SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California's governing board confirmed its first Muslim student member Wednesday, despite some Jewish groups' claims that she marginalized Jewish students and promoted an anti-Israel agenda.
UC regents voted unanimously to ratify UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin's nomination, with one regent, Richard Blum, abstaining from the vote.
Saifuddin's critics had urged the regents to reject the nomination, pointing to a student government proposal Saifuddin co-sponsored calling for the university to divest from companies with economic ties to the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The critics said it was evidence she is unqualified to represent all of the UC system's more than 222,000 students.
Saifuddin, 21, said the divestment bill was a big issue with the constituency she represented at UC Berkeley. She said after the vote that she expected opposition and hoped that people would look beyond her political activity to other things she has done.
"My capacity was to represent that specific community and the views of that community," she said. "My capacity as student regent is very different."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, conservative commentator David Horowitz and others had called on the board to reject Saifuddin's appointment.
In addition to the divestment proposal, the groups criticized a resolution Saifuddin authored condemning a UC Santa Cruz lecturer who had linked the Muslim Students Association with terrorism "for inciting racist and Islamophobic rhetoric."
"She is prominent in the anti-Israel boycott campaign, an extremist movement that demonized the Jewish state, rejects dialogue, and fosters bigotry," Roberta Seid, a research-education director at StandWithUs, an organization promoting education of Israel, told regents before the vote.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an occasional flashpoint for students and faculty at the University of California. Pro-Palestinian protests have become a regular occurrence on many UC campuses, with students sometimes using 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 UC 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 U.S. Department of Education is investigating her complaint alleging that pro-Palestinian campus events have created an anti-Semitic environment.
Blum said he was concerned about the divisiveness caused by the divestment measure.
"When you're going be the student representative, you have to represent all the students and you don't want to alienate a lot of people," he said.
But several current and former students urged the board to confirm Saifuddin, 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.