In a closed session to follow up on allegations against student regent-designate nominee Avi Oved, the University of California Student Association’s systemwide affairs committee voted 10-0, with two abstentions, in favor of requesting that the UC Board of Regents delay Oved’s confirmation until September.
The UCSA committee also voted 8-0, with four abstentions, to find a method to have an impartial entity investigate the allegations, which include financial and political conflict-of-interest concerns about Oved, and report to the board by the end of the month.
At a UCSA board meeting Saturday, last year’s president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Riverside presented an email that contained allegations of inappropriate campaign donations. The email, allegedly sent from Oved to Adam Milstein, thanks him for a generous donation to Oved and a UCLA student government political party, Bruins United. Milstein is involved in several pro-Israel organizations and is the co-founder of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.
In an interview with The Daily Californian, Oved confirmed he sent the email, although he said he was thanking Milstein for supporting Hillel at UCLA.
“At the time, I had an internship at Hillel, which was a leadership internship, and it gave me a solid foundation to establish myself as a leader in my community,” Oved said about why he sent the email to Milstein. “Milstein was a big contributor to Hillel, and Hillel was supporting Bruins United, and given the fact that I had this leadership internship, I did want to let him know the future of what I was pursuing.”
In an email leaked to The Daily Californian, Milstein requested that pro-Israel community members direct contributions to Hillel at UCLA earmarked for “UCLA Student Government Leaders.” According to the email, Oved and UCLA student government internal vice president Avinoam Baral requested that Milstein reach out to the pro-Israel community for capital to support their cause. Milstein allegedly stated he would contribute $1,000.
Milstein said in a statement Tuesday, prior to the publication of the new information, that neither he nor his foundation had ever given funds to Bruins United or the campaigns of individual students. In a statement released the same day, Oved called the allegations “hurtful and deeply unfair” and said he had complied with all requirements of UCLA’s election bylaws.
“It’s really important to know that even if I wanted to disclose that information, there was no mechanism for me to do so,” Oved said.
Baral, who was copied on the alleged email, declined to comment.
The UCSA’s board, which is made up of graduate and undergraduate student members from UC campuses, recommended three candidates from a pool of 38 to the regents, who nominated Oved in May. If the UC Board of Regents confirms Oved in two weeks, at its July meeting, he will be the sole voting voice of the UC student body on the Board of Regents in the 2015-16 school year.
On Tuesday, the UCSA board held an emergency meeting to hear students’ opinions on how to proceed and held a closed session Thursday to make a final decision.
Public comment at Tuesday’s emergency meeting suggested that the issue at stake was if Oved’s stance against divestment — the withdrawal of UC funds from companies affiliated with Israel’s military — posed a conflict of interest.
But many board members do not believe the issue raised by the controversy has anything to do with Oved’s divestment beliefs. Rather, they said it was a question of transparency at the student government level and of whether Oved would be able to put the interests of UC students above the priorities of an outside organization.
Board member and UC Santa Cruz graduate student Rebecca Ora emphasized the importance of maintaining Oved’s innocence until proven guilty, something that some students said during public comment had not been consistently respected.
Although Kareem Aref, UCSA board president, said the outcry against Oved and the concerns raised about student regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin last year were “two sides of the same coin,” others warned about distilling the controversy into a conversation solely about divestment.
Saifuddin’s support of divestment — she co-sponsored a bill last year pushing for it at UC Berkeley — was a divisive issue that led to public outcry, although she was ultimately confirmed by the UC Board of Regents. But Galvan Sanchez said this is an entirely different issue.
“It’s not really about his stance, whereas that’s what it was for Sadia,” Galvan Sanchez said. “It’s about conflict of interest and all that comes from receiving donations like that.”
Ora said it wasn’t the board’s role to “condemn (Oved) for his opinions.” And Denea Joseph, a board member and a UCLA student government official, expressed concern that the matter — as circulated in the public sphere — has been dismissed as a clear-cut right to hold personal opinions in public office.
“I feel like a lot of people have written off this accusation as something that’s just a matter of personal bias in campus politics,” Joseph said. “It’s not that. It’s just a matter of wanting to make sure that students are represented in the best way possible.”
For an issue that many say comes down to transparency, Students for Justice in Palestine board member and UCLA student Omar Issa Attar said there’s been a lack of clarity in the investigation process as a whole. He said Tuesday’s conference-call format — although laudable for its efforts — made it difficult to authenticate the identity of those speaking.
Caitlin Quinn, a board member and campus external affairs vice president, said comments had been submitted claiming to be members of organizations — such as SJP — but that names provided didn’t match those of university students, let alone members of the supposed organizations.
“It’s a little weird to me that people are going out of their way to make fake public comments about it,” Quinn said. “I think they’re trying to make it more divisive than it actually is.”
While UCLA’s election code does not stipulate that candidates disclose the sources of their funding, Quinn said the situation would have been very different if Oved were a UC Berkeley student.
UC Berkeley student government election bylaws require that parties provide documentation of the sources of their funding, which is indicative of a significant distinction between the cultures of UCLA and UC Berkeley, according to Quinn.
Many board members said the UCSA board doesn’t have significant power over whether or not Oved is ultimately confirmed at the regents’ meeting in July or if the appointment is put off until September. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely helpless over the outcome.
“While the confirmation is in the hands of the regents now,” said board member and campus student government attorney general Kevin Sabo in an email, “they would be grossly abusive of their responsibilities as administrators of this university to refuse the statewide student association its request to reconsider the most visible student position in the system.”