Cultural Affairs Commissioner Alicia Verdugo encourages protesters to wear masks to conceal their identity but doesn’t try to hide antisemitic sentiments in social media posts made on their UCLA-affiliated social media account.
USAC’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner should represent the cultures of all the students of UCLA. Alicia Verdugo, however, seems intent on using their position to offend and alienate a significant number of constituents who disagree with her about the Israel-Hamas war.
Verdugo uses the official Cultural Affairs Instagram account, for example, to propagate one-sided content relating to the Israel-Hamas war. More than half of the stories posted since October 7 have been about the war, including false and often outrageous claims about Israel and Israelis.
In one unhinged story, the Cultural Affairs account falsely asserted that Israel is harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians. The account offered no concrete evidence of this ridiculous charge, because none exists outside the disturbed ravings of anti-Semitic fanatics. These charges are not only unfounded but deeply disquieting to anyone who understands the history of anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish mobs since the Middle Ages have accused Jews of killing non-Jews to use their blood in religious rituals. The Nazis used this so-called blood libel to justify the murder of millions of Jews across Europe.
An equally troublesome post on the Cultural Affairs story called for a one-state solution for Palestine, charging Jews with colonialism despite their ancient ties to the region. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence confirming that Jews were the first people to live in Israel, such as the thousands of Hebrew inscriptions naming people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible that have been found all over the country, from hundreds of excavated towns and cities. And Jews have maintained ties to the historic homeland of Israel for over 3,700 years.
Verdugo’s comments are a lie that calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people. The one-state solution proposed in this post requires dismantling Israel in its entirety, a country home to over half of the world’s Jewish population. The only way to eliminate Israel is by killing millions of Jews in the process.
These posts use the words “occupation” and “genocide,” which seems a lack of understanding of those terms. Israel has not occupied Gaza since 2005, when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) pulled out of the region and forcibly removed all of the Israelis and Jews living there.
Palestinian deaths are tragic. Period. But to call Israel’s campaign genocidal is flat wrong. The Palestinian population has grown more than six-fold since 1948, and during times of war, the IDF takes countless precautions to protect civilian lives. During the Israel-Hamas war, the IDF has used their tanks to shield Palestinian civilians from Hamas, creating safe corridors for evacuation. The IDF also drops flyers, sends text messages, and makes automated calls to warn civilians in areas they plan to strike. No other military on Earth alerts civilians in enemy territory of plans to attack.
Verdugo’s loathsome accusations aren’t limited to social media. During a USAC meeting on October 10, students shared the ways in which they had been personally affected by the attacks on October 7, including having loved ones that were raped, murdered, and missing. Verdugo responded that October 7 was an “unprecedented, historic moment for the Palestinians of Gaza.” Let’s be clear: her statement was reprehensible and cruel. Verdugo’s refusal to condemn Hamas, a terrorist organization, and expression of support for their actions is absolutely sickening.
Verdugo’s malice toward Jewish students does not end there. After many USAC representatives voted against a resolution calling for many anti-COVID measures including mask mandates in 2023, Verdugo said in the Disabled Student Union (DSU) GroupMe chat that this didn’t surprise her because the representatives who voted “no” were, what she deemed, “zionists.”
When a Jewish DSU member pushed back, saying a lot of the basic claims of Zionism are true, Alicia responded by saying: “I care about you enough to believe in you to see that you are being tricked, you have been lied to. The only reason any support is garnered for zionism is because it is politically useful to have a militarized ally in the Middle East. But I think you’ve encountered all these facts before, you simply don’t have the will or empathy to look inside yourself and understand that your parents are liars. They are white, and benefit from white supremacy regardless of religious affiliation.”
After being pressured to apologize, Verdugo issued an insulting, semi-apology, opening with “sorry you took the personal attacks to heart.” She continued that the student had “a bigger apology to make about what you said about honoring a military that is actively torturing, incarcerating, murdering, and terrorizing Palestinians,” a point that is neither true nor related to the disrespect with which she treated this student. Verdugo later said that “i am not apologizing for saying my truth and speaking my voice to protect Palestine and Disabled Palestinians in the DSU chat with students who are affected by it.”
This behavior isn’t inclusive and it isn’t right, not for an elected leader who is responsible for representing all students, not just the ones who agree with her.
Verdugo and others say they have no problem with Jews. Only Zionists. That’s a distinction without a difference to anyone who knows anything about the Jewish people, who view Israel as their homeland and safe haven. Some Jews might be opposed to Zionism. But, Zionism is simply the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, or the belief that Israel has the right to exist. If one claims that the indigenous population to a region has the right to self-determination, not sharing the same thoughts about Israel constitutes antisemitic prejudice towards Jews. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Don’t talk like that! When people criticize ‘Zionists,’ they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.”
Verdugo said in a 2023 interview conducted by the Daily Bruin that she wants to support students, especially those who identify as minorities, in highlighting their cultures and experiences.
“It is very important to have spaces on campus that are culturally, socially and politically relevant to not just our struggles of marginalized students on campus,” Verdugo said. “But also for our joy and for our culture and for the art that we bring into this world.”
Who does Verdugo mean when they say “we”? Not thousands of people on campus who feel a religious and cultural tie to Israel, especially after the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. Her refusal to accept Jews, a group that makes up only 0.2% of the world, as marginalized, is only further indicative of her feelings about the Jewish people.
Verdugo’s rhetoric has contributed to an environment where Jewish students fear for their safety on campus. Many fear publicly identifying as Jewish and have stopped wearing their Magen David necklaces and other religious paraphernalia. Jewish students warn each other in group chats of anti-Israel demonstrations and gatherings on campus so that their peers can avoid areas that could become unsafe. In response to the antisemitism on campus, Hillel and Chabad have also increased security to prevent further intimidation and harassment.
Among the worst effects of Verdugo’s vilification of Israel is that it does more than slander Israelis and the students on campus who feel religiously tied to them. She does a disservice to the millions of innocent Palestinians who are suffering untold horrors in this conflict. Verdugo doesn’t bring students together to agree about ending suffering and harm on both sides, as they should. They alienate thousands on campus by insulting and antagonizing them, ensuring they can’t agree with anything she’s saying.
As Cultural Affairs Commissioner, it is her duty to respect all students and cultures at UCLA, including Israelis and Jewish students.
Pictured: Kerckhoff Hall captured by Megan Freeman (author)
The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or the ASUCLA Communications Board.