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Yesterday afternoon in a closed meeting, the University of California Students Association (UCSA) voted to recommend the UC Regents postpone their confirmation of Avi Oved as the student regent designate for the 2014-2015 academic year in light of allegations that Oved accepted a potentially illegal donation for a political campaign in 2013 without disclosing the donation in his campaign finance report.
Oved, a fourth-year economics major and former Internal Vice President at UCLA, came under fire for accepting the alleged donation after fourth-year UC Riverside ethnic studies major and former president of UC Riverside’s Students for Justice in Palestine Amal Ali presented a printout of a 2013 email at a UCSA meeting last Saturday during public comment in which Oved appears to thank Adam Milstein, founder of the non-profit Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, for donating to Bruins United — Oved’s campus party — several weeks prior to the 2013 Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) elections. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation is prohibited from making donations to candidates running for elected public office, however whether or not this applies to student government elections is unclear. While USAC candidates must provide campaign expense account forms listing all expenses associated with their campaign as well as any donated materials and services, the USAC elections code does not explicitly prohibit accepting donations from “outside organizations.”
In the alleged email, Oved, an active member in both UCLA’s Hillel and Jewish Student Union, said he is excited on behalf of his party to “represent the Jewish community and ideologies of Isreal” through UCLA’s student government and criticizes the party’s opponents for supporting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel during UCLA’s debate over a proposed resolution that would have recommended UC divestment from Israel earlier last year.
“[Former UCLA USAC Office of the Internal Vice President Chief of Staff and current Internal Vice President] Avinoam [Baral] and I, and the rest of the Bruins United slate are prepared to make sure that UCLA will maintains [sic] its allegiance to Israel and the Jewish community. We are here to make sure that the Jewish voice is represented at every governing body at UCLA and at other relevant entities,” the email states.
Ali asked the UCSA to encourage the Board of Regents to fully investigate the possibility that Oved solicited donations from an outside organization and said she questioned Oved’s fitness for the position of student regent on those grounds.
“I think the UCSA must now consider whether someone who has actively undermined student democracy at his school by soliciting outside funding from a clearly bigoted individual is an appropriate choice for the student regent position,” Ali said in an email.
On Tuesday, UCSA held an emergency meeting via teleconference to address the allegations, which lasted for roughly two hours as the UCSA board of directors fielded comments from students who called in. Oved was reportedly scheduled to make an appearance at the meeting but did not phone in, instead releasing a statement several minutes before the meeting began.
In the statement, Oved condemns the accusation as an attack on him for his ideologies and insists he complied fully with the USAC elections code.
“In May 2013, I ran with Bruins United and complied with all requirements of the election code bylaws. USAC required me to disclose how campaign contributions were spent, which I did,” Oved said in the statement. “Any suggestion that I violated the election code by failing to provide information not required is spurious and is nothing more than an attack against me as a pro-Israel student.”
According to a statement provided by Milstein on behalf of his foundation — whose stated purpose is to “strengthen the state of Israel” and Jewish identity — neither he nor his foundation ever made a donation to Bruins United.
“These accusations are false,” the statement reads. “As is clear in its tax filings, the Milstein Foundation has only ever given funds to Hillel at UCLA, the UCLA Foundation and similar organizations, never to Bruins United or any individual student’s campaigns. The same is also true for Adam Milstein.”
But Ali said the allegations suggest that, as a student regent, Oved may not put his personal beliefs aside to fairly represent all students.
“The student regent must put personal beliefs aside and represent all students, but behavior like soliciting outside funding to win elections indicates that Oved may not act in that manner as a student regent,” Ali said in an email.
Milstein’s statement also discussed the foundation’s history of support for pro-Israel nonprofit groups and condemned the allegations as an attempt to marginalize Jewish students.
“The Milsteins and the Milstein Foundation have a long history of donating to pro-Israel, non-profit organizations for the purpose of student education and leadership training,” the statement reads. “These allegations against Adam Milstein and the Milstein Foundation represent yet another step in an anti-Semitic, smear campaign that seeks to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students.”
Neither Oved’s nor the foundation’s statements explicitly addressed the email allegedly written by Oved last year to Milstein. In a separate interview, Milstein said he would not confirm or deny reading any such email.
“Avi has decided not to respond about the email. … That is a decision that he made, and I have to go along with that,” Milstein said.
Oved could not be reached for comment.
According to Melvin Singh, External Vice President for Statewide Affairs and undergraduate representative for UCSB on the UCSA Board of Directors, many of those present at the meeting on Tuesday were disappointed by Oved’s statement.
“A lot of people were dissatisfied with the statement, even some board members. They felt like he basically brought them nothing,” Singh said. “I personally was trying to analyze the situation and figure out its implications or what it could mean.”
Singh also said he would like to learn the origin of the email and who was involved with bringing the email to light.
“I’m hoping there will be an explanation of the email, but it’s hard to say only because this was given to us from a random student at UC Riverside. We’re not sure of what connections they might have so we would have to try to investigate that person as well,” Singh said.
Oved is still set to be confirmed as the 2014-2015 non-voting student regent-designate by the Board of Regents at its mid-July meeting, after which he will serve as the student regent for the 2015-2016 academic school year.
In the past two years, UC divestment from companies doing business in Israel has received widespread attention from student governments on a number of UC campuses, including UCSB. At UCLA, a 2013 USAC a resolution to support divestment, boycotts and sanctions from Israel, which was fought by Oved, did not pass according to the alleged email.
According to Dr. Berky Nelson, a general representative for USAC at UCLA, debate surrounding the issue of divestment precipitated the allegations raised concerning Oved.
“[Divestment] really created a significant division on our campus, an unfortunate division on our campus,” Nelson said. “I was interested when I read [in the Daily Bruin]…that the complaint came from a student at UC Riverside. So evidently the Students for Justice in Palestine are pulling out all the stops to investigate what they perceive to be malfeasance on the part of students who might disagree with their position. It’s a bloody mess.”
This story is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.