Fallout from student anti-semitism at UCLA

March 7, 2015 • 9:40 am

A week ago I posted about a vile incident at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), in which Rachel Beyda, a Jewish sophomore student who was up for membership of the student council’s judicial board, was interrogated and initially rejected solely because she was a member of Jewish organizations, which supposedly conferred on her a lack of “objectivity” and “divided loyalties.”

There’s a short video of the council’s interrogation and deliberation here, and a longer one below, which you can watch if you want (it’s 44 minutes long). The initial vote that rejected Beyda—by a vote of 4-4-1—takes place at 16:10. The faculty advisor then weighs in at about 34:19, admonishing the students that being Jewish does not constitute a “conflict of interest.” The second vote, in which the council finally approved Beyda unanimously, takes place at 43:40.

Can you imagine a member of any other minority group who would receive this kind of treatment in a liberal American university? Even a Muslim—a member of a group said to be a target of “Islamophobia”—would never be interrogated this way. Can you imagine a student group rejecting a Muslim because she had “divided loyalties,” or a black student because she “was black, belonged to black student groups and thus had ‘divided loyalties’? Only Jews receive this kind of treatment by students—and it’s because of the overweening hatred of Israel (which devolves upon Jewish students) among many college students.

Until recently, anti-Semitism on campus was not much discussed, even though in America hate crimes against Jews are 5-6 times more frequent than against Muslims (twofold if you weight the data by population size), and they occur fairly often on campus. There are two reasons. First, people have the impression that anti-Semitism simply isn’t a going view in the U.S., and so ignore it. Second, anti-Semitism is now folded into a more socially acceptable view: anti-Zionism. But not all Jews are unthinking adherents to Israel’s policies: many Jews in the U.S. are critical of some of Israel’s doings (I’m one of these), and, regardless, you shouldn’t hold all Jewish students responsible for things that Israel does. If some Jewish students agree with Israel’s actions, and you want to disagree with those views, by all means do so; but don’t discriminate against people like Beyda simply because they’re Jewish. What we see in the above meeting is simply anti-Semitism (Israel isn’t even mentioned!), although the bigots, as usual, deny their bigotry.

At any rate, the New York Times published a front-page article on this incident yesterday, “In UCLA debate over Jewish student, echoes on campus of old biases.” It’s remarkable to me how restrained (but firm) the reaction of Jewish people was:

The president of the student council, Avinoam Baral, who had nominated Ms. Beyda, appeared stunned at the turn the questioning took at the session and sought at first to rule Ms. Roth’s question out of order. “I don’t feel that’s an appropriate question,” he said.

In an interview, Mr. Baral, who is Jewish, said he “related personally to what Rachel was going through.”

“It’s very problematic to me that students would feel that it was appropriate to ask that kind of questions, especially given the long cultural history of Jews,” he said. “We’ve been questioned all of our history: Are Jews loyal citizens? Don’t they have divided loyalties? All of these anti-Semitic tropes.”

. . . The session — a complete recording of which has been removed from YouTube [JAC: it’s back, and I posted it above] — has served to spotlight what appears to be a surge of hostile sentiment directed against Jews at many campuses in the country, often a byproduct of animosity toward the policies of Israel. This is one of many campuses where the student council passed, on a second try and after fierce debate, a resolution supporting the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at pressuring Israel.

“We don’t like to wave the flag of anti-Semitism, but this is different,” Rabbi Aaron Lerner, the incoming executive director of the Hillel chapter at U.C.L.A., said of the vote against Ms. Beyda. “This is bigotry. This is discriminating against someone because of their identity.”

Indeed it is. As I said, Israel wasn’t even mentioned! But Beyda took the high road:

Ms. Beyda, 20, who is from Cupertino and is president-elect of the Jewish sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, said she did not want to comment on her confirmation hearing because of her role on the Judicial Board, whose duties include hearing challenges to the constitutionality of actions of the council.

“As a member of the Judicial Board, I do not feel it is appropriate for me to comment on the actions of U.C.L.A.’s elected student government,” she said by email.

