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Muslim student who likened occupation to apartheid is voted to U of California post– as Sen. Feinstein’s husband abstains

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Sadia Saifuddin walks to take her chair after being confirmed during University of California Board of Regents meeting July 17, 2013 (photo: Eric Risberg/AP)

Sadia Saifuddin, a UC Berkeley undergrad and student senator who has likened the Israeli occupation to South African apartheid, has been confirmed by the University of California’s governing board as UC Student Regent, the voice of more than 222,000 students in the University of California system for the 2014-15 term. (Ahmed Moor wrote about this on our site earlier today.)

Saifuddin will begin her one-year term in July 2014 after serving one year as student regent-designate.

Sadia Saifuddin Melkonian
Sadia Saifuddin speaks at press conference after UC Student Regent

confirmation July 17, 2013 (Photo: The Daily Californian)

Sadia Saifuddin, a Pakistani-American, is the first Muslim student confirmed as Student Regent. Her nomination by a UC Board of Regents special committee sparked strong opposition from renowned Islamophobe David Horowitz, the pro Israel group StandWithUs, and Los Angeles’s Simon Wiesenthal Center among others. And because she supported a measure for the UC to divest from companies doing business in the Israeli occupation, a StandWithUS official alleged that she is part of “an extremist movement” that marginalized Jewish students and promoted an anti-Israel agenda that “verge[s] on being anti-Semitic.

However, the 26 member UC Board of Regents did not agree. With the exception of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband Richard Blum, who abstained from the vote, the Regents voted unanimously to ratify Saifuddin’s nomination. The vote was followed by a standing ovation for her. Past UC Student Regent Jonathan Stein praised Saifuddin as a superstar.

“To be an undergrad in that position, you have to be a superstar,” Stein said. “You have to have maturity and poise beyond your years. But it is important to have that undergraduate student at the meetings to explain to the regents what it’s like to be an undergraduate today.”

As an ASUC senator, Saifuddin was chair of the ASUC’s finance committee and was one of two co-sponsors of a controversial bill that encouraged divestment of ASUC and UC Regents funds from companies associated with the Israeli military.

“Her getting this is nothing but a testament to her to hard work representing students,” said Cooperative Movement Senator Jorge Pacheco. “Having her to represent students at a regent level is a blessing, and it’s not a surprise at all.”

It represents a significant victory for UC students who care about human rights that these prominent pro-Israel organizations did not triumph in their opposition to Saifuddin. And maybe an ebb in their influence? Pro-Israel groups’ UC “Campus Climate” report is part of an intense campaign to conflate activism for Palestinian rights with anti-semitism. That equation has as a result permeated California legislation, and enabled the hounding of Muslim student activists and Students for Justice in Palestine members throughout the UC system. 

Saifuddin co sponsored Berkeley student Senate Bill calling for divestment as well as authoring another bill Condemning Islamophobic Hate Speech at the University of California. The second bill called on UC’s President Mark Yudof to “take a clear stand against hate speech.”  It cited the case of a Hebrew lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who was captured on video attacking student groups and attempting to link students with terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood:

“These student groups often have strong ties to international campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Israel as well as to organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood…[They] have ties to terrorist organizations.”

Stein praised Saifuddin’s work during the discussion over the divestment bill: “Sadia is what kept UC Berkeley from cracking apart through that experience”.

But Saifuddin herself did not want the focus to be on her divestment activism.  She is quoted as distinguishing her role as a divestment activist from her role as a student member of the regents, where she would represent the student body at large.

The Jerusalem Post quotes CAIR spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, concerning the attack on Saifuddin:

“Anytime an American Muslim rises to a prominent position, or starts to rise to prominence, that tiny minority of ‘Islamophobes’ in our society goes into action and seeks to marginalize and disenfranchise that individual,” Hooper said.

Jewish Voice for Peace issued a statement congratulating Saifuddin and condemning the attacks against her as “yet another intimidation and repression campaign against anyone who dares criticize Israel on campus.”

