November 18, 2018

Controversies roil UCLA, Berkeley campuses

“Leaked emails reveal partnership between Hillel, PR firm,” read the headline on a story that made the front page of Wednesday’s Daily Bruin, the lively UCLA student newspaper.

The plotline for this story may seem a bit arcane for those not up-to-date on campus politics, but the central protagonist is Rabbi Aaron Lerner of UCLA Hillel. His focus, in his own words, is on “community organizing and reaching students on the periphery of Jewish life at UCLA.”

Earlier this year, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Students for Justice in Palestine asked the UCLA undergraduate student council to pressure the University of California administration into divesting from any companies that “profit from the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.”

The motion was narrowly rejected, but it is expected to resurface in the near future.

To prepare for such a likelihood, Lerner sought advice from various contacts, including the 30 Point Strategies public relations firm. The main conclusions reached in an exchange of emails was to portray BDS advocates as unrepresentative of student sentiment, to focus on the large majority of UCLA’s 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students who know next to nothing about Israel, and try to hold media coverage about the whole controversy to a minimum.

The email exchanges between Lerner and the public relations firm were hacked and published Oct. 27 on the website of