Last week, I attended a council meeting to support my roommate, sorority sister and best friend, Rachel Beyda, as she went through the last step of being confirmed by the council as an appointed justice to the Judicial Board of the Undergraduate Students Association Council. I greatly admire Rachel’s academic success and the passion and determination she has demonstrated toward her goal of becoming a lawyer. I have seen her accrue immense leadership skills and experience in the legal field, both at UCLA, as the current law clerk for the Judicial Board and beyond. Therefore, as I ascended the stairs to Kerckhoff 417, I incorrectly assumed the confirmation of Rachel’s appointment would be quick and simple.
Rachel had been unanimously approved by the Appointments Review Committee consisting of three council members before she flawlessly introduced herself to the council. However, the first question directed at her by General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth was an attack on Rachel’s ability to be a justice based on her involvement in the Jewish community. At President Avinoam Baral’s insistence, the question was phrased slightly more considerately by Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, but this first question set the tone. Rachel finished the interview, making two important points: first, anyone qualified for the position would be a critical thinker who is knowledgeable about campus issues and therefore, has his or her own opinions and second, she has no significant political affiliations. Furthermore, she demonstrated an understanding of what actually having a conflict of interest means and acknowledged that a justice should remove herself from the decision-making process under those circumstances. Rachel was asked to leave the room for council discussion. What followed was a disgusting 40 minutes of what can only be described as unequivocal anti-Semitism during which some of our council members resorted to some of the oldest accusations against Jews, including divided loyalties and dishonesty.
All council members swiftly agreed Rachel was amply qualified for the position, but half of the council had strong reservations stemming from Rachel’s Jewish identity. “My issue is, I’m going to be upfront about it, I think she’s pretty great. She’s smart, she like knows her stuff, she’s like probably going to be a really great lawyer. But I’m like not going to pretend this isn’t about conflict of interest. … It’s not her fault … but she’s part of a community that’s very invested in USAC. … Even if she’s the right person for the job,” claimed Roth. Sadeghi-Movahed added, “For some reason, I’m not 100 percent comfortable. I don’t know why. I’ll go through her application again. I’ve been going through it constantly, but I definitely can see that she’s qualified for sure.” Throughout this discussion, Rachel anxiously paced outside, where, she later informed me, she could hear “conflict of interest” being yelled and concluded that it could only be about her being Jewish. Undoubtedly, the Israeli-Palestinan conflict is one of the most contentious issues on our campus. However, Israel was not mentioned during the discussion of Rachel’s appointment, only her affiliation with Jewish organizations, making the extensive deliberation a definitive act of discrimination.
The initial telling vote of 4-4-1 was dismissed when Cultural Affairs Commissioner Irmary Garcia said she was “not ready” for the vote. A faculty member in attendance eventually stepped in to point out the problems with the council’s reasons for denying Rachel the position. And in the end, the council unanimously approved her appointment. However, Rachel’s justified appointment to the Judicial Board is not enough to right the wrongs. I commend Sadeghi-Movahed for her necessary public apology on Facebook. I ask the four council members who initially questioned Rachel’s appointment on the basis of her Judaism to issue both public and personal apologies to the UCLA Jewish community and Rachel. Until they all admit wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness, it is difficult to trust their morality as decision-makers. Furthermore, I expect administrative condemnation of their words and actions as exactly what they were: undeniable anti-Semitism. I expect more of elected leaders and hope no one else will face being denied a deserved opportunity on the basis of identity. A recording of the meeting can be seen on the USAC Live! Youtube channel, and I encourage all students to watch some of it and become aware of who your representatives are. In a few months, we will hold elections for new USAC representatives. In light of this incident, I hope students take the time to learn about the issues and vote for representatives they believe will serve the student body with integrity.
Frenklak is a third-year physiological sciences student, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi and member of Hillel at UCLA.