SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California's governing board confirmed its first Muslim student member Wednesday, despite some Jewish groups' claims that she marginalized Jewish students and promoted an anti-Israel agenda.
Regents voted unanimously to ratify UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin's nomination, with one regent, Richard Blum, abstaining from the vote. Saifuddin's critics had urged the regents to reject the nomination, pointing to a student government proposal Saifuddin co-sponsored calling for the university to divest from companies with economic ties to the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The critics said it was evidence she is unqualified to represent all of the UC system's more than 222,000 students.
Saifuddin, 21, said the divestment bill was a big issue with the constituency she represented at UC Berkeley. She said after the vote that she expected opposition and hoped that people would look beyond her political activity to other things she has done.
"My capacity was to represent that specific community and the views of that community," she said. "My capacity as student regent is very different." The Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, conservative commentator David Horowitz and others had called on the board to reject Saifuddin's appointment.
In addition to the divestment proposal, the groups criticized a resolution Saifuddin authored condemning a UC Santa Cruz lecturer who had linked the Muslim Students Association with terrorism "for inciting racist and Islamophobic rhetoric."
"She is prominent in the anti-Israel boycott campaign, an extremist movement that demonized the Jewish state, rejects dialogue, and fosters bigotry," Roberta Seid, a research-education director at StandWithUs, an organization promoting education of Israel, told regents before the vote.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an occasional flashpoint for students and faculty at the University of California. Annual pro-Palestinian protests have featured mock checkpoints, die-ins and other attention-grabbing tactics that make students with strong pro-Israel leanings feel intimidated, according to a report commissioned by UC President Mark Yudof and released last year.
Blum said he was concerned about the divisiveness caused by the divestment measure. "When you're going be the student representative, you have to represent all the students and you don't want to alienate a lot of people," he said.
But several current and former students urged the board to confirm Saifuddin, citing her leadership and tolerance as a member of the student government at UC Berkeley. Former UC student regent Jonathan Stein praised her work during the discussion over the divestment bill.
"Sadia is what kept UC Berkeley from cracking apart through that experience," he said. Jewish Voice for Peace, a Berkeley-based group that opposes Israeli settlements in the West bank and Gaza, issued a statement Wednesday saying that Saifuddin had been "made the target of yet another intimidation and repression campaign against anyone who dares criticize Israel on campus."