On-campus BDS Is Feeding anti-Semitism: UCLA Is Case in Point

Three of the four UCLA students who questioned a sophomore for being Jewish are pro-BDS activists. Perhaps they let their own anti-Israel sentiments infect their 'impartiality.'

Eliora Katz
Eliora Katz
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A screenshot of the New York Times' article showing Rachel Beyda, the UCLA sophomore.
A screenshot of the New York Times' article showing Rachel Beyda, the UCLA sophomore.
Eliora Katz
Eliora Katz

“Gas them, burn them and dismantle their power structure. Humanity cannot progress with the parasitic Jew.” This is not a line from a Goebbels film or Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but the University of Chicago's Yik Yak, an anonymous, local social media app.

What began with a post about Northwestern University passing a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions motion against Israel turned into a discussion about Palestinian death tolls and those who “support slaughter of innocents on the basis that the killers have the same race/religion.” It wasn't long before jabs were made at individual Jewish students. A social media intifada had erupted.

The assaults spilled into posts on the moderated, anonymous UChicago Secrets Facebook page: “As a person of Palestinian descent, I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to hate Jews;” ”People are hypocrites. This is Fact. One example? The Jews at UChicago. Why? They all have grandparents who survived the Holocaust. This doesn’t stop them from denying the Holocaust in Palestine right now;” and “There is no more backwards and conservative community at UChicago than the genocide apologists in hillel and other jewish organizations."

It is shocking that students at one of the top universities in America – where liberal values are enshrined and Plato is a rite of passage – could hold such parochial views and express them behind the cowardly mask of anonymous social media. I wonder if the timing of these attacks – just a week after the BDS motion passed at Northwestern and days before “Israeli Apartheid Week”– had anything to do with the assaults.

The logic exhibited in these blatantly anti-Semitic posts – that Jews on campus have some sort of sinister dual loyalty and automatically hold certain unsavory beliefs – was also heard just a week earlier in a Student Council meeting at UCLA. That incident has since grabbed national attention.

On February 10, sophomore Rachel Beyda underwent questioning during her confirmation hearing to the Student Council’s Judicial Board. “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?” Fabienne Roth asked, initiating a 40-minute debate on whether Beyda’s religion and involvement in the on-campus organization Hillel and a Jewish sorority would constitute a conflict of interest, since she belonged to "a community that is very invested in certain outcomes.” Eventually, after a faculty member interjected to point out that belonging to Jewish organizations is not a conflict of interest – and in so doing highlighted the council members' blatant bigotry – Beyda was unanimously elected.

Of course many identities could affect one’s impartiality – being gay, black, female. But Beyda's Jewishness stood out for this committee. Perhaps because only a few months prior, in November, UCLA's student government approved a resolution to isolate Israel, calling on the university to divest from a list of companies "that some say profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

And perhaps it's because three of the four students who initially voted against Beyda's appointment hold prejudices against Israel, supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), and/or Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed and Manjot Singh were among the co-sponsors of the BDS resolution, while Sofia Moreno Haq has publicly endorsed BDS on Facebook. Indeed one cannot help but wonder whether it was these students' own biases that got in the way of their impartiality when considering this Jewish student's appointment.

The students should have known better than to think Beyda's Jewishness or involvement in Jewish organizations would be an obstacle. They themselves are active members of faith- and ethnic-based organizations. Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed is vice chair in the Iranian student group and Sofia Moreno Haq is active in UCLA’s Muslim Students Association (MSA). Furthermore, the vice president of the UChicago student government also serves as the president of SJP and is a member of MSA. And that’s great. The student body is diverse, and so we should hope that its representatives reflect this multiplicity of cultures and interests. Surely the students should have known that asking individuals to erase their identities and affiliations is not only impossible but destructive to open inquiry and democracy.

Nonetheless, this incident shows how the vehemently anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses has bled into anti-Jewish sentiment. Israel, which was supposed to answer "the Jewish question" by helping Jews escape anti-Semitism, has today become the pretext for it. Blaming all members of a group on the actions of some constitutes racism, just as much as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics specific to that race constitutes racism. Yet it seems to be permissible to attribute blame to Jews and to assume we are monolithic in persuasion. The Beyda incident – together with the comments on the UChicago forums – testifies that this assumption is fertile on college campuses.

Eliora Katz is an undergraduate studying Economics, Philosophy and Persian at the University of Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @ElioraKatz.

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