Rachel Beyda. Photo: Emily Berl for The New York Times

Fortunately, the chancellor of UCLA stood up for Beyda:

The university’s chancellor, Gene D. Block, issued a statement denouncing the attacks on Ms. Beyda. “To assume that every member of a group can’t be impartial or is motivated by hatred is intellectually and morally unacceptable,” he said. “When hurtful stereotypes — of any group — are wielded to delegitimize others, we are all debased.”

In an interview on Thursday, Chancellor Block said he viewed this as “a teaching moment. These are students that are learning about governance. I think they all learned about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. The campus has come together on this.”

Well, that assessment might be a bit optimistic. Although the four students who initially voted against Beyda wrote a letter of apology to the UCLA student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, have a look at it:

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 8.29.00 AM

Maybe I’m being uncharitable here, but this sounds largely like a notapology. The classic notapology trope—”we are truly sorry for any words used during this meeting that suggested otherwise”—seems to put some blame on the interpreter for construing what the signers’ words “suggested.” Further, as Steve Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University wrote on the academic-issues discussion website The Faculty Lounge:

. . . it was not much of an apology:

Our intentions were never to attack, insult or delegitimize the identity of an individual or people. It is our responsibility as elected officials to maintain a position of fairness, exercise justness, and represent the Bruin community to the best of our abilities, and we are truly sorry for any words used during this meeting that suggested otherwise.

Really?  What exactly were their intentions when they challenged Rachel’s impartiality, solely because she is Jewish?  And what alternative “words used during this meeting” could possibly have made it any better?  The problem was not the language of their questioning, but rather the sentiment behind it.

Undergraduates need to be forgiven for their mistakes, but they also need to learn from them.  In this case, the four objectors seem to have learned very little, as they appear to be completely blind to their own implicit expression of anti-Semitism, even after it has been pointed out to them.

Indeed: no Muslim, Mormon, gay, or black student would have been challenged about their “objectivity”. That issue is reserved for Jews.

Bigotry of any sort is unacceptable, and we (and the students above) need to learn the difference between discriminating against someone solely because of their background, ethnicity, or sexuality on the one hand, and challenging their beliefs or actions on the other.


51 thoughts on “Fallout from student anti-semitism at UCLA

  1. I’m hopeful that the students involved in interrogating Beyda are ashamed of their actions. It could well be that they thought they were doing the right thing, having been subjected to the “free Palestine” posters and groups that tend to permeate campuses and unaware that they were being incredibly simple in their views. This could be an excellent lesson for them (unfortunately at Beyda’s expense somewhat) and this is what university is about. Good thing the faculty advisor stepped in.

    1. I agree. Many people that age have a very simplistic view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One that particularly annoys me is the statement of how many Israelis and how many Palestinians have been killed, and because it’s hugely more Palestinians, Israel is therefore evil and no other argument matters.

      Of course, every death is a tragedy, and there has been some less than ideal behaviour by Israel, but the low number of Israelis killed is because of investment in bomb shelters, early warning systems, training children what to do and where to go when they hear the sirens(!), not using civilians as human shields, not building missile sites in schools, hospitals and other civilian areas etc. A full 20% of the concrete given to Palestine by Israel for building schools etc is diverted to building tunnels to attack Israel.

      There are faults on both sides, but many seem incapable of recognizing the enormous fault level on the Palestinian side. Often when I point some of them out to others the only reason they’ll even listen to me is because they know I don’t make stuff like that up, and are still shocked when they check and discover I’m right.

      Well, this comment has gone on for rather longer than I intended. Time to stop ranting!

  2. I wonder how much of this bigotry is coming from the large Islamic propaganda business on these campuses and how much they are bringing from home. These two sources are really the only ones that could cause this sort of thing.

    Also, I would not just leave it as caused only by policies of Israel. As unreasonable as bigotry is, to source it from Israel to an American Jewish person is almost double stupid. If we knew the religious affiliations for each of these bigots it help provide further truth where this bigotry comes from.

  3. “Jewish quotas” were in effect on many of America’s most prestigious universities long before the nation of Israel was founded.

