In response to the troubling concerns that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) recently raised about the questionable and disturbing conduct of the Muslim Student Union at the University of California, Irvine, the Muslim Student Union sent a hateful, rambling letter to Diane Fields Geocaris, UC Irvine’s Chief Campus Counsel, filled with threats, name-calling and false accusations against the ZOA, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other so-called ZOA “allied affiliates.” Yet the Muslim Student Union never refuted the ZOA’s charges. The group posted its letter, dated October 13, 2009, on its Web site.
These actions followed shortly after the ZOA sent letters to UC Irvine and the U.S. Department of Justice, raising concerns about whether the Muslim Student Union, a registered student group at UC Irvine, solicited funds on campus in violation of University policy, and used the campus as a base for fundraising for the terrorist group Hamas in violation of federal law.
The Muslim Student Union Reportedly Solicited Funds for
the Viva Palestina Convoy to Gaza
Last May, the Muslim Student Union sponsored radical Israel-bashing British politician George Galloway on campus to talk about his group, Viva Palestina, which organizes convoys of vehicles, goods and supplies to Hamas-controlled Gaza. According to several witnesses and a videotape of the event, the Muslim Student Union and Galloway solicited funds from the audience for Viva Palestina.
There is evidence that these convoys to Gaza furnished material support and resources to Hamas, a group that the U.S. State Department has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which would violate federal law. Based on records produced by the University, the Muslim Student Union and Galloway solicited funds for Viva Palestina without University approval and without complying with numerous University policies regarding fundraising on campus. In fact, University documents show that the Muslim Student Union misrepresented in writing to UC Irvine that the Galloway/Viva Palestina event was not going to be a fundraiser. Several University officials were present at the event and knew or should have known that the solicitation of funds had not been authorized. None put a stop to the misconduct and – at least according to records produced by the University – none reported the misconduct to senior UC Irvine officials.
The ZOA Reports Concerns about the Muslim Student Union’s Actions to
UC Irvine and the U.S. Justice Department
The ZOA provided UC Irvine and the U.S. Justice Department with detailed evidence supporting the ZOA’s claims, including a 31-page report about Viva Palestina recently issued by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). The IPT’s Executive Director, Steven Emerson, is one of the foremost experts on domestic terrorism in the U.S.
The IPT report debunked the claim that Viva Palestina’s goal is to provide for the needy. The report states that “Viva Palestina’s most visible leaders call for the elimination of the State of Israel . . . They treat Hamas leaders as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people and provide both material and moral support to the terrorist organization.”
The ZOA also furnished UC Irvine and the U.S. Justice Department with information from a participant in the Viva Palestina convoy of July 2009, for which the Muslim Student Union reportedly solicited funds at UC Irvine. The participant confirmed that the convoy’s resources went to Hamas. Given the seriousness of the alleged wrongdoing at UC Irvine and the possibility that a federal anti-terrorism law was violated, the ZOA sent copies of its letters to several public officials, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Congressmen Brad Sherman and John Campbell of California, California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, and leaders and members of several U.S. congressional committees who would be particularly concerned about the possibility that American college campuses are being used as a base to solicit funds for U.S.-designated terrorist groups like Hamas.
The Muslim Student Union Responds by Publishing a Letter to UC Irvine’s Chief
Campus Counsel, Lodging False and Malicious Accusations and Threats against the ZOA
Significantly, in its letter to UC Irvine’s Chief Campus Counsel, responding to the concerns raised about its conduct, the Muslim Student Union never refuted the ZOA’s allegation that the Muslim Student Union may have used UC Irvine as a base of fundraising for the terrorist group Hamas. In its letter, the Muslim Student Union never refuted the ZOA’s allegation that the Muslim Student Union solicited funds for Viva Palestina in violation of University policy, and that in fact, the Muslim Student Union misrepresented to the University that the Galloway event was not going to be a fundraiser. Indeed, the Muslim Student Union ridiculed the University’s protocol for fundraising, calling the detailed policies “university technicalities” – which the Muslim Student Union acknowledges having likely breached, both now and in the past. In its letter, the Muslim Student Union never refuted the evidence that the ZOA provided to the University and to law enforcement – that the convoy to Gaza in July 2009, for which the Muslim Student Union reportedly solicited funds, provided support and resources to the terrorist group Hamas.
