SAN FRANCISCO - The University of California appointed a
Muslim American woman as a student member of its governing board on Wednesday in
a move opposed by Jewish groups that objected to her pro-Palestinian
Sadia Saifuddin, a 21-year-old social welfare major at the
prestigious University of California at Berkeley, will become the first Muslim
student member of the 26-person board of regents for a year-long term starting
Jewish groups including the prominent Simon Wiesenthal Center
strongly objected to her nomination, citing her involvement in a campaign to
divest university funds from companies with business connections to the Israeli
They also objected to her sponsoring a student senate
resolution that condemned a lecturer at the system's Santa Cruz campus for what
the resolution said was Islamophobic rhetoric. The groups said it was Saifuddin
who showed an intolerance toward opposing viewpoints.
"In a year where
campus climate issues have been the dominant theme of the UC system, a vote to
appoint somebody who has served to polarize thousands and thousands of people in
the campus community and beyond is shocking," said Rabbi Aron Hier of the
Wiesenthal Center, which petitioned the regents to deny Saifuddin a seat on the
"An appropriate Muslim candidate could have ably served in this
position. We don't believe Sadia is that appropriate candidate," he
Despite the opposition, 25 university regents voted on Wednesday
to confirm her appointment with one member, Richard Blum, abstaining from the
vote. He cited concerns about Saifuddin's divestment efforts.
blessed, and I'm very excited for this position," Saifuddin said after the vote,
wearing a floral Muslim headscarf and beaming as she walked through a largely
supportive crowd to accept her seat.
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
Saifuddin's supporters said she was an exemplary student who
cared about students of all faiths and has worked to benefit the system as a
senator in the Association of Students of the University of California and a
member of the Muslim Student Association.
"Sadia is a remarkable young
woman. She is committed to supporting all of UC students, and to this university
and this country which she loves," said Regent Bonnie Reiss, who chaired the
student regent selection committee.
Reiss, who is Jewish, said the
committee would not have selected Saifuddin to be a student regent if they
thought she was anti-Semitic, responding to complaints that the divestment
campaign included elements of anti-Semitism.
Council on American-Islamic
Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said opponents who disagreed with Saifuddin's
politics wanted to unjustly exclude her from civic
"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.