Recently, anti-BDS groups Stand With Us and The Simon Wiesenthal Center attempted to defeat the nomination of divestment advocate Sadia Saifuddin to the position of Student Regent of the University of California. This attempt at punishing students for supporting BDS backfired, as Saifuddin was confirmed by resounding vote. We strongly oppose these McCarthy-ite tactics and the interference of lobbying organizations into student affairs.
The Los Angeles Times recently editorialized against the attack on her for supporting Palestinian rights. Supporters recently placed the following op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News:
Muslim UC regent: Sadia Saifuddin’s confirmation is heartening
Sadia Saifuddin’s confirmation as student UC regent designate is a landmark moment in the struggles of both the Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian (MEMSA) community and the wider community of Palestinian rights activists. Saifuddin, a 4th year social welfare major, demonstrated remarkable grace, composure and courage throughout the nomination process, even in the face of Islamophobic hate speech.
Outside political groups attempted to derail her nomination by unfairly smearing her as an extremist linked to terror. While David Horowitz railed against her in FrontPage Magazine, other groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and StandWithUs organized petitions and asked their supporters to make public comments against her nomination.
This is not the first time that groups opposing divestment from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinian land have tried to change the course of political debates and votes on UC campuses by intimidating students. But this direct attack on a student leader and the attempt to disrupt her career marks an escalation. However, we can take heart in the fact that her nomination received all but one vote.
The opposition to Saifuddin’s nomination was exclusively external. Saifuddin enjoyed near unanimous support from the student body at large. Students from a broad array of identities on campus wrote letters and spoke at public sessions. Students representing the MEMSA, Jewish and fraternity/sorority communities testified to Saifuddin’s tolerance and commitment to fighting hate speech of all kind.
Saifuddin was nominated as Regent not despite her political position but because of it. Among many other admirable qualities, her commitment to fighting Islamophobia and principled support for Palestinian equality is a significant reason so many students across the system supported her. Her divestment support is not seen as a liability but as an expression of her values. Students trust that she will uphold these values in her new position.
What does Saifuddin’s confirmation say about the intimidation campaigns to silence student speech?
It shows that intimidation has not stopped the growing student political movement. As last year’s political activity indicates, support for Palestinian rights is becoming a consensus on UC campuses, and attempts to portray the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement as anti-Semitic have become increasingly outlandish.
On the other hand, the chilling effect of this public Islamophobic campaign against a student leader has insidious effects we may never be able to measure. How many young Arab and Muslim leaders will now decide to stay out of politics to avoid being smeared as a terrorist?
Hopefully, Saifuddin’s shining example will inspire them to risk it, because it can be overcome.
Her rise to the position of UC Regent is another indicator of the growing prominence and political consciousness of the Middle Eastern Muslim and South Asian community. In the last year, student governments at Berkeley, San Diego and Irvine, as well as the UC Student Association, all passed resolutions supporting divestment. Similarly, the European Union last week made it official policy to refuse economic cooperation with any entities in Israel’s illegal settlements. Saifuddin’s confirmation is another signal that it is no longer a question of if the UC Regents will divest from companies facilitating human rights abuses against Palestinians, but when.