I want to take you back to the UCLA I was admitted to three years ago, in the spring of 2015. A close friend of mine, Ariel Rafalian, was running for Transfer Student Representative in a hard fought student government (USAC) election.
Seeing a Persian Jew get elected to student government for the first time in USAC history was an incredible milestone. I wondered: how did he accomplish such an incredible feat?
The truth is that it was not a “he” — it was a “we.” There is no way that Ariel could have won without the support of our Jewish community at UCLA. As for many Jewish Bruins, including myself, the first community to welcome Ariel on campus was the Jewish community. I will always remember how cool I felt starting off freshman year with so many friends after bussing to Hillel’s retreat at Camp Bob Waldorf three weeks before my first day of class. Starting with Hillel, Ariel immersed himself in many great organizations that help better campus Jewish life.
Ariel stood with the Jewish community and the Jewish community took pride in Ariel, especially given the campus climate at the time. The previous year, in late 2014, USAC passed a BDS resolution. A couple months later, in February 2015, a plurality of USAC representatives initially denied a Jewish candidate for the Judicial Board solely on the basis of her identity. One representative shamelessly questioned whether this Judicial Board candidate could be a fair justice “despite” her Jewish identity.
There will be some who will try to use this history to convince us that our community “must” vote a certain way four elections later. I disagree – you should vote for the candidates who work to earn your vote.
For example, some Bruins United candidates will work hard to win our support and deserve it, but it’s no secret that some in Bruins United (BU) feel entitled to the Jewish community’s vote. We must never forget that, perhaps contrary to popular misconception, those who voted for BDS in 2014 and those who voted against the Jewish Judicial Board candidate in 2015 did not come solely from one party or another. As a matter of fact, the USAC General Representative who asked whether or not our community member could be a fair justice “despite” her Jewish identity ran with Bruins United in the previous year’s election. The Jewish community overwhelmingly supported Bruins United that year, meaning this General Representative won her seat with Jewish support – without learning how to best support the Jewish community.
This sad truth led former Hillel Student Board Member Noah Wallace to write a highly critical 2016 Ha’Am op-ed, in which he argued that sometimes Bruins United “benefits by taking resources from Jewish students — without offering much in return.” Any candidate who takes the time to learn about and support our community earns our votes, but in his op-ed, Noah reminds us, “It is not a Jewish value to support the pursuit of power by candidates without demanding an equal and opposite responsibility of those candidates to support the interests and needs of those students.” He ends: “It is time that Jewish students reevaluate how they engage in campus politics.”
Anyone who knows me knows how proud I am to be Jewish, and how important defending our Jewish community and identities is to me. This fight is personal to me. When I first got to UCLA, my Jewish mother, worrying for my safety, told me to hide anything that makes my Jewish identity obvious. In the spring of 2015, the moment I signed my SIR to UCLA, I made a promise to myself that I would never compromise on my Jewishness.
I promised myself that I would publicly be loud and proud of my identity, and I continue to wear my Magen David necklace every single day. I promised myself before zero week my freshman year that I would fight for a world where my necklace won’t have to be a “statement”. That’s why I’ve taken so many trips to Sacramento and D.C. on a week’s notice to promote legislation to combat anti-Semitism. I’m also proud to represent UCLA’s Jewish community to our campus and to leaders from other communities as a current USAC council member.
Look, I know that USAC is not the end all. Regardless of who is at the council table, a less-than-ideal campus climate will still exist for Jewish students.
As you’ve probably heard by this point, I am running for USAC President. Clearly, I hope to earn your support. However, I did not write this piece to advocate for any particular candidate. I decided to write this piece because I believe that if we, as the Jewish Bruin community, do not engage critically with our campus elections, we will be left with two bad options: we will be excluded, or we will be taken for granted. Our community’s vote is not guaranteed to any one candidate — not me, not anyone else. It has to be earned.
I, for one, can promise you that I will do everything in my power to earn our community’s support; I do not take even one vote for granted. All I ask is that you help make sure our community’s voice is heard. Vote.
Our final goal should be for all 39 candidates, regardless of party affiliation, to actively seek our community’s support. In future elections, I want to see our community host a forum for all USAC candidates – just like many other student groups who rightly demand candidates earn their endorsement through demonstrated commitment to their cause.
The work, however, starts today. I am asking every Jewish student who believes in our community to be an active voter by studying up about what is happening on campus and attending election events. Do not hesitate to ask each candidate for every position they hold, what they have done for our community or where they stand on the issues you care about. Join the campaigns that resonate with you and help get out the vote for the candidates you believe will fight for you and your values.
Together, this election, our community will make a difference.
Aaron Boudaie is a third year political science student and the current USAC Financial Supports Commissioner. He is running for USAC President.