(July 17, 2013 / JNS)
Sadia Saifuddin, an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, on Wednesday in San Francisco was voted in as a 2014-15 student regent on the University of California (UC) Board of Regents, the governing board of the 10-school UC system.
Saifuddin, a Pakistani American, co-sponsored and vocally promoted a student government resolution this spring calling for UC Berkeley, where she is a student, to divest from Israel. She has been involved with anti-Israel groups including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine.
Representatives from the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center attended Wednesday’s Board of Regents vote to speak out against Saifuddin’s candidacy. Roberta Seid, research-education director of StandWithUs, said she told the regents they “should be trying to find a bridge builder, not a bridge burner” like Saifuddin to be their student board member.
“What I would call for [following the vote] is for the regents to re-double their efforts to speak against bigotry, anti-Jewish bigotry, and BDS, and that they should re-double their efforts to uphold an inclusive environment, tolerance, and intellectual responsibility,” Seid told JNS.org.
Richard Blum was the only regent who abstained from the board’s voice vote, due to his belief that Saifuddin “led a movement that was so divisive” on campus, making her unfit to be representative of all students, according to Seid. Regent Bonnie Reiss acknowledged her personal opposition to Saifuddin’s views, but maintained that the regents “would not have selected Sadia if we thought she was anti-Semitic,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.
The Wiesenthal Center had organized an online petition opposing Saifuddin’s nomination on the grounds of the Israel divestment resolution she co-sponsored at UC Berkeley, as well as a bill she authored “to curb the First Amendment rights of free speech for UC lecturer and pro-Israel activist Tammi Benjamin, which violates the very essence of being a member of the Board of Regents.”
Saifuddin also signed a July 2012 letter slamming the UC campus climate report, which brought to light the extent of bullying and harassment of Jewish students by anti-Israel elements at UC schools. At the same time, Saifuddin authored and co-sponsored a March 2013 resolution denouncing specific individuals as Islamophobic.
“It is worrisome that she defends free speech rights for those who share her political views but does not uphold that same right for others,” StandWithUs wrote in a letter to the UC Board of Regents.
The 26-member UC Board of Regents appoints one student regent for a one-year term. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it respects the Board of Regents’ independent confirmation process, but that it is “troubled by Saifuddin’s prior leadership role in anti-Israel activities on campus.”
“As a Student Regent, Saifuddin has an obligation to represent the interests of the entire UC student body,” ADL said. “We will observe her actions as a Student Regent closely and will not hesitate to speak out if she runs afoul of this obligation.”
Choosing Saifuddin “sends the wrong message and in fact, defeats the Regents’ own goal of being more inclusive,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs.