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UCLA student leader active in Jewish groups nominated as regent

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If approved, a Jewish student will join a Muslim on the UC regents panel
Religion wasn't a factor, but selection of Jewish student regent shows UC undergrads' diversity, officials say
'It's an absolutely beautiful statement for UC to have a Jewish student and a Muslim student working together'

A UCLA economics major active in student government and campus Jewish organizations has been nominated to become one of the two student representatives on the UC regents board. If his nomination is approved, he will join a Muslim woman in representing the 230,000 students in the 10-campus system.

Abraham (Avi) Oved’s selection by a special committee was announced Thursday; he is expected to be confirmed by the full board of regents in July.

Oved, who will be a UCLA senior in the fall, has served as internal vice president of the campus undergraduate student government and been active at the UCLA Jewish Student Union and the Hillel organization.

UC officials said he was the strongest candidate — and was not chosen in an effort to balance religious representation on the board at a time when issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute have roiled some UC campuses.

Last year the regents selected Sadia Saifuddin, a UC Berkeley student government leader, whose position on the board continues through the 2014-15 school year. Some Jewish organizations opposed her selection because Saifuddin, the first Muslim student regent, previously had advocated for divesting university funds from companies that do business with Israel’s military.

Oved, whose parents emigrated from Israel, has opposed divestment and has proposed that UC instead actively invest in companies that promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I think it’s an absolutely beautiful statement for UC to have a Jewish student and a Muslim student work together regardless of religious or political or cultural differences, in order to improve higher education,” said Oved, who grew up in Encino. He added that he hoped their cooperation would serve as an example for many groups to “come together and focus on similarities rather than differences.”

Oved said that as a board representative, he hoped to address the problem of sexual violence on campus.

UC regent George Kieffer, who chaired the panel selecting the student regents, said Thursday that religion was not an important factor.

“We didn’t focus on Sadia as a Muslim student last year and we didn’t focus on Avi as a Jewish student this year. We just made the best selection.” However, he said, the outcome displays “the openness and vibrancy of the university and the university’s undergraduates.”

If approved, Oved will be the regent-designate for a year, able to join all discussions but unable to vote. For 2015-16, he will move into the voting position that Saifuddin will fill in the upcoming academic year.

Saifuddin, whose parents emigrated from Pakistan, welcomed Oved and described him as “an enthusiastic and capable leader, and an avid learner.” She said she looked forward to working with him on issues of accessibility, affordability and quality of UC education.

While generally peaceful, relations between Jewish and Muslim students in the UC system have soured at points over divestment and other issues.

In recent weeks, a controversy erupted at UCLA when a student activist asked candidates for all undergraduate student council offices to pledge not to take trips to Israel under the sponsorship of three pro-Israel lobbying groups.

Jewish groups said that was an intimidation tactic and UC administrators said it violated standards of campus civility, although they could not stop the effort because it constituted free speech.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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