Rachel Beyda is a UCLA sophomore who recently sought a seat on the judicial board of the school’s Undergraduate Students Association Council. During questioning by the Council on her application, four members voiced concern that Beyda might have a conflict of interest in adjudicating issues brought to the judicial board because she is Jewish. Thus, she was asked: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community … how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?” And yes, the questioners were serious.
We’ve watched the growth of resolutions that favor the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel come up for votes at universities around the country. Israel Apartheid Day is a regular event on many campuses, and many pro-Palestinian groups refuse to engage with pro-Israel groups because to do so, in their view, would legitimize or normalize the Israeli occupation. Increasingly, many Jewish students on college campuses, regardless of their opinions on Israel, feel like they are under siege.
But at Beyda’s hearing, the offensiveness reached a new height. There, the virus of noxious speech moved from murky anti-Israelism to flat out anti-Semitism. Israel was never mentioned. At issue was whether Beyda was innately biased, simply because she is a Jew.
During 40 minutes of discussion about Beyda’s application — which included an initial vote to reject her candidacy — a faculty adviser pointed out that being Jewish does not disqualify an applicant for the post. Indeed, council members agreed that Beyda was otherwise clearly qualified. In the end, they approved her appointment unanimously. The four council members wrote a letter of apology, saying they did not mean to “attack, insult or delegitimize the identity of an individual or people.”
So, was this a “learning opportunity” for the students, as the director of UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, Todd Presner, told The Atlantic, or part of a slide into the kind of anti-Semitism common in the pre-Holocaust European academy, as Rabbi Daniel Gordis suggested in The Jerusalem Post?
Both can be true. And both are troubling. On university campuses — particularly public ones where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at a fever pitch — concerted efforts need to be pursued to institute the kind of anti-hate, anti-discrimination programs about Jews that are already being developed for other minorities. And communities in and around campuses, including ours, need to monitor the situation and offer support to affected Jewish students.
We need to draw very clear lines, and our communities need to speak up. Political differences over Israel or other issues could be legitimate, even if not welcome. But bigotry and efforts to impugn an entire people, as the UCLA students attempted to do? That is beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated.