UC students opposing nominee to represent them on the Board of Regents smeared as anti-Semitic
Concerns about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on the University of California (UC) campuses have triggered another round of false accusations claiming that campus Palestine activists are engaged in “harassment” and “anti-Semitism.” Such accusations of anti-Semitism are the default for Israel supporters who aim to shield Israel from growing discontent with its ruthless and racist policies against Palestinians. In this case, they are avoiding debate on important questions about student democracy, transparency and the entrance of the Israel lobby on campus.
Recently, leaked documents revealed that a UCLA student political party received a campaign donation from Adam Milstein, a wealthy Zionist known for funding the Islamophobia industry and promoting Islamophobic viewpoints. Documents show that Milstein donated to Bruins United and to Avi Oved, a 2013 candidate for the position of Internal Vice President at UCLA. Milstein’s campaign donation went through UCLA's Hillel, whose development officers also happen to be joint employees of UCLA.
The Board of Regents confirmed Oved on Wednesday, over the objections of the student body who argued that he cannot represent students.
Students across the UC called for the Regents to postpone the nomination in response to the revelations, and for Avi Oved to withdraw himself from the student regent nomination process. The UC-wide student government body (“UCSA Board”) voted 10-0 for the Regents to postpone, pending investigation. MSA-West, the regional affiliate of the Muslim Students Association issued a statement calling for the same. And a student petition with nearly 800 signatures demanded that the UC Regents respect the vote by the UCSA Board.
Many of the students most vocal in the opposition to Oved's nomination are active in UC Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim student groups, and other marginalized minority and social justice student groups. Their statements explain clearly why the revelations undermine Oved's ability to represent students: concerns about student democracy and transparency, potential legal violations, and most importantly, the strikingly Islamophobic views of the donor, Adam Milstein.
Oved, Milstein, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) never addressed student concerns about democracy and transparency. Instead, they resorted to undermining the students’ motivations by calling them ‘anti-Semitic.’
A ZOA official claimed that Oved was only targeted “because he’s Jewish and pro-Israel,” and claimed that “There’s a strong anti-Semitic attitude on many college campuses, and it’s discriminatory.’” Milstein himself commented, "This obviously is a continuing effort to harass and intimidate students who are pro-Israel.” At the UC Regents meeting, the same ZOA official reportedly told the Regents, “Students for Justice in Palestine is solely focused on destroying the Jewish state, and intimidating and harassing Jewish students on campus."
These are baseless and inflammatory claims which can seriously damage the reputations of the students involved. They also ignore the reality for students who are under incessant pressure for standing up for Palestinian rights – from disciplinary actions, to baseless discrimination complaints, to condemnations from University officials, to surveillance, to the everyday scrutiny because of their backgrounds and views.
Students across UC campuses will nevertheless continue to organize around this and other social justice issues. They are outraged at the appointment of a student representative to the Board of Regents who privately pledged to carry out a non-student donor’s interests. They are investing their energy into ensuring that student governance is not muzzled by the excessive influence of the pro-Israel lobby – as is so glaringly the case in local and national politics.
Attempts to distract from these important issues with claims that students’ motivation is anti-Semitism wlll not be effective. Especially as the world witnesses the devastation that Israel wreaks on Palestinians – not just now in Gaza, but everyday, all over Israel/Palestine.