    I’m sure some of the current bigotry can be traced to the perception of Israeli policies, but that must be tempered by the knowledge that it is part of a longer history.

    1. Yeah, my dad went to college in that era, and he was banned from joining most fraternities at Penn State because he was Jewish. All Jewish men had to join one of the two Jewish fraternities.

      1. Ironic, given my experience, which is that every Greek house was trying to raise their overall GPA..

    2. And in case anybody’s not familiar with those quotas, they were designed to limit Jew attendance. They were not any kind of affirmative action!

  4. At a university where I used to work, on several occasions I heard others “explain” promotions, raises, lab space assignments, etc. by saying that the recipient was a MotT, and was given those things on that basis (rather than because ze had earned it). I had no idea what “MotT” meant until someone told me it was “Member of the Tribe,” i.e. Jewish. I was gobsmacked that a) anyone would openly use such a bigoted term, and b) that everyone who used the term saw nothing wrong with it or the attitude behind it. When I objected to the term and its application, I was chastised as being oversensitive, and worse – got bigotsplained that “how else would one account for the Jewish domination of the university faculty?”

    I can’t think of any other academic circumstance under which any group of individuals, based on ethnicity, religion, etc. could be referred to as a “tribe” (in an insulting manner, not as a reference to Native American or First Nations heritage) without some sort of repercussion. I think the only other times I’ve been as gobsmacked in an academic setting were when a co-worker described a local politician as an “octoroon,” and when a student asked “what Woody Guthrie had against fascists?” Unbelievable.

    1. In what kind of department were you working? The derogatory terminology is pretty sad, but academic jealousy can be pretty extreme. Was there really Jewish domination of the faculty (like, approaching 100% at higher ranks?). If they’re perceiving 20% representation as dominance, then that’s plain bigotry. Sometimes group dominance does occur, and others could be justifiably suspicious.

      1. It sounds like anti-women groups who complain about women taking over because men only hold 70-80% of positions of power.

      2. Basic science department at a medical school … but the comments were regarding other departments, clinical and basic science. 20% representation is about right, I’d guess. Promotion, tenure, salary, and space decisions can, admittedly, seem arbitrary and biased (and sometimes actually are so). But all one had to do was to look at the faculty and lab space distribution in the department that was perceived to have the worst pro-Jewish bias, and it should have been obvious that the perception was false.

      1. Yes, I was going to point this out. In fact among jews I know it is used as a flag of pride in fact. It is not derogatory in the least. However, I supposed if it were adopted by non-jews and used with malicious intent, it could be derogatory. Intent is everything.

  5. I cannot remember or find the name, but in another university, a Jewish student who was leader of the local of Hillel branch applied for a job in the student union and was rejected on grounds of membership in a hate group…
    As an Israeli Jew, I am obviously biased, but while criticism of Israel and its policies are definitely legitimate, the manner in which it is done, its proportions compared to criticism of other nations, and the extent to which this criticism goes (boycotting and the like), makes me think that a lot of the criticism against Israel is a politically correct disguise of antisemitism.

  6. I agree that the incident concerning Rachel Beyda’s consideration for membership on the student council’s judicial board is abhorrent. The You Tube video discussion suggested that Rachel’s heavy involvement in religious activities were a concern for some. If a candidate were hyper-religious, it would have been a concern for me. And, it wouldn’t make much difference which religion. I don’t think people whose lives are dominated by any religion can be unbiased on many issues.

    The most astonishing thing to me about your post is your assertion “Indeed: no Muslim, Mormon, gay, or black student would have been challenged about their “objectivity”. That issue is reserved for Jews.” As a white senior anglo atheist I’m no expert on prejudice, but I’ve never seen evidence that prejudice is reserved for Jews. My hat’s of the Ms. Beyda for the way she handled it.

    1. Prejudice against other groups certainly exists, but nobody would dare to openly express it the way it was expressed against Rachel Beyda.

      1. “nobody would dare to openly express it the way it was expressed against Rachel Beyda.”

