A recent incident at UCLA has called into question the current state of anti-Semitism on college campuses and nationwide, and whether it can masquerade as mild-mannered, even passive-aggressive.
Rachel Beyda, a UCLA student, came to the confirmation meeting for her nomination to the student council’s judicial board. But the question portion of the evening took a puzzling turn, when the student council began to to drill her on her Jewish affiliations.
“Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” asked one council member in a video since removed from YouTube, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
Beyda, a sophomore, is active in Jewish life on campus, including in the college Hillel, and is a member of a Jewish sorority.
After Beyda left the room, the council proceeded to debate whether or not her Judaism would impede her ability to serve the student body. She was then rejected, with four students voting against her. Some time later, a faculty member spoke out on her behalf, and the council reconsidered before unanimously approving her to the position.
This incident has caused a great deal of concern, and anger, throughout the country.
UCLA Student council president, Avinoam Baral, who is Jewish, told the New York Times, “It’s very problematic to me that students would feel that it was appropriate to ask that kind of questions, especially given the long cultural history of Jews. We’ve been questioned all of our history: Are Jews loyal citizens? Don’t they have divided loyalties? All of these anti-Semitic tropes.”
Although UCLA has been a hotbed of turmoil about Israel, including the student government voting for divestment in November 2014, this incident points towards the larger trend that Israel is not the cause of anti-Semitism nationwide. A recent study found that anti-Semitism is on the rise at many college campuses, virtually irrespective of Middle Eastern issues.
“I swear the word Israel was not said once,” Beyda’s roommate, and a witness, told the New York Times about the confirmation hearing. “It was all about Jewish affiliations.”
The members of student council who opposed Beyda have publicly apologized for their line of questioning, but the larger issue is far from resolved.
“Our inability to use the term anti-Semitism when it concerns Jews, when we don’t have a problem calling other forms of ethnic and religious bigotry what it is, raises disturbing questions about prevalent attitudes towards Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and the state of Israel,” blogged Rabbi John L. Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood.
“The multicultural agenda in American liberal circles, that I personally support, includes virtually all other minorities but excludes Jews who, it seems, have been reduced to being simply a successful white American religious group. This attitude belies a deeper understanding of what constitute Judaism, Jewish religious history, Jewish peoplehood, Zionism, and the meaning of the state of Israel in contemporary Jewish identity.”
Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of Jewcy.com.