycotts, Disinvestment, and Sanctions movement, which has been viewed as fiercely anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Now, the four members who initially voted against Beyda’s appointment, Manjot Singh, Sofia Moreno Haq, Fabienne Roth and Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, did pen a letter in the Bruin apologizing for the incident.

The Chancellor of UCLA, Gene D. Block, also issued a statement to the entire student body calling for tolerance and creating “an environment that affords everyone the opportunity to debate free of intimidation or harm.” Rachel’s ugly Judicial Board confirmation and another incident involving posters circulated at UCLA, alleging that Students for Justice in Palestine was a terrorist organization prompted this action by the school administration.

Barry Kosmin of Trinity College, who’s also cited in the Times article, noted that this is just one instance of rising anti-Semitism that’s sweeping across higher education. Kosmin along with his colleague, Ariela Keysar, found that 54 percent of Jewish students reported "experiencing or witnessing" anti-Semitism at their respective campuses between September 2013-March of 2014. Their sample size consisted of 1,157 Jewish students from 55 different schools. They also found out that in that six-month period, female Jewish students were more likely than their male peers to report this behavior.

Kosmin aptly noted that such questions are highly illegal, as candidates entering public office are not subject religious tests; our Constitution bars that practice. Yet, what was going through the UCLA student board’s minds when they initially voted to reject Beyda’s nomination? Did they honestly think she would use the UCLA Judicial Board as a staging ground for Jewish world domination, or a pulpit to disseminate The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion? The latter of which is an anti-Semitic piece of Russian fiction.  Was she an agent for Mossad? 

While both sides have seemingly moved on, it still doesn't mitigate the fact that the council's reservations were absurd, which turned a simple vetting process into a catastrophe. 

Regardless, since the controversial incident, Beyda has refused to comment, saying it's not "appropriate" due to her position on the Judicial Board.