The University of California Student Association (UCSA) held an emergency public teleconference on July 1 to consider allegations by the former leader of a pro-Palestinian student group that call into question the relationship between a pro-Israel UCLA student, who was recently nominated to the University of California Board of Regents, and local philanthropist Adam Milstein.
The accusations against Avi Oved, a UCLA junior, first surfaced at a June 28 UCSA meeting when Amal Ali, past president of UC Riverside’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), released a private email in which Oved thanks Milstein for a “generous donation” made during Oved’s candidacy in 2013.
Ali told the Journal she is concerned about Oved’s relationship with Milstein, adding that the student regent-designate may have violated UCLA’s campaign finance disclosure rules.
The latter is not at issue, however, according to Kris Kaupalolo, an adviser to UCLA’s student election board, who spoke with UCLA’s Daily Bruin newspaper. Kaupalolo said candidates are under no obligation to disclose campaign donation sources.
The student board, which is comprised of representatives from each of UC’s student governments, will hold a closed meeting on July 3 and will decide whether to move forward with an investigation. Pending that decision, it could make a recommendation to the powerful board of regents regarding its recent nomination of Oved to sit on the board for two years.
This is only the latest flare-up between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students on California’s campuses, which since January have seen SJP-supported resolutions debated on several campuses that call on administrators to divest from several companies that do business with Israel’s government.
The international pro-Palestinian student group has gained significant ground in California in recent years, in part by challenging the legitimacy of pro-Israel student political candidates, such as Oved. In May, SJP was among the organizations that drafted a letter asking student government candidates to pledge against taking trips to Israel sponsored by certain Jewish organizations. The letter was signed by 18 of 30 candidates.
In May, a similar conflict of interest charge arose when SJP at UCLA alleged that Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers, two then-outgoing student government representatives, created a perceived conflict when they attended all-expenses paid trips to Israel by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
UCLA’s student judicial board rejected SJP’s complaint 4-0.
In the case of Oved, the central issue surrounds an email dated April 18, 2013, in which he thanks Milstein for a “generous donation” to Oved, fellow candidate Avinoam Baral and the Bruins United student political party at UCLA. Both Oved and Baral were, at the time, running for seats in the student government’s 2013 elections. Oved served that year as the government’s internal vice president, a position that Baral now holds.
Oved meeting with UC president Janet Napolitano and current student regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin. Photo via Facebook.
Oved further emphasized to Milstein that he and other Bruins United candidates would continue to resist efforts by other groups to pass Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislation.
Asked how she obtained the private email that Oved sent to Milstein, Ali declined to comment on the leaked email’s “confidential source.”
Writing to the Journal on June 30, she said that Oved’s failure to report the donation during his 2013 campaign “proves a disregard for the importance of transparency,” adding that any connection of his to Milstein “raises a concern for potential conflict of interest” when Oved becomes student regent-designate later this month.
Milstein wrote in a July 1 statement that no donation was ever made to Oved or Bruins United — either by him or by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, and that the allegations “represent yet another step in an anti-Semitic smear campaign that seeks to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students.”
He pointed to his foundation’s 2012-13 tax return, which shows, among many other charitable contributions, a $50,000 donation to the UCLA Foundation and a $10,500 donation to Hillel at UCLA, but no donations to either Oved, Baral or Bruins United.
Writing to the Journal, Milstein also expressed concern at the possibility that Oved’s email account was hacked.
Oved, releasing a statement shortly before the July 1 teleconference, decried what he termed “an attack against me as a pro-Israel student,” and questioned why he is being criticized for “failing to provide information not required” by the UCLA student government’s election code. He declined further comment pending developments.
The UCSA’s two-hour phone meeting on the subject, which was open to public comment, was chaotic and disorganized at times. Several people identifying themselves as students called in to label Milstein “Islamophobic,” “racist” and “bigoted,” and voiced their fears about being represented by Oved, who, they said, does not represent the entire UC student body.
One caller, though, criticized the meeting as a “trial by phone conference.” Another, an Arab-Christian at UC Berkeley, challenged the notion that Oved — even if he did take a donation from Milstein — would be beholden to outside interests.
“We do not form our policies because of those donations,” the student said. “Rather, we receive those donations because of our goals.”
The board decided that until they could speak with Oved, who was not present on the call, they would delay recommendation on moving forward with an investigation.
If ultimately approved to join the Board of Regents, Oved would join student appointee Sadia Saifuddin, of UC Berkeley. Last year she co-sponsored a resolution that called on the university’s administration to divest about $14 million from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cement Roadstone Holdings. That vote, which, ironically, was also held on April 18, passed last year 11-9.
Saifuddin was reached on her cell phone, but declined immediate comment on the possible investigation.