A group that represents the University of California’s student body further highlighted how this state has become the flashpoint for the Israeli-Palestinian debate on American campuses when it requested that the powerful UC Board of Regents delay its confirmation of Avi Oved, a Jewish, pro-Israel junior at UCLA, as student regent-designate.
At the same time, the group — the UC Student Association (UCSA) — voted 8-0, with four abstentions, to appoint an independent entity to investigate conflict of interest allegations in regard to Oved’s relationship with Adam Milstein, a Los Angeles-based philanthropist who donates to numerous Jewish and pro-Israel causes, following the release of several leaked, private emails between the two.
Oved countered, during an interview with the Journal, that the allegations against him are “baseless,” adding that even after a 20-minute phone call with UCSA board members prior to their July 3 vote, he is still unaware of any bylaws UCSA intends to investigate.
Outgoing UCSA president and UC Riverside student Kareem Aref said that an investigation would help UCSA determine whether Oved violated any election bylaws. He said that the board has “the utmost faith” in the nominee, but that it wants to reassure concerned students who feel “Avi’s intentions in being student regent may not have been the purest.”
How these actions are received by the Board of Regents remains to be seen. UC’s governing body scheduled Oved’s confirmation for its July 16-17 meeting in San Francisco. A UC spokesperson did not respond to a request for more information on the matter.
The 10-0 vote, with two abstentions, came just two days after the student group hosted a public teleconference concerning the relationship of Oved and Milstein. Their relationship was introduced last month as a potential concern by Amal Ali, a UC Riverside junior and past president of that school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
She revealed private emails between Oved and Milstein that show the latter donated to Oved’s 2013 campaign for a position in UCLA’s student government. Although Oved’s acceptance of Milstein’s donation violated none of UCLA’s election bylaws, according to a school official, UCSA’s official statement faulted him with a lack of transparency.
During a two-hour July 1 teleconference open to the public, dozens of commenters identifying themselves as students dialed in to voice their opinion. Several bashed Milstein as “Islamophobic,” “racist” and “bigoted,” and expressed their fears of being represented by Oved. Some UCSA board members present on the call expressed their disappointment that Oved — who told the Journal he believes his email was hacked — did not take part in the call.
Ali refused to comment to the Journal about the leaked email’s “confidential source” but wrote in an email that Milstein’s contribution “raises a concern for potential conflict of interest” if Oved is ultimately confirmed to the Board of Regents.
However, election bylaws do not require “a candidate running [for] a student government position to declare the origins of funding,” according to Berky Nelson, a UCLA administrator and administrative representative for the student council.
In one of three private emails leaked to UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, Oved wrote to Milstein on April 18, 2013, thanking him for a “generous donation” to his campaign for student government, reassuring him that he would continue to fight attempts made by pro-Palestinian students to push Israel divestment bills through the student senate.
Two subsequent private emails leaked on July 3 revealed that Oved wrote to Milstein in 2013 asking for his support in light of the UCLA divestment movement’s momentum at the time. Milstein, in response, wrote to Hillel at UCLA that he would make a $1,000 donation to Hillel earmarked for “UCLA student government leaders,” adding that Hillel should help Oved and a fellow candidate find other pro-Israel community members who would support their election.
Milstein denies that he or his philanthropic foundation ever donated money directly to Oved or the student’s political party, Bruins United. He wrote in a statement that the effort to oust the UCLA junior is an “anti-Semitic smear campaign that seeks to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students.”
If confirmed, Oved would sit on the Board of Regents for the upcoming school year as a non-voting member beside Sadia Saifuddin, a Muslim pro-divestment student from UC Berkeley and the board’s incoming student regent. She declined to comment pending the results of the UCSA investigation and Oved’s confirmation hearing.
While there has been speculation that the board’s nomination of Oved in May was an attempt to balance its nomination of Saifuddin with a pro-Israel voice, in a May interview with the Los Angeles Times, UC regent George Kieffer denied the two students’ views on divestment as an explanatory factor.
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