The right-wing pro-Israel philanthropist Adam Milstein’s story about not funding student government candidates in California is crumbling under the weight of new disclosures.
Last week, Milstein, in an interview with me, denied donating money to the election campaigns of a student government candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). But e-mails published by a student news outlet reveal that Milstein, contrary to his denials to Mondoweiss, did indeed fund the elections of members of the Bruins United slate at the school–proving that outside pro-Israel money is being injected into student politics.
The disclosures of Milstein’s involvement has sparked a controversy that threatens to derail the appointment of Avi Oved, one of the student government members aligned with Milstein, to a seat on the powerful UC Regents, which oversees the UC system. Milstein’s involvement, which has become a lightning rod for criticism because of his anti-Muslim views, has exposed how donors are seeking to shore up campus opinion and government on Israel. California campuses have become a major battleground over Israel, with pro-Israel groups seeking to stop student governments from passing resolutions calling for divestment from U.S. corporations linked to the Israeli army. Measures to divest have failed at UCLA, though they have passed at other UC campuses.
The Daily Californian’s Chloe Hunt published leaked e-mails late Thursday showing Milstein trying to convince pro-Israel donors to give cash to the student election campaigns of Avi Oved and Avinoam Barel, two Israel advocates at UCLA that were running for UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council. The e-mails also show Milstein pledging to give his own money.
One e-mail published shows Milstein explaining why it’s vital to help out Oved and Barel. “Avi and Avinoam represent the Jewish community and the pro-Israel advocates on the UCLA campus. It’s of extreme importance that they prevail vs. some anti-Israel, pro-BDS students that are competing against them,” Milstein wrote. “They have asked me to reach out to the pro-Israel community in Los Angeles and to anyone else who is willing to support their cause and ask for contributions IMMEDIATELY necessary for their campaign fund.”
Milstein goes on to direct donors to send money to UCLA’s Hillel through checks earmarked for “UCLA Student Government Leaders.” He then ends the message with a call to forward his e-mail to other donors, and says: “BTW–I’m contributing $1,000 total.”
The e-mails directly contradict what Milstein told me last week. He said that he “did not give money to Avi” and said that when he makes donations to organizations, he doesn’t know where the money ends up.
Milstein doubled down on his denials in a follow-up e-mail exchange I had with him, and refused to speak over the phone about the issue. He said that a statement he authored, which denied the allegations that he gave cash to Oved,”was, is and will always be true.”
Milstein is a big funder of a variety of pro-Israel groups in the U.S. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups like StandWithUs, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hasbara Fellowships and the Central Fund for Israel.
Meanwhile, the nomination of Oved to the UC Regents has run into trouble because of outside campaign funding. On Thursday, the University of California Student Association, a body that recommends students to serve on the UC Regents, voted 10-0 (with two abstentions) to request that UC Regents postpone voting on whether Oved will serve. The UC Regents is scheduled to vote on Oved later this month.
They also voted 8-0 (with four abstentions) to have an outside, independent group investigate Oved and the conflict of interest concerns raised by Milstein’s donation. Students opposed to Oved are questioning whether he can represent students fairly given his links to outside donors, though he did not violate any UCLA election regulations. A screenshot published (see below) by The Daily Bruin shows that Oved, in a GroupMe message, wondered whether he should sit on the UC Regents investment committee–the place where a divestment resolution would come up. He told the student paper that the message was a “joke” and that he regrets saying it.
The UC Regents “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,” one UCSA member, Kevin Sabo, told The Daily Californian.
But Oved continues to defend himself. In an interview conducted with The Daily Bruin, he said he “did not receive any donation from Milstein or Milstein’s foundation. If any donation was received, it was through Hillel.” Oved claimed that the first e-mail published, showing him thanking Milstein, was “thanking Milstein for making a donation to Hillel.”
But the e-mail Oved sent clearly references student government and the Bruins United slate–not Hillel.