        I suspect someone might dare do to, but they would likely have been forced to resign from the council if they did.

  7. This whole story is stunning. It baffles me that undergraduates take their positions so seriously, as though they are preparing to serve on a human rights court that will rule on the fate of Gaza. When else would “divided loyalties” even be applicable? I do think a committee like this could conceivably aim suspicions at a Mormon, given that church’s orchestration of the Prop. 8 campaign in California.

    A slight tangent on a pet peeve: use of the word “trope” is rapidly expanding in discussions on social justice or discrimination. Traditionally, it means “a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression,” but is apparently evolving to mean “overused plot device or narrative pattern.” I suppose this could be stretched to mean “stereotyped claims or suspicions”, as in the NYT quote, but I think we should resist the migration toward pejorative usage that increasingly refers to unjust or bigoted statements. I just don’t think that’s fair to the word.

  8. From the apology letter:

    …we understand the importance and urgency of wearing out identities as a badge of honor. Integral to this is respecting and celebrating identities…

    No. You respect people, you celebrate people, as individuals. I find statements like this just troubling and bizarre.

    1. I see what you mean, but for many people, especially those who belong to minority groups, being a member of a group is an important part of their identity.
      Respecting them as people is hollow if you are not willing to respect this aspect of their identity.
      I am not suggesting that you deny this (I am not sure).

      1. Respecting them as people is hollow if you are not willing to respect this aspect of their identity.

        I absolutely deny this. The idea that I would either deduct or grant magic “respect points” based upon someone’s identity – something they likely had little or no control over – is offensive.

        I can certainly acknowledge and understand that a person with a different background in terms of ethnicity, gender, etc. had a different journey than I, but I’d prefer to judge them by their quality as a person as opposed to a set of labels.

        1. Oy vey, I completely misunderstood your previous post, then.
          I completely agree that you don’t have to respect people as such, based on the group they belong to, more then you did if they did not belong to that group.

  9. Anti-Zionism has become intellectually fashionable and students like to keep up with the latest such fashion. The real problem arises when they can’t grow out of it.

  10. Thus we ask the Jewish community to accept our sincerest apology for remarks made…

    …we are truly sorry for any words used during this meeting…

    They keep apologizing for their words, but it’s their actions that are the problem. They voted to reject a candidate they felt was extremely well qualified simply because she is a Jew.

    1. How did they know she was a Jew?

      I read elsewhere that she was significantly involved in religious life (on campus I gather?), and information about students gets around via word of mouth, student newspaper articles and notices, and the internet.

      But surely, in any paperwork she would have to fill out related to the position she was seeking, she would not be asked to state her religious affiliation/views.

      And why isn’t one privy to her inquisitors’ bloody religious affiliations/views so that one might similarly make presumptuous, fatuous inferences about them?

      “Undergraduates need to be forgiven for their mistakes, but they also need to learn from them.”

      How much older must younger folks get before they can n longer claim “Blame It on My Youth” (per the title of the old Tin Pan Alley song), as a defense for their mistakes?

  11. Hmmm… I get some apology to the Jewish community from this, which sounds sincere enough, though rather lame. But where’s the apology to Rachel? In fact, by singling out “the Jewish community”, as they do, the authors establish themselves as central and “the Jewish community” as peripheral. They may have learned something about politics from all this, but I don’t think they learned anything about anti-semitism or about being morally responsible people.

    And where’s the apology to the campus community? A proper apology would start with Rachel, extend to Jews everywhere, and conclude with all the non-Jewish students and teachers on campus who are also harmed by anti-semitism, though not directly. The authors of this apology have at one stroke apologized to jews and distanced themselves from them. It leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

  12. The really icky thing is that for the purposes of being gassed to death, Jewish is a race. You can’t jut pop up and say, I’m really an agnostic or something. You are Jewish because your immediate ancestors were Jewish.

    This is quite different from being Christian or Muslim.

    This is racism.

    1. I don’t think it matters if it’s “racism” or whatever other type of bigotry.
      But it doesn’t makes sense to me that a person can change his race by converting to Judaism.