Here’s the full JVP statement:

Jewish Voice for Peace congratulates Sadia Saifuddin on her appointment as student regent for the University of California. Saifuddin will be the first practicing Muslim to hold the position. Her nomination faced opposition from right-wing pro-Israel organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and StandWithUs, claiming Saifuddin would misuse her role as student regent. Saifuddin recently co-sponsored a bill at UC Berkeley calling for divestment of university funds from companies that contribute to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. We regret Saifuddin was made the target of yet another intimidation and repression campaign against anyone who dares criticize Israel on campus.

Jewish Voice for Peace applauds her work for justice on campus and wishes her much success in her new role.

The University of California is governed by The Regents, a 26-member board.

The Student Regent is a voting member of the Board representing the voice of all students of the University of California. The current  2013-14 Student Regent is Cinthia Flores, a law student at UC Irvine who praised Saifuddin’s nomination:

“Sadia has the leadership experience and the will and drive to be a great student regent,” said current UC Student Regent Cinthia Flores, “I’m looking forward to working with her in the coming year.”

Finally, here is Saifuddin’s op-ed in the UC newspaper reflecting on divestment last April: Supporting human rights is not ‘complex’

Last week, the ASUC [student body] Senate voted 11-9 to divest funds from companies committing human rights violations in the Palestinian territories. It was a historic moment for the ASUC and added to the legacy of the institution taking a stand for human rights, just as it had done with South African Apartheid in the 1980s. As Golden Bears, we have a responsibility to heed the call of those who are oppressed, especially when the oppressed are in their situation because our funds are perpetuating their oppression.

During the course of the night, we heard many narratives, testimonies and arguments for and against SB 158 and SB 160. What struck me the most, though, was how the proponents of SB 160 were continually accused of “silencing” voices or perpetuating a “one-sided narrative.” I found this incredibly problematic, because it was clear that the Palestinian students afraid to speak for fear of retribution were the real voices being silenced. Not tens, but hundreds of students, from diverse backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, and orientations showed up to support SB 160, yet their truths were de-legitimized as “divisive” and “too complex.”

What I find complex was the lack of action, protest and anger over the fact that a member of Students for Justice in Palestine was struck in the face when he replied in the affirmative to the question “Do you believe that Israel is an apartheid state?” What I find divisive is hurtful and bigoted rhetoric labeling an entire community and coalition anti-Semitic because their beliefs vary from your own. Frankly, it is embarrassing to sit at a table and refuse to engage in constructive dialogue on human rights for the reason that “its too complicated.” Furthermore, it’s hypocritical to label the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “too complicated” then pass a bill calling on a two-state solution. Last time I checked, this issue was “far too complex” for us to possibly understand.

I do not believe that human rights is a complex issue. Either you violate them, or you don’t. Either you perpetuate them through your tuition and tax dollars ($14 million from the University of California and $3 billion annually from the United States), or you don’t. All night, I heard the “complexity” of this issue argued as grounds for disengagement. This was offensive because as students of the No. 1 public university in the world, we are taught to challenge the status quo and deconstruct institutions of power. And if you are not being challenged, then I urge you to actively engage with these issues as they are directly linked to you.

Dialogue is necessary, and so is building bridges. But they are not mutually exclusive with action. Dialogue is constructive when both sides are on equal footing, not when one side is receiving millions of dollars in support of the oppression of the other. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X did not only “dialogue” with white supremacists during the Civil Rights Era. But they did create something to dialogue about. That is what we, as UC Berkeley students, must do. Our job is to create a dialogue, not to use dialogue as a tool to sustain oppression. We must remove the barriers that are sustaining this unequal power relationship and then talk about what steps can be taken to reach compromise and peace. The acknowledgement of human rights abuses is not enough. Claiming to be “pro-peace” and “pro-human rights” is not enough if you continue to allow anti-peace actions to occur. Silence is consent, and remaining mum on the issue only sustains the violence and imbalance that is ripping Israeli and Palestinian lives apart.

Ultimately, the divisions between the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine communities have existed since long before SB 160 or 158 were introduced. A piece of legislation did not cause these divisions, and neither will it perpetuate them. Campus climate has been and always will be an issue that the ASUC must address. It is not a reason to maintain the current status quo, because the reality is that the status quo is what is silencing, divisive and contributes to an unhealthy campus climate.

And if you do not acknowledge that as an issue that requires action and dialogue, it is clear who the real “silencer” is.

