Campus Hillels across the country have distanced themselves from their University of California, Los Angeles affiliate following revelations that UCLA Hillel acted as a pass-through for political donations to pro-Israel student government candidates.
Hillel International, the campus centers’ parent body, nevertheless strongly supports the donations, which UCLA’s student newspaper revealed recently.
The donations, which came to light in early July, when The Daily Californian obtained several personal emails disclosing them, have raised concern in some quarters about Hillel venturing into student government politics as a partisan player.
“I couldn’t remotely even think about getting involved in that,” said Rabbi Leah Cohen, executive director of the Hillel at Yale University, referring to the type of actions UCLA Hillel undertook.
Originally, the money in question came to UCLA Hillel as a single $1,000 donation from Los Angeles-based real estate mogul Adam Milstein, a prominent pro-Israel activist. The emails obtained by the Daily Californian showed that Milstein asked UCLA Hillel to direct his money to “UCLA Student Government Leaders.” Milstein wrote that he wanted the contribution to be used to help pro-Israel student candidates “prevail vs. some anti-Israel, pro-BDS students” competing for the same seats. “BDS” is an acronym for the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel to protest its occupation of the West Bank and policies toward the Palestinians.
UCLA Hillel complied with Milstein’s request, though it was not required to do so.
Avi Oved, one of the two student candidates who ultimately received the money channeled via Hillel, later wrote Milstein to directly thank him for the “generous donation.”
“It is amazing to see how connected and united the Jewish community can be when our ideologies and voices are at stake,” Oved wrote to his benefactor. The candidate, an economics major whose parents immigrated to the United States from Israel, emphasized to Milstein that the donation would help him defeat his opponent, who was a BDS supporter.