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BDS supporter appointed as first Muslim regent of California University

News reports from the Daily Californian 1) and Reuters 2). UPDATE Jewish world blogger Simone Zimmerman abhors the hateful propaganda against Saifuddin from Jewish groups.

Sadia Saifuddin, the first Muslim to be appointed a student regent by the University of California’s Board of Regents. There was strong opposition from some Jewish bodies because of her support for divesting UC funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli military. Photo by Sureya Melkonian, Daily Californian

By Simon Greenhill and Mary Zhoulast
July 22, 2013

The UC Board of Regents appointed UC Berkeley senior Sadia Saifuddin as student regent-designate at its meeting Wednesday, despite some controversy over her selection. When Saifuddin’s term begins in July 2014, she will be the first Muslim student regent.

Saifuddin’s appointment was met with controversy during the meeting’s public comment session when some raised concerns about her support of a recent movement to divest UC funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli military. In a rare move, UC Regent Richard Blum abstained from the vote to approve Saifuddin, citing similar concerns regarding her political activity. All other regents voted in Saifuddin’s favor.

This spring, Saifuddin co-sponsored a UC Berkeley student government bill aiming to divest ASUC funds from companies that provide equipment, materials and technology to the Israeli military. Supporters cited concerns regarding Israel’s alleged human rights violations in the region and encouraged the UC system to also take action in withdrawing investments.

During the public comment session, Saifuddin’s critics alleged that her support for divestment would be a divisive force within the UC system and would alienate Jewish students.

Some, including ASUC Senator George Kadifa and former student regent Jonathan Stein, refuted those claims, supporting Saifuddin’s appointment.

“Those who do know her personally know her to be a woman of openness,” Stein said. “She invited students to Muslim student town halls (and) Muslim students to Jewish student town halls.”

Although many regents disagreed with Saifuddin’s position on divestment, they largely approved of her appointment, with explicit support from Regents Sherry Lansing, Bonnie Reiss and Frederick Ruiz.

“We disagree with her position on divestment, but we do so respectfully,” Lansing read from a statement she wrote in collaboration with UC President Mark Yudof and Regents Bruce Varner and Ruiz.

Blum abstained from the final appointment vote, saying that he strongly disagreed with Saifuddin’s point of view but did not know her well enough to justify a negative vote.

“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.

After the vote, Saifuddin briefly addressed the meeting, thanking both her family for their support as well as the regents for the opportunity to serve the UC community.

“I think that the UC is standing at a critical juncture right now, and it’s really important for us to come together,” Saifuddin said during the meeting.

Later, at a press conference, Saifuddin addressed some of the criticisms she has received in light of her nomination as student regent.

“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,” Saifuddin said.

Contact Simon Greenhill and Mary Zhou at

Jewish groups protest after pro-Palestinian activist named to University of California board

Sadia Saifuddin is first Muslim to become student member of University of California governing board; Jewish groups decry her nomination as ‘shocking,’ citing involvement in BDS campaign.

By Reuters
July 18, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO–The University of California appointed a Muslim American woman as a student member of its governing board on Wednesday in a move opposed by Jewish groups that objected to her pro-Palestinian activism.

Sadia Saifuddin, a 21-year-old social welfare major at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley, will become the first Muslim student member of the 26-person board of regents for a year-long term starting in 2014.

Jewish groups including the prominent Simon Wiesenthal Center strongly objected to her nomination, citing her involvement in a campaign to divest university funds from companies with business connections to the Israeli military.

They also objected to her sponsoring a student senate resolution that condemned a lecturer at the system’s Santa Cruz campus for what the resolution said was Islamophobic rhetoric. The groups said it was Saifuddin who showed intolerance toward opposing viewpoints.

“In a year where campus climate issues have been the dominant theme of the UC system, a vote to appoint somebody who has served to polarize thousands and thousands of people in the campus community and beyond is shocking,” said Rabbi Aron Hier of the Wiesenthal Center, which petitioned the regents to deny Saifuddin a seat on the board.

“An appropriate Muslim candidate could have ably served in this position. We don’t believe Sadia is that appropriate candidate,” he added.

Despite the opposition, 25 university regents voted on Wednesday to confirm her appointment with one member, Richard Blum, abstaining from the vote. He cited concerns about Saifuddin’s divestment efforts.

“I’m beyond blessed, and I’m very excited for this position,” Saifuddin said after the vote, wearing a floral Muslim headscarf and beaming as she walked through a largely supportive crowd to accept her seat.

In her acceptance speech, Saifuddin said she hoped to make the university system accessible to more students. She could not later be reached for comment on controversies surrounding her nomination.

Saifuddin’s supporters said she was an exemplary student who cared about students of all faiths and has worked to benefit the system as a senator in the Association of Students of the University of California and a member of the Muslim Student Association.

“Sadia is a remarkable young woman. She is committed to supporting all of UC students, and to this university and this country which she loves,” said Regent Bonnie Reiss, who chaired the student regent selection committee.

Reiss, who is Jewish, said the committee would not have selected Saifuddin to be a student regent if they thought she was anti-Semitic, responding to complaints that the divestment campaign included elements of anti-Semitism.

Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said opponents who disagreed with Saifuddin’s politics wanted to unjustly exclude her from civic participation.

“Anytime an American Muslim rises to a prominent position, or starts to rise to prominence, that tiny minority of ‘Islamophobes’ in our society goes into action and seeks to marginalize and disenfranchise that individual,” Hooper said.

To those who oppose Sadia Saifuddin’s nomination, you don’t speak for me

Saifuddin is a BDS supporter who challenges anti-Semitism and appreciates the history of Jewish suffering. Blanket opposition to her UC Board of Regents nomination is nothing but fear mongering.

By Simone Zimmerman / Jewish World Blogger, Ha’aretz
July 25, 2013

Most American Jews, myself included, are quick to distance ourselves from extremist fringes within our own community. We condemn those who try to block Women of the Wall from praying at the Kotel and from those who throw feces on the Jerusalem gay pride parade. We distinguish our support for Israel from support for radical settlers who set fire to Palestinian olive groves. “They don’t speak for my Jewish values,” we say.

Thus, I hoped my Jewish community would recognize the need to condemn David Horowitz’s campaign against Sadia Saifuddin’s nomination as a University of California student regent, accusing her of anti-Semitism and supporting terrorism. Saifuddin, rising Berkeley senior and former student senator, will be the first practicing Muslim to serve on the University of California’s governing board.

I expected push-back on Horowitz from a group like the Anti-Defamation League, who in response to false allegations of Muslim extremism leveled at New York Jets’ lineman Oday Aboushi, appropriately said, “Being pro-Palestinian does not mean you’re an anti-Semite or an extremist.” According to that logic, Saifuddin’s pro-Palestinian activism should not discount her as a legitimate candidate, right?

Apparently not. Instead of rejecting Horowitz’s hateful propaganda, many Jewish organizations joined in protest of the nomination. StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein called Saifuddin “divisive” and “bigoted.” The ADL warned that they would, “observe her actions … closely.” Rabbi Aron Hier of the Simon Weisenthal Center called the choice “antithetical to everything campus climate stands for.”

Why the vitriol? Because Saifuddin co-sponsored a BDS resolution at UC Berkeley this year. It seems our community is only supportive of someone identifying as pro-Palestinian as long as they aren’t an activist.

I publicly fought BDS both as a freshman and a senior at Berkeley. Those experiences deeply impacted me. While I emerged very critical of the resolutions and many in the pro-Palestinian movement, I became equally disturbed by the way the Jewish community mobilized against them: too often stigmatizing BDS and its supporters as anti-Semitic instead of engaging in substantive political debate. Attacks on Saifuddin represent the worst of this problem.

Did I ever hear anti-Semitic statements from divestment supporters? Some, certainly. But I also met many divestment supporters who challenged those remarks when they heard them, were committed to universal rights for all people, appreciated the history of Jewish suffering, and had turned to BDS out of a deep frustration with the lack of political movement toward an end to the occupation.

Saifuddin is one of those people. While we disagree on how to bring peace and justice to the region, this does not make Saifuddin unfit to serve as a UC Regent. Throughout the BDS debate, when Saifuddin and I were staunch opponents, she consistently treated me and other Jewish students with compassion and respect. True leadership requires engaging those with whom you disagree, and I, along with the many other Jewish students who support her nomination, trust Saifuddin will do that.

How would we react if others tried to prevent a Jewish student from serving in student government because she was an Israel advocate? Our denunciation of this misguided campaign would be swift and vociferous. I’m proud to be part of a community that learned from our history to be sensitive to the pain of discrimination. I’m not proud when we overlook those lessons when the victim of prejudice is Muslim, especially when those propagating it are Jewish.

As a Jewish woman, I am proud to know the first Muslim woman to serve as a UC regent. I wish I didn’t need my Jewishness or pro-Israel credentials to legitimize this opinion, that I could just be another proud Berkeley student cheering the success of my peer. Nonetheless, when some seek to narrowly impose the Israel-Palestine debate on yet another conversation regarding someone’s commitment to public service, it is imperative to say that they don’t speak for me. More American Jews would be wise to disassociate ourselves from such fear mongering.

Despite my opposition to BDS, I recognize it is a non-violent protest that will only continue gaining broader traction in the absence of a resolution to the conflict. Until our community realizes this and learns how to honestly participate in this debate, we will only exacerbate the problem. Attempts to shut down the conversation through blanket slandering of BDS supporters as anti-Semitic won’t work and are counterproductive; they portray our community as reactionary, Islamophobic and increasingly isolated.

Categorically dismissing a person’s credentials because of a single-issue political disagreement is “divisive.” Stigmatizing them as a religious extremist is “bigoted.” Attempting to stifle anti-Israel dissent on university campuses is “antithetical” to the culture of intellectual pursuit so central to Judaism.

Mazel tov, Sadia. I look forward to seeing how you and other students rise above the prejudices in our communities to foster a more open and inclusive campus life.

Simone Zimmerman is from Los Angeles, CA and a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. She currently serves as the president of the J Street U National Student Board.

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