SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California’s governing board confirmed the first practicing Muslim student member to the board on Wednesday, despite opposition from some Jewish groups.
UC regents voted in favor of UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin’s nomination. One regent, Richard Blum, abstained from the vote. Saifuddin will serve as a regent for the 2014-15 school year.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, conservative commentator David Horowitz and others had called on the board to reject Saifuddin’s appointment, alleging that some of her political activities as a student senator and member of the Muslim Students Association at Berkeley make her unqualified to represent students.
Those activities included co-sponsoring a bill calling for the divestment of university funds from companies with economic ties to the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank. She also authored a resolution condemning a UC Santa Cruz lecturer who had linked the Muslim Students Association with terrorism “for inciting racist and Islamophobic rhetoric.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an occasional flashpoint for students and faculty members at the University of California. Pro-Palestinian protests have become a regular occurrence on many University of California campuses, where students sometimes use sensational tactics, including simulating checkpoints and combining swastikas with the Star of David.
In 2010, 10 Muslim students were convicted of misdemeanors for repeatedly interrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, where students were suspected of painting swastikas in university buildings.
A former University of California, Berkeley student who was co-president of the Zionist student group Tikvah sued the university in federal court two years ago over her alleged March 2010 assault by the campus leader of Students for Justice in Palestine. The suit was dismissed, but the US Department of Education is investigating her complaint alleging that pro-Palestinian campus events have created an anti-Semitic environment.
Blum, the regent who abstained, said he was concerned about the divisiveness caused by the divestment measure.
Before the vote, several current and former students urged the board to confirm Saifuddin, 21, 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.
But Roberta Seid, research-education director at StandWithUs, said Saifuddin’s actions had “marginalized many students.” Seid was one of two people who spoke against Saifuddin’s confirmation.
“She is prominent in the anti-Israel boycott campaign, an extremist movement that demonized the Jewish state, rejects dialogue, and fosters bigotry,” Seid said.
Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.