SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A student with strong ties to Israel was appointed to the governing council of the University of California Wednesday amid debate similar to that which arose last year after the Board of Regents chose a Muslim student active in Palestinian causes.
Abrahem “Avi” Oved, a 21-year-old economics major at UCLA who will replace Sadia Saifuddin, a UC Berkeley student who is the board’s first Muslim student member as student regent, said he would work with all students and represent them on the board.
“I want to work with students on the ground, and that should be the focus of this position - empowering students and giving them the resources they need to be heard,” said Oved, whose parents are from Israel.
Oved drew controversy in the 10-campus UC system when a student newspaper published emails that appeared to connect him to a passionately pro-Israel activist whose Twitter posts have included pictures he said were of “Muslim thugs” at a Los Angeles demonstration.
“The concern at this point is whether there is trust between Avi and students,” said Kareem Aref, President of the UC Student Association.
The emails appear to show that the activist, Adam Milstein, contributed funds for use by students running for campus government positions at UCLA who described themselves as pro-Israel.
“This obviously is a continuing effort to harass and intimidate students who are pro-Israel,” Milstein said Wednesday.
Saifuddin, a social welfare major at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley, was the only member of the board to oppose Oved’s appointment, saying she voted in solidarity with students who felt uncomfortable with his appointment.
Last year, when she was appointed, Jewish groups including the prominent Simon Wiesenthal Center strongly objected to her nomination, citing her involvement in a campaign to divest university funds from companies with business connections to the Israeli military.
They also objected to her sponsoring a student senate resolution that condemned a lecturer at the system’s Santa Cruz campus for what the resolution said was Islamophobic rhetoric.
At that time, Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said opponents who disagreed with Saifuddin’s politics wanted to unjustly exclude her from civic participation.
“Any time an American Muslim rises to a prominent position, or starts to rise to prominence, that tiny minority of ‘Islamophobes’ in our society goes into action and seeks to marginalize and disenfranchise that individual,” Hooper said.
Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Eric Walsh