Instead, the Muslim Student Union launched a baseless and vicious attack on the ZOA, the ADL, the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, StandWithUs, and nameless “others,” all of whom the Muslim Student Union has called the ZOA’s “allied affiliates.”
The Muslim Student Union Challenges the ZOA’s Right to Fight Israel-Bashing and Anti-Semitic Bigotry, Claiming it has “Taken the High Ground” and
Shown “Moral Restraint”
The Muslim Student Union’s first line of attack was to condemn the ZOA for exposing the Muslim Student Union’s anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing actions, and for helping Jewish students at UC Irvine enforce their right to an educational environment free from the demonization of Israel and anti-Semitic hostility. According to the Muslim Student Union, the ZOA, as “an external organization with no registered connections to UCI or its student population,” has no right to try to rectify the wrongs committed by this campus group that regularly promotes hatred and bigotry against Jews and Israel.
The Muslim Student Union’s contention is completely nonsensical. For years, the ZOA has had connections with UC Irvine students, faculty and administrators, as well as with members of the Irvine community who oppose the Muslim Student Union’s divisive conduct that is antithetical to the community’s values of tolerance and respect.
The ZOA’s “registered connections” to UC Irvine are in any event irrelevant. As the Muslim Student Union should know, in this country, civil rights protections were fought for by many groups and individuals outside the class and location of the victims. Groups like the NAACP, comprised of persons of every color and religious background, have fought against racists and racism. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were young men from New York who traveled south to Mississippi in order to fight against racists and racism, and to protect African Americans’ right to vote. As a college student in the 1960’s, ZOA National President Morton Klein traveled from Philadelphia to Mississippi also to fight against racists and racism and to protect African Americans’ civil rights. Would the Muslim Student Union condemn Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and Morton Klein as outside agitators because they fought against discrimination?
The Muslim Student Union’s claim, that the ZOA must have “registered connections to UCI” in order to advocate for students whose civil rights are being threatened and violated, makes no sense. It is a long-held American tradition to go wherever we are needed to fight against discrimination and injustice.
The Muslim Student Union claims to have, up until now, “practiced moral restraint, seeking to take the high ground.” Moral restraint and taking the high ground are not characterizations that most people would associate with this group. There would certainly be a fair and moral way in which the Muslim Student Union could express its political views, by showing respect for the facts and historical truths. Instead, this group has a long history of expressing its views by promoting falsehoods and unfairly demonizing a people and a nation.
The Muslim Student Union falsely, maliciously and repeatedly accused the ZOA and its “affiliates” of “a bad faith intent at denying MSU [the Muslim Student Union] their constitutional First Amendment rights of speech, religion, and association.” The Muslim Student Union falsely and maliciously claimed that the ZOA’s legal effort on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine – launched to redress the Israel-bashing and hostile anti-Semitic environment at UC Irvine that this group fostered and promoted – was an “attempt to forcibly silence MSU [the Muslim Student Union].”
In fact, the ZOA has taken no action to interfere with the Muslim Student Union’s free speech rights, its religious practices, or its right to freely associate. Rather, with the backing of Jewish students at UC Irvine who had suffered years of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation as the result of the programs and speakers that the Muslim Student Union regularly sponsored on campus, the ZOA chose a peaceful and legitimate course of action – enforcement of our federal civil rights laws – in order to redress a longstanding hostile campus environment for Jewish students. The legal action – filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights – was instituted after Jewish students’ numerous informal efforts to resolve problems with the Muslim Student Union had failed.
In the United States, civil rights laws exist precisely to protect victims of harassment, intimidation and discrimination. The ZOA used a legitimate legal tool to enforce and secure the rights of Jewish victims of harassment and intimidation, not to deny the rights of any group or individual, including the Muslim Student Union.
The Muslim Student Union Misrepresents the Office for Civil Rights’ Conclusions in
the ZOA’s Legal Action on Behalf of Jewish Students
The Muslim Student Union mischaracterized the conclusions of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the ZOA’s legal action. OCR did not find that the ZOA’s allegations were “false.” OCR also never endorsed the Muslim Student Union’s actions; in fact, OCR found that Muslim Student Union speakers “made broad generalizations about Jews,” and that Jewish students were offended, intimidated and harassed by the Muslim Student Union’s events. OCR never investigated many, if not most of the ZOA’s allegations, in large part because OCR concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the students’ claims. The outcome of the legal action was certainly not an endorsement of the Muslim Student Union’s actions.