      1. I think it matters a lot. We all agree that criticizing Christianity or Islam or Judaism as collection of ideas is not bigotry at all – ideas should not be immune from criticism in an open society. Moreover, if an adherent of a religion is using his faith to advocate for illiberal practices – say, if a Muslim advocates outlawing blasphemy or a Christian demands banning all abortions – he should be criticized for it. On the other hand, belonging to an ethnic group (a minority one at that) is not something that should ever be criticized because one has no control over it – it’s just a circumstance of birth. Such criticism is racism by definition.

        1. Judging people based on their opinion, be it based on their religion or any other ideology, where it’s relevant, isn’t bigotry.
          I think that we disagree about the definition of race. I see the Jews as an ethnic group, but not a race.

  13. I have to disagree is Mr. Lubet. They don’t need to be forgiven because they don’t care. They’ll do the same thing to the next applicant they feel is a member of an acceptable target group.

  14. >> This is one of many campuses where the student council passed, on a second try and after fierce debate, a resolution supporting the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at pressuring Israel.

    The BDS movement does not aim at pressuring Israel – it is aimed at eliminating Israel and the BDS movement leaders are not shy about this (you can see it in their own words at http://www.stopbds.com/?page_id=48).

    That BDS movement is part of the problem that eventually results in shameful specters such as the one discussed here. Academics find it incumbent upon themselves to single out one nation state for vilification (the students don’t come up with this alone) – we should not be surprised to see the result being the vilification of people considered to be related to that nation.

  15. There are so many things wrong here. First, is assumption by at least four of the members that someone who was Jewish would be incapable of being objective. Second, is that they didn’t realize that this was somehow their problem. Third, why did the faculty advisor not step in right away? Finally, is the fact that these students are somehow a part of student government. This is exactly the problem with having judicial oversight in the hands of people who are “committed to social activism and advocating on behalf of underrepresented communities.” I don’t see how this could be represented as pure bigotry. Those four students should resign from the committee, and this should go on their Permanent Records.

    1. “Third, why did the faculty advisor not step in right away?”

      In order to give them every reasonable opportunity to correct their behavior, do their job correctly? And since they didn’t, the world knows. Which seems better than the faculty advisor stepping in right away and keeping the world from knowing.

  16. Ridiculous. I don’t even know what the hell a “pro-Israel Jew” is supposed to be. Is that any Jew who doesn’t believe that the state of Israel should be wiped off the map and Jews expunged from the earth? Why does it seem that people have all gone nuts and are tacitly in support of terrorism? I think some of the action taken by the state of Israel against killers within Israel and neighboring territories has been disproportionate to the crimes committed, but I can’t imagine why anyone would be so ignorant or hateful that they would ally themselves with terrorists and against Israel. I get the impression that there’s a new anti-Jew sentiment growing in the USA and Europe, and that can’t be good.

  17. There’s a good article on the BBC website under the magazine section, called “Living With The J-Word” by Michael Goldfarb that’s worth a read.


    I find the whole thing confusing. But then again, people baffle me. Ever since I was a kid, a scrawny, shy, nerd of a kid with a mop of blazingly ginger hair, alternating between being picked on and being totally ignored, I’ve been at a loss to explain why people spend so much time being so damn mean to each other.

    1. “…why people spend so much time being so damn mean to each other.”

      I remember realizing that as a kid, too; it was awfully deflating. Even though I flew too far below the radar to be on the receiving end of much of the abuse, I was always overly empathetic. I spent a lot of time crying for other people.

      1. As an adult I’ve even seen this in the form of apathy. People just don’t go very far out of their way to be kind. I noticed that my doctor’s staff could be really a-holes but as soon as I was diagnosed with something serious, they treated me really kindly. It makes you 1) worried you’re going to die 2) annoyed that they aren’t nice all the time.

        1. Re 1): Yes, in that context it would be pretty creepy!

          Re 2): Wouldn’t it be nice if niceness were so ubiquitous, we wouldn’t be so surprised when it occurs.

Leave a Reply