On Tuesday night, the Undergraduate Students Association Council evaluated the qualifications of Rachel Beyda, a second-year economics major, as a potential justice for its Judicial Board. Appointed by USAC President Avinoam Baral, she proved herself to be extremely qualified for the position at every step of the interview process. All USAC council members present agreed that she was a perfect fit for the position, though several council members –– including General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth, Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, General Representative 1 Manjot Singh, and General Representative 2 Sofia Moreno Haq –– shared one point of contention: that Beyda is a Jew.
Roth’s first interview question established the theme for the rest of the deliberation: “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 in your position?”
This question — and the following questions along this vein — were, as USAC President Avinoam Baral interjected, outside the realm of acceptable criteria for concern. While Judicial Board members may not have any political affiliations in order to ensure the body’s neutrality, this restriction is not extended to personal affiliations or identity. Beyda made all her affiliations explicit, including that she is vice president of the Jewish sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, but stated clearly that she has no political ties. And yet, Roth chose to conflate Beyda’s Jewish identity with a political affiliation.
After the interview, the council asked Beyda to step out while it deliberated. Considering Beyda’s impressive qualifications — a 3.9 GPA and a strong résumé exhibiting leadership and experience in the field of law — deliberation was expected to be short. However, it lasted over half an hour, during which time select USAC council members attempted to discredit Beyda as an appropriate candidate based solely on her affiliation with the Jewish community.
Again, Roth began the discussion, this time accusing Baral of appointing Beyda as a political pawn. “My issue is, I’m going to be upfront about it, I think she’s pretty great,” admitted Roth. “She’s smart, she knows her stuff, like [sic] probably going to be a really great lawyer…I just think that this is a stupid political move…It’s not her fault…but she’s part of a community that’s very invested in USAC and very specific outcomes. I just can’t separate those two from being locked together, even if she is talented, and even if she is the right person for the job.”
Sadeghi-Movahed continued with the discriminatory rhetoric: “For some reason, I’m not 100% comfortable. I don’t know why. I’ll go through her application again — I’ve been going through it constantly, but I can see that she’s qualified for sure…but I’m worried about her political affiliations obviously.”
Like Roth, Sadeghi-Movahed refused to accept that Beyda could not have political affiliations as a member of the Jewish community. Beyda’s personal opinions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were not disclosed, but as Beyda stated: “Anyone who is qualified to be a candidate of Judicial Board [sic] is likely to be someone who is a really a critical thinker, and it’s likely that they have opinions on political matters, but that’s not what Judicial Board is about.”
The council members opposing Beyda’s appointment attempted to justify their trepidations by saying it “isn’t that she’s Jewish” or expressing dissatisfaction with the way she explained “conflict of interest.” Yet, it was apparent that they were searching for valid criticisms to support their discontent with appointing a Jewish justice. Only when the faculty finally stepped in to point out the council members’ discriminatory actions — after an initial vote that tied (4-4-1) — did the council vote to unanimously appoint Beyda to the Judicial Board (9-0).
The conversation that took place at the council table was overtly anti-Semitic. Council members implied that Beyda was lying about her political affiliation and the potential for her to have a conflict of interest, and suggested that as a Jewish student she would undoubtedly have divided loyalties. The stereotypes of the lying Jew and of Jews having divided loyalties are centuries old anti-Semitic tropes that have been used to justify the discrimination, oppression, and persecution of Jewish people throughout history.
It is abhorrent that elected officials who purport to represent the entire student body would discriminate against a UCLA student solely because of her religious and ethnic identity. The USAC council members who wrongfully attempted to bar Beyda from the justice position on the basis of her identity must recognize their wrongdoing and their anti-Semitic rhetoric.
On behalf of the UCLA Jewish community, Ha’Am‘s editorial board calls for Roth to unequivocally recognize and apologize publicly for her anti-Semitic criticism of Beyda. At the writing of this article, Roth has merely posted a private Facebook status which attempted to justify her actions, maintained that her words were misconstrued, and repeated similarly disconcerting misconceptions about Jewish affiliations. The editorial board also calls for an apology from Singh and Haq. Meanwhile, Ha’Am’s editorial board commends Sadeghi-Mohaved for her public Facebook apology.
However, while recognizing and apologizing for such wrongdoing is certainly important, the Ha’Am editorial board is still concerned that the council members’ attitudes allowed for such anti-Semitic actions to be entertained in the first place. In addition to the apologies, we feel that it is necessary for all council members to partake in a diversity and sensitivity training to learn about the concerns of the Jewish community, and what constitutes anti-Semitism, so that such discrimination can be avoided in the future.
It is incumbent upon council to foster a campus environment in which criticism is based on merit, and not identity; it is incumbent upon council to celebrate the diversity of students involved in and dedicated to student government, and not limit it due to personal prejudice; and it is incumbent upon council to ensure the fair and equal treatment of all students on campus, a principle that council professes to champion but fails to uphold, even in its own action. We hope that, in the future, USAC’s board will be able to judge others not by religious or ethnic identity, but by the content of their character.
Quotations were transcribed from the USAC live stream recording.