The Muslim Student Union’s Speakers and Programs Promote Hatred of Jews and Israel
The hostility that Jewish students at UC Irvine have faced as the result of the Muslim Student Union’s conduct is not “crying wolf,” as the Muslim Student Union alleged in its letter. The Muslim Student Union regularly sponsors speakers and programs that demonize and promote falsehoods about Jews, Zionism and Israel. A Muslim Student Union-sponsored speaker endorsed terrorism against Israeli Jews and called for the destruction of the State of Israel. In May 2006, this speaker, who is a frequently invited guest of the Muslim Student Union, said, “The apartheid state of Israel is on the way down. They are living in fear . . . and it is about time they live in fear. The truth of the matter is: Your days are numbered. We will fight you until we are martyred or until we are victorious.”
Muslim Student Union speakers have accused the Jews of arrogance, of being “a den of spies,” and of controlling the government and the media. The Office for Civil Rights noted several statements by Muslim Student Union speakers concerning Jews, which offended, intimidated and harassed Jewish students, including this, from May 2006:
“Liars. Straight up liars, Rupert Murdock, Zionist Jews. The Zionist Jews own Fox News. They say that it’s anti-Semitic if you say that the Zionists control the media . . . They got the media; they got Congress . . .”
“You all definitely don’t love children and you know why? Because you all kill them . . .”
“They have taken the concept of chosen people and fused it with the concept of white supremacy. Once you take the concept of chosen people and white supremacy and fuse them together, you will get a people who are so arrogant that they will actually make a statement and imply that ‘we are the only Semites.’ That’s arrogance and that’s the type of arrogance they display every day and that’s the same type of arrogance that’s getting them into trouble today.”
Last May, a Muslim Student Union-sponsored speaker compared Jews to “Shaytan – Satan,” accusing Jews of “lik[ing] to operate behind closed doors. Satan is slick, he operates in the shadows, in the dark.” Also last May, the Muslim Student Union mocked and debased the greatest tragedy in history, the Holocaust, posting a photo of Anne Frank wearing a Palestinian Arab scarf or keffiyeh, and falsely and absurdly comparing the systematic murder of Jews by the Nazis to the situation that currently exists in Gaza, which is largely of the Palestinians’ own making. The fact is that it is Hamas and Arabs in Gaza who have been launching thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel with the goal of murdering innocent Israeli Jews.
Many Have Criticized the Muslim Student Union
and its Promotion of Hatred and Bigotry
The Muslim Student Union calls the content of its speeches and programs “political critique.” But none of it is legitimate political discourse about Israel and the conflict in the Middle East. It is false and demonizing rhetoric plainly intended to incite hatred of Jews and Israel, and the impact on Jewish students has been serious. At least two students left UC Irvine and transferred elsewhere because they could no longer endure the anti-Semitic hostility promoted in large part by the Muslim Student Union. In the spring of 2008, 19 UC Irvine students signed a statement in which they expressed their “deep concern about the anti-Semitism at UCI.” In January 2009, in a plea for help and support from the community, the then-president of the pro-Israel group on campus said that “UC Irvine has been a hotbed for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activism over the past seven years.”
An independent group of Jewish and non-Jewish academic, professional and religious leaders in the Orange County community – called the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism – was commissioned by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism at UC Irvine. Although Hillel eventually discontinued its sponsorship, the Task Force completed its year-long investigation, including approximately 80 hours of interviews of students, faculty, administrators and community members, a document review, and first-hand observation of campus events and activities. This independent group found that anti-Semitic acts on campus “are real and well documented. Jewish students have been harassed. Hate speech has been unrelenting.” As to the Muslim Student Union, the Task Force found that the group “is agenda driven and unchecked by the bounds of propriety. It allies and identifies itself with terrorist groups that are enemies of the United States.”
