The University of California’s Governing Board confirmed its first practicing Muslim student regent Sadia Saifuddin Wednesday in the face of opposition from Jewish groups’ claims she marginalized Jewish students and supported anti-Israel campaigns.
The UC Board of Regents unanimously elected Saifuddin with only Regent Richard Blum abstaining from the final vote due to concerns regarding the UC Berkeley student’s political activity.
Critics raised concerns at the meeting’s public comment session about her role co-sponsoring a UC Berkeley student government bill that divested university funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Supporters of the bill cited concerns of Israel’s alleged human rights violations in the region, however critics argued this was evidence that the 21-year-old UC Berkeley senior did not represent all of UC students and would marginalize Jewish students.
“When you’re going to be the student representative, you have to represent all the students, and you don’t want to alienate a lot of people,” Blum said.
Jewish opposition groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, and conservative commentator David Horowitz, also criticized a resolution authored by Saifuddin condemning a UC Santa Cruz professor “for inciting racist and Islamophobic rhetoric” after linking the Muslim Student’s Association with terrorism
After the vote, Saifuddin said expected this opposition, however she hopes people will look past her political activities to other things she has done.
“My capacity was to represent that specific community and the views of that community. My capacity as student regent is very different,” Saifuddin said.
The Palestine-Israel conflict has been a controversial issue for UC students and faculty where pro-Palestine protests are a regular occurrence. In 2010, 11 Muslim students were convicted of misdemeanors after repeatedly interrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine. Also, in 2010 a former UC Berkeley student and co-president of Tikvah, a Zionist student group, sued the university for assault by the campus leader of Students for Justice in Palestine. The suit has been dismissed, however the U.S. Department of Education is investigating her complaint that pro-Palestine campus events are creating an anti-Semitic environment.
At a press conference after the vote Saifuddin added, “I think being on the receiving end of these attacks is difficult, but it’s not something that’s unexpected or unforeseen, and it’s something that I’ll learn to deal with better every day.”