We’ve heard a lot about Bruins United. According to their website, they were “formed in 2004 when only 50 student groups could apply for funding from USAC,” not including “religious, pre-professional, political, and Greek groups.” They successfully advocated for the “passage of equal funding for all student groups.” It is therefore no surprise that BU has time and time again been supportive of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. This year, two prominent Jewish leaders on campus are running for a seat at the Undergraduate Student Association Council table. Avi Oved, running for Internal Vice President, and Avinoam Baral, running for General Representative, have long been involved in UCLA’s Jewish student life.
Sitting down with me at Rendezvous on a windy April afternoon, the two Avis are all smiles and enthusiasm.
“I know you’re going to ask about all the BU excitement,” begins Avinoam. “We’ve definitely heard a lot about BU’s relationship with many communities on campus, but a lot of people within my community are wondering: Is BU the party that represents me and my needs, the voice of the Jewish community?”
“Absolutely,” agrees Avi. “The thing that I love about BU is that no matter what student group you’re a part of or affiliate yourself with, you’re always welcome to this party, because we truly do believe in representing each and every student at UCLA. As student government, we’re here to hear out other people’s needs, not only within our own communities but beyond that, and BU is [the] representation that we all need at the council table. It’s important to look at BU’s history — BU was founded on the idea of equal representation, not just funding for and attention to a few groups.”
Avinoam chimes in, “The reason why I’ve chosen to align myself with BU is because BU is the party of everyone. It’s a party in which the Jewish community, and myself as a Jewish, pro-Israel student, has always felt welcome. BU has always stood with the Jewish community, whether it be against resolutions that seek to defame Israel or just in terms of trying to holistically represent the whole student body, making sure that all student voices are heard at the council table and that the stances taken at the table reflect the entire student population.”
Avinoam continues, “The platforms that I’m running on center on two themes: community engagement and wellness. Being involved in the Jewish community has played a huge role in why I decided to run. The different leadership opportunities given to me by the Jewish community have taught me to be an effective leader and, most importantly, given me the skills to organize communities, to rally students, to motivate students, to not only care about the causes that are personal, but also those that are global.”
Avi points to the IVP logo on his shirt. “I love this office,” he says proudly. “I’m running for this position because [the office is] something that I’ve been working in for the past year as the chief of staff. There have been a lot of hot topics brought to the council table that have certainly made me feel uncomfortable as a Jewish student, and it also has made a lot of Jewish leaders feel silenced and marginalized, and that is something we cannot have happen again. As IVP, I’m supposed to be a neutral entity and an ally to each and every student and student group. As USAC council members, we need to make sure that we’re establishing relationships, strengthening communication, and being true representatives of our constituencies — and the Jewish community is a big part of that. This counts for all communities and not just the Jewish one.”
This is a historic election, says Avinoam, just like this past year has been an experience and “a wake-up call.” He explains that “throughout this year, particularly in the past two months, we’ve witnessed an attack on the Jewish community.”
“It’s very scary,” says Avi. “There have been divisive resolutions and referendums that have come to the council table, and if it weren’t for the united Jewish voice, we would have no voice here at UCLA.”
“It’s a danger to the safety of students at UCLA and all the UC campuses,” continues Avinoam. “As Jewish students, we all deserve to be respected and accepted for our views, whether they are about [general] politics or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That serves as a call to action to Avi and me, as Jewish students who are running for student government, to make sure that the Jewish student voice is heard at the council table. It should also serve as a call to action to every single member of the Jewish community. The message is loud and clear: if we do not get involved in student government, and if we do not make ourselves a part of different spaces on campus, we cannot expect our student government to act on our behalf.”
“It is my hope that we can really galvanize the entire Jewish community and make sure that we are working as a unit. Not only do we have a lot to lose, but we have a lot to accomplish and a lot to improve upon,” says Avi.
Avinoam acknowledges, “Avi’s opponent and his opponent’s supporters have a track record of silencing the Jewish community, including this summer, through the University of California Student Association’s resolution that, while condemning HR-35 — a resolution passed without the knowledge or consent of the Jewish community — called for divestment from Israel. The reason why we run on the BU slate is because, unlike other slates, every BU slate has always made sure to include the Jewish voice and has made sure that they represent us at the council table. Yes, Avi and I are running, and we are of course Jewish and are very involved in the Jewish community and can serve as its leaders and representatives, but the BU slate in general has always stood by our community and will continue to stand by our community.”
Avi’s eyes flash as he emphasizes, “As your next IVP and General Representative, we look forward to not only representing the Jewish community but making sure that each and every community beyond the Jewish community is represented within our offices and at the council table. It’s not a question of my personal political beliefs — whether, for example, I’m pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian or both — what matters is that I am supportive of all students, all communities, and seek to represent each. So far, I’ve seen a huge bias and one-sided politics from my opponent, and that scares me.”
Seeing the two Avis in action makes it impossible not to wonder how these two candidates, in two diverse offices, will find a way to work together and collaborate as widely in work as they do socially. “Avinoam and I have a very unique situation because we came into this being best friends running together, and our campaign strategy and teams reflect just that,” says Avi. “It’s easy for us, especially because we represent the same constituency — the Jewish community at UCLA.”
“One thing that Avi and I share is our commitment to Jewish values and Jewish life here on campus — the values of integrity, honesty, and passion for everything that we do,” adds Avinoam. “It’s important that we keep each other in check, no matter how intense campaign season gets.”
Avi laughs, “Yeah, he needs that,” and then turns serious: “I want to point out that Avinoam and I are proud to represent the Jewish community at UCLA, and have the same passion that drives us to run for leadership positions: making sure that at the council table, the Jewish community is heard and that we have a sense of influence at UCLA. We notice that sometimes, the Jewish community isn’t as involved as it should be — and this is untapped potential. We want to be the inspiration for future Jewish leaders, those maybe unsure of their role on campus, to stand up and know that they can be a part of student government.”
Every year, students have the chance to elect representatives to voice their concerns at the council table and represent them on issues from affordability to access to campus climate. This year, there are three party slates, each with a different vision for the future of UCLA’s undergraduate government and student body: Bruins United, Lets Act (formerly known as Students First), and a new party formed this year, Bruin Alliance. There are 13 council positions, all of which are elected by UCLA undergraduate students.
Voting is open from 12 pm on Monday May 6 to 6 pm on Thursday May 9, and you can vote at my.ucla.edu.
View Avi’s platforms and qualifications here.
And check out Avinoam’s here.