SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California Board of Regents has voted to add its first Muslim student representative, over the objections of some Jewish groups.
Regents voted Wednesday to support the nomination of 21-year-old UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, conservative commentator David Horowitz and others had called on the board to reject her appointment.
They say some of her political activities as a student senator and member of the Muslim Students Association at Berkeley make her unqualified to represent all students.
Those activities included co-sponsoring a bill calling for the divestment of university money from companies with economic ties to the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Regent Richard Blum abstained from the vote, saying he was concerned about the divisiveness caused by the divestment measure.
Saifuddin was picked from a field of 30 applicants to serve on the UC Board of Regents during the 2014-15 academic year. As student regent-designate, the 21-year-old Pakistani American would participate in meetings but wouldn't be able to cast votes during the school year that begins this fall.
"We think an appropriate Muslim candidate could have been and would be a wonderful student regent," said Aron Hier, the Simon Wisenthal Center's director of campus outreach. "This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with opportunism and championing things she cares about on the one hand and trampling on things other people care about on the other."
Hier said he met with Regents Sherry Lansing and Bonnie Reiss last month to share his concerns and requested they ask Saifuddin "to explain this propensity to target certain groups," but does not know if that happened. In the meantime, his organization and others launched a letter-writing campaign to get the nomination defeated.
Saifuddin, who was born and raised in California, declined to comment on the opposition to her selection. In a statement last month announcing her nomination, she described herself as an advocate for students.
"I'm looking forward to learning about different students and their struggles, having conversations with them and doing the best I can to help," she said. "I'm in a very privileged position in that I'm able to give back and make sure that the people who come after me have the same opportunities I had."
Jonathan Stein, a Berkeley law school graduate who recently completed a one-year term as the UC student regent and was part of the five-member committee that recommended Saifuddin, said her critics have overlooked Saifuddin's work to build bridges, which included bringing Muslim and Jewish students together during the divestment debate and founding the Berkeley campus' first interfaith worship space.
"The really negative response that's come, that has characterized Sadia as extremist, intolerant, I guarantee that is coming from people who have never met her in person," Stein said. "She is, in fact, an incredibly mature, thoughtful, tolerant person."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an occasional flashpoint for students and faculty members at the University of California.
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.