When we first reported on the January 29 ASUCD vote that called on the UC Board of Regents to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories,” it was clear that this was an issue of local import – it was not clear that it would gain national traction as it did.
That is important to keep in mind when we gauge the actions of ASUCD senator Azka Fayyaz whose picture and comments posted on her personal Facebook page have become the poster child for national right wing blogs and publications.
She posted, “Hamas & Shariah law have taken over UC Davis. Brb crying over the resilience.”
As a Cal Aggie editorial notes, “Fayyaz’s post was met with harsh criticism. As a result of of public backlash, Fayyaz uploaded the same photo again on Jan. 29 with a different caption stating, “If a movement is not controversial, if no one is mad, it’s not strong enough & it’s not worth the fight. Israel will fall Insha’Allah : ) #UCDDivest.” She has since disabled her Facebook account.”
Ms. Fayyaz published an extensive public statement in the Aggie, and she writes, “Although I made a comment on the picture stating that the caption was satirical, the anti-divestment community conveniently left out the comment from the rest of the picture and took the caption out of context. In doing so, they shared my picture on various Islamophobic, racist and anti-Palestinian blogs and articles.”
She notes, “I received hateful e-mails and violent messages and was labeled as an anti-Semite, a spokesperson for Hamas and a Jew-hater. All of these judgements are grotesquely disgusting and factually incorrect.”
At the same time, she does herself no favors referring to the “Zionist lobby groups” and arguing that “student senators and other students affiliated with Aggies for Israel on campus have also yelled Islamophobic slurs at me such as ‘terrorist’ and threatened me by holding my position as an ASUCD senator hostage over me.”
“Attacks such as these have been directed at me from the day that I assumed the position as an ASUCD senator. Their intentions are clear, to suppress any opposition and slander the individuals while they do it,” she writes.
The Aggie editorial was critical of her conduct, “While it is understandable — and even encouraged — for a political figure and an ASUCD senator to express her excitement over a bill she supports passing, the Editorial Board believes it is inappropriate and insensitive to make a post on a public area that marginalizes and offends certain groups. Although the posts were published on her personal Facebook profile, Facebook posts are a grey area, as ASUCD senators historically use Facebook politically to promote their campaigns, publicize events and release public statements.”
They note that ASUCD officials agree to certain policies including upholding the principles of community which states in part that members of ASUCD “strive to make decisions in an open and inclusive manner that respects, nurtures and reflects understanding of the needs and interests of all community members.”
The Aggie writes, “We believe Fayyaz has failed to uphold the ASUCD Principles of Community with her public statement and Facebook posts. These posts did not reflect the needs of a broad range of student groups and community members on our campus.”
They noted that, at the January 29 meeting, Ms. Fayyaz made an extreme statement about the definition of Zionism.
“You can’t have coexistence with Zionists. Their purpose of Zionism is discrimination, elimination and ethnic cleansing of a group of people,” Ms. Fayyaz said at the meeting. “So if you want to talk about coexistence, I’m not talking with you because you’re going to try to kill me. I’m Muslim.”
The Aggie adds, “Furthermore, a public statement is an opportunity to empathize and connect with her constituents, and we feel her letter did not do so.”
“We feel that Fayyaz’s public statement was insensitive not only for its absence of remorse to the general community but also for its incendiary nature in this sensitive time. The campus community would benefit from its leaders showing cooperation and positive communication over this indisputably-divisive and polarizing issue,” they write.
The Aggie concludes, “We hope that Fayyaz can remedy her wrongs, as it is not becoming of an elected official to not offer an apology that empathizes more with the students she hurt and represents.”
It is easy to turn Azka Fayyaz into the villain in this story. She, in fact, seems to want to be that villain. We need to remember, however, that this is a student, she clearly thinks very strongly of her position, and fails to recognize she is doing her position far more harm than good.
She has allowed a legitimate discussion about Middle Eastern politics to degenerate into credible charges of anti-Semitism. She has become the poster child for this discussion in a way that no one in the center will sympathize with and everyone on the extreme can use as example of what is wrong with the position.
As an American Jew, I have often found myself in an uncomfortable middle position between two very vocal extreme groups. On the one hand, the history of the Jewish people up until the founding of Israel was one of repression, discrimination and, of course, genocide. The founding of Israel and its survival against all odds should be the model that repressed peoples across the world strive to embody.
At the same time, the struggles of the Palestinian peoples are very real, as well. They are very much displaced peoples and political pawns between the west, struggling to put to an end the “Jewish problem,” and the powers in the Middle East, eager to foment dissent to destabilize Israel.
Unfortunately, while both sides have legitimate grievances against both each other and the west, neither side is beyond reproach. The indiscriminate use of violence and guerrilla tactics against civilian populations in Israel is inexcusable, but so too is the heavy-handed Israeli response and aggressive and militaristic stances.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a centuries-long struggle, it is actually a relatively new one created by the haphazard and sloppy way that the west decided to carve up the land that is now Israel. The current conflict is, in fact, less than 100 years old.
Middle Eastern politics, of course, is not often the subject of the Vanguard. However, when the focus of local events becomes nationalized, both through the ASUCD vote and the Swastika incident, it becomes impossible to ignore.
I find myself in the middle ground – I oppose the tactics of both the Palestinians and the Israelis in this, and support a two-state solution.
It is quite obvious that cooler heads will not prevail. I see little to be gained by the public flogging of a UC Davis student, even a student senator who does not seem to be able to extricate herself from a self-created mess.
At the same time, we welcome voices from various segments of the community on this issue. We published one such piece on Tuesday.
Interestingly enough, a long-time family friend of mine asked me if the piece was written by me, if I agreed with the piece, and if I didn’t agree with the piece, why did I publish it. I published it because I believe in free speech – in deed, not just in word – and believed it was an important view that needed to be added to the mix.
Unfortunately, it appears that calmer heads are not going to prevail on this matter, but we as a community can at least attempt to carve out the parameters of discussion and what things should be in bounds and out of bounds.
I agree with the Aggie’s comment that Ms. Fayyaz’s “public statement was insensitive not only for its absence of remorse to the general community but also for its incendiary nature in this sensitive time.” So I call on the adults of this community to lead by example and show Ms. Fayyaz and others in this debate and other debates like this, that there is a better way.
Yesterday we published Alan Hirsch’s piece on consensus building, where he noted the use of “facilitated community meetings as a tool to advance the City through often difficult issues.” Clearly, there are a variety of conflict-resolution tools that could be employed in such situations.
We urge the ASUCD to take seriously the damage that they have caused, not only to their own body but to this community as a whole. They have postponed this week’s meeting, but perhaps they can think about ways to repair that rift before it continues to grow.
These are sensitive times and delicate issues and, whatever side of the fence you are on, I hope we can all agree that the manner in which this was handled was poor and reflects poorly on ASUCD and this community – and that is what needs to be repaired.
—David M. Greenwald reporting