“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
This morning, I read of yet another act of anti-Semitism at one of this country’s absolute jewels of public education the University of California, Los Angeles. During a hearing on Feb. 10 for a seat on the student Judicial Board, candidate Rachel Beyda was asked: “Given that you’re a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
As a Jew, the obvious bigotry of this question offends me deeply. However, my decision to speak out goes far beyond this not-so-subtle attack that manifests in a variety of — and ever increasing — ways against Jews across campuses throughout the nation. A recent study by Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law found that 54 percent of Jewish college students have been subject to or witnessed anti-Semitism during a six-month period. No, today, I am far more offended as an American and as one who values what this great country represents.
I am offended for several reasons. For starters, these questions are a brazen violation of the spirit, if not the very text of the U.S. Constitution (see: First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion), a document that embodies the very principles of our progressive democracy. To even entertain this question as one appropriate for a public body, student or otherwise, demonstrates a deep ignorance of the civic foundation on which this country was founded and, more importantly, a body of laws that have evolved since their creation to expand the rights of and protections for other Americans as well.
While the question at hand targeted the candidate’s Jewish heritage and community involvement, I am not the only one who should fear the audacity that the statement embodies. If asking whether being a Jew would cloud one’s judgment, what about asking if they were a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist? Heck, why not ask if other characteristics would influence their perspective, like being Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, even white? How about whether they are poor, rich, Democrat, Republican, independent? Substitute any of these classifications for Jew and you can get a sense of what real bigotry looks like. There is no justification for the question and no moral defense for distinguishing a Jew from any of the other classifications enumerated, no matter the context.
The pinnacle of the questioner’s ignorance lies mostly with the arrogance of the presumption on which the question is based. To even suggest that one’s life’s experiences do not influence their perspective or that the resulting diversity of opinion is deleterious demonstrates a dangerous position that, unfortunately, is far too common on campuses today. To imply that the differences that shape us as humans contain an unacceptable bias equates to saying that opinions that vary at all from the speakers are to be summarily and justifiably dismissed. As an American, I cannot and will not accept this shameless attack on the values that we hold so dear.
Today, I choose not to be silent.
Brian Tauber is a 1992 University alumnus.