Michael Gofman, the new student president of UC Davis, is a conservative from San Francisco.
Michael Gofman, the new student president of UC Davis, is a conservative from San Francisco.

Republican political junkie from S.F. elected UC Davis student prez

“It’s gotten to the point where I read through election data for fun,” UC Davis sophomore Michael Gofman admitted about his addiction to politics.

It’s an addiction that started early. The graduate of the Brandeis School and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, both in San Francisco, recently was elected president of the UC Davis student association for the fall semester. It was a surprise victory for the 20-year-old Zionist and Republican, who got into politics through his interest in Israel.

“I saw Israel under attack a lot, even at my own Jewish school,” he said.

It was his involvement with Israel issues and AIPAC that led Gofman to an interest in international politics. That eventually took him down the “rabbit hole,” as he calls it, of U.S. domestic politics; part of the reason he chose UC Davis was its proximity to the state capital. There was another, closer, reason, too.

“My mom went there,” he said. “And I heard a lot of stories about it growing up.” (Gofman’s mother, Irina Kazimirsky, is a former J. board member.)

Once he got to Davis, Gofman dove right in. He ran for student senate as a freshman, an unusual move, and then, in February, nabbed the student association presidency as a sophomore. He admits it was a surprise win. “Had the other side brought their A game, they probably would have won,” he said.

That’s because Gofman is a Republican on a campus where he’s in the political minority. He said he won by campaigning harder, showing up at every party and club, and working his connections in the fraternity scene. And he says part of his appeal is that he’s not an ideologue; the person who was his running mate is left of center.

“In college, at any point in time, a majority of my friends are liberal,” he said.

In college, at any point in time, a majority of my friends are liberal.

That centrist tack got him a mention in a recent Buzzfeed article on the split between college Republicans of the Trump persuasion and the more moderate type Gofman represents. The author interviewed him at the California College Republicans convention, where Gofman was running to become chair. He lost the race to a fiery, idealistic opponent.

He also got national headlines last year when the UC Davis student senate voted to get rid of a provision that made the presence of an American flag mandatory at meetings (a rule that wasn’t followed anyway). The proposal to make the flag optional came from student senator Itamar Waksman, a Californian who was born in Israel. Gofman was one of only two who voted to make it mandatory.

Gofman said that, in general, his views on state or national politics aren’t really the point on campus, as students are focused on school issues that affect them. But there’s one exception — Israel.

“It comes down to anti-Semitism,” he said. “There’s hundreds of issues even in the Middle East that people could focus on.”

It’s also become personal. On May 15, Gofman was wearing an Aggies for Israel T-shirt as students rallied to commemorate what Palestinians call Nakba Day, the “catastrophe” that led to the formation of the State of Israel. (Though he had been affiliated with Aggies for Israel, Gofman said he just happened to be wearing the shirt that day, that it wasn’t deliberate.) He said Jewish students were yelled at, and Gofman himself was told that he supported genocide and murder. Photos of him in the shirt were posted online.

As a campus figure and a Zionist, Gofman said he knows he’ll attract attention, but he doesn’t feel rattled. For now, he’s concentrating on how he’ll conduct his term as president next fall while handling his course load. After graduation, he plans to go to law school, and that’s as far as he’ll go on future plans. But on his politics, he feels solid — especially on Israel.

“My opinions are not going to change,” he said. “And neither is my resolve.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.