UCLA student judge grilled over her Jewish background is from Bay Area

A UCLA sophomore from Cupertino became the subject of national media attention after the New York Times last week wrote a story about how members of the university’s student government treated her because she is Jewish.

Rachel Beyda, 20, a graduate of Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, seemed to be on her way to being confirmed as a member of UCLA’s student judicial board when she appeared at a Feb. 10 undergraduate student council meeting seeking final approval.

Suddenly, questions about her Jewish identity emerged. One council member asked her point blank how she would be able to “maintain an unbiased view” given the fact that she is Jewish and active in the Jewish community. For 40 minutes after Beyda left the room, the council debated whether Beyda’s Jewish background would present a conflict of interest on matters that came before the board, even as they affirmed that she was well qualified for the job, according to the New York Times report.

Rachel Beyda photo and graphic used by the “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC photo/msnbc

The council voted 4-4 with one abstention, thus rejecting her, but after a faculty adviser said that questions about a candidate’s religion violated the rules, another vote was taken and she was approved, 9-0.

Though the incident took place a month ago, the Times piece thrust it into the national discourse. It was the top-viewed story on the newspaper’s website as of March 8, three days after it appeared, and garnered more than 1,800 comments. It also sparked discussion on CNN, the Huffington Post, Fox News and other national news outlets.

This week, partially in response to the incident, the UCLA student council passed an anti-Semitism resolution (see page 11).

Beyda, a member of Congregation Beth David in Saratoga along with her family, declined to comment on the controversy, telling J. in an email, “As a member of the Judicial Board, I do not feel it is appropriate for me to comment on the actions of UCLA’s elected student government.”

The student leaders who questioned Beyda’s Jewish background have now apologized, in a joint letter to the Daily Bruin. Also, the student government voted this week to make the previously removed video of its Feb. 10 hearing available on YouTube.

Beyda’s parents, Cathy and Bill Beyda, told J. she has handled the controversy with grace. “We are very proud of her, for how she handled this situation, and of her appointment to the judicial board,” they wrote in an email.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.