(Hat tip to Carol Sanders who contributed to this report)

Editor’s note: A draft version of this post was mistakenly published last night, and then taken shortly after. That draft ran some quotes from different sources together. We apologize for the confusion.

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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10 Responses

  1. amigo on July 18, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Better call an emergency UNSC meeting.

    Got to nip this in the bud right away.Can,t possibly allow Palestinians to have a voice.

    What will they looking for next???.

    Their own State on Jewish land.Pesky devils.

  2. annie on July 18, 2013, 1:56 pm

    btw, in the jpost coverage i linked in the post they claim

    In her acceptance speech, Saifuddin said she hoped to make the university system accessible to more students. She could not later be reached for comment on controversies surrounding her nomination.

    however, there was a press conference after the board meeting (see the links under the second photo) and you can hear her speaking in the videos i linked to there. here they are again, very impressive.

    video from journo katy murphy writing for the oakland tribune

  3. hophmi on July 18, 2013, 2:26 pm

    “As Golden Bears, we have a responsibility to heed the call of those who are oppressed”

    Surely, then, she’s in favor of the ASUC taking a position on the abuse and oppression of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    Or is that not a PC-cause du jour for her?

    • seafoid on July 18, 2013, 3:16 pm

      By the same token what was the Holocaust compared to Stalin’s murderous rule , hoph? 6 million was less than 20% of the number he had murdered.

      Either you have standards or anything goes.

    • talknic on July 18, 2013, 4:08 pm

      hophmi “Surely, then, she’s in favor of the ASUC taking a position on the abuse and oppression of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

      Or is that not a PC-cause du jour for her?”

      Have you checked?

    • amigo on July 18, 2013, 4:21 pm

      As a rabid zionist supremacist what the hell do you care about women in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Syria.

      Except as a diversion from the crimes committed by The Occupation Nation.

    • Cliff on July 18, 2013, 4:23 pm

      As long as it’s not Israel/Palestine, right troll?

    • eGuard on July 18, 2013, 7:26 pm

      hophmi. As was noted here before: why does Mondoweiss get the lousiest hasbara? Don’t we deserve a better one?

    • piotr on July 18, 2013, 9:37 pm

      This is quite unworthy what-aboutism, hophmi. And of course, quite ignorant. Afghanistan is a total mess after more than 10 years of Americans as inept overlords. Pakistan is a democratic state that struggles with assorted problems and in various ways achieves progress, including the status of women. The most acute problems are related to local custom and not to state policies.

      Imagine a hard to access mountain valley inhabited by more than 1 million of very conservative Haredim. The status of women would not be as good as the provisions of Israeli law, and local clerics would be totally unaffected by ASUC resolutions.

    • annie on July 18, 2013, 10:08 pm

      hops, i thought i would call your attention to the google page:

      ASUC Senator Daley Vertiz | Associated Students of the University …‎
      Associated Students of the University of California | Official Senate Blog.

      i happened to link to the Official Senate Blog in an embed in the article above under “authoring” in the paragraph under the first blockquote. here’s the link again:

      and here is some of the text:

      Hello Community,

      I rarely post about a specific bills, but this one in specific will have a special place in my heart. The bill addresses the hate speech UC Santa Cruz lecturer and the inaction by the UC Office of the President to address this issue. You can see the hateful words of ignorance for yourself here: and read the bill below!

      Tonight I want to thank the MEMSA community members who showed up tonight and were brave enough to share the harsh realities faced by the Muslim community in post-9/11 America. I also want to thank Senator Sadia Saifuddin for consistently being open in sharing her experiences as a Muslim womyn. I am extremely grateful that I have been able to meet you and learn more about your experiences. I think it is extremely important for all people to become educated on issues facing the Muslim community. We must deconstruct the innacurate and ignorant anti-Islam narrative that often plagues our minds through the way in which the media shapes our knowledge of the Middle East and the Muslim community.

      Forever an ally of the Muslim community,


      A Resolution Condemning Islamophobic Hate Speech at the University of California

      Authored By: Senator Sadia Saifuddin

      something tells me the the abuse and oppression of women is not a “PC-cause du jour for her”. is it a PC-cause du jour for you?

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