In May 2008 and again in May 2009, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) wrote letters of concern to UC Irvine’s Chancellor Michael Drake about the Muslim Student Union’s programs. The Muslim Student Union may call its events “political critique,” but Congressman Sherman characterized the Muslim Student Union’s events in May 2008 and May 2009 as “appear[ing] intended to encourage violence against the State of Israel and propagate the spread of anti-Semitism.”
Also concerned, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – the umbrella group for 52 national Jewish groups from across the religious and political spectrums – wrote to the then-head of the Office for Civil Rights. The Presidents’ Conference urged OCR to reconsider its decision in the ZOA’s case against UC Irvine because OCR applied an overly restrictive reading of the law, which could have serious consequences for Jewish college students facing anti-Israel and anti-Zionist attacks and other forms of anti-Semitism.
Now, plainly with the intent of intimidating the ZOA and its so-called “affiliates,” and to squelch the ZOA’s own freedom of speech, the Muslim Student Union has falsely and maliciously accused the ZOA of being a “vigilante group” that has acted illegally. Nothing could be further from the truth; all of the ZOA’s actions have been peaceful and lawful.
Concerned, UC Irvine Refers Muslim Student Union Matter
to Law Enforcement and Initiates an Internal Probe
UC Irvine now shares the ZOA’s concerns about the Muslim Student Union’s conduct. When the ZOA brought its concerns to Diane Fields Geocaris, the University’s Chief Campus Counsel, Ms. Geocaris immediately responded that “UC Irvine takes very seriously all allegations of wrongdoing. We appreciate your [the ZOA] bringing this to our attention.” UC Irvine was so concerned that the University “has referred that matter to law enforcement officials,” according to Ms. Geocaris, and had “initiated an internal review” into the Muslim Student Union’s conduct and the conduct of University officials who witnessed the Muslim Student Union’s actions but did not intervene or report them.
It is noteworthy that despite the Muslim Student Union’s unrelenting sponsorship of speakers and programs on campus that promote falsehoods about Jews, Zionism and Israel, the Muslim Student Union’s cold and uncaring disregard of the impact its hateful rhetoric is having on fellow students and the campus environment, and the Muslim Student Union’s solicitation of funds that may well have gone to a terrorist group committed to killing Jews and to Israel’s destruction – it is the Muslim Student Union accusing the ZOA of “planting the seeds of hate and discord on campus.” The claim is ludicrous. It is the Muslim Student Union planting those seeds.
The Muslim Student Union claimed that Muslim students face a hostile environment at UC Irvine, and that Muslim Student Union members receive hate mail and threats. If in fact there are Muslim students at UC Irvine who are being threatened and harassed, then we support and encourage those students to report the incidents and ensure that there are consequences for the perpetrators. No student should face harassment or intimidation on his/her college campus or anywhere else. But it cannot be called harassment when the ZOA shines a light on the Muslim Student Union’s conduct and criticizes it for the harmful impact it is having on others.
The Muslim Student Union claimed that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was an “upsurge of ‘Islamophobia’,” and that “Muslims have become the most discriminated against religious group in the nation.” The evidence – hate crime statistics collected on an annual basis by our government – contradicts these claims.
After the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 was passed and at the Attorney General’s request, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been gathering and publishing hate crime statistics every year since 1992. The Muslim Student Union is correct that after 9/11, anti-Islamic religious bias incidents increased, according to the FBI. But anti-Jewish incidents were even higher that year and were by far the highest among all the religious bias incidents. Out of the 1828 religious bias incidents reported by the FBI in 2001, 1043 were against Jews; there were only 481 incidents against Muslims. Each year thereafter, the FBI reported that the group subjected by far to the most religious bias incidents was Jews. In 2007, the most recent year for which the FBI has published statistics, there were 1400 religious bias incidents; 969 of them were anti-Jewish and only 115 were anti-Islamic. (See http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm.) In light of these statistics, if the Muslim Student Union genuinely “deeply sympathizes with individuals who are victimized based on their religion, ethnicity, or race,” then it would be reasonable to expect the Muslim Student Union to finally stop promoting hate and bigotry against Jews, the single most victimized religious group in this country, and to fight against the bigotry.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, Dr. Michael Goldblatt, Chairman of the ZOA’s National Board of Directors, Steven Goldberg, Esq., Vice Chairman of the ZOA’s National Board, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, criticized the Muslim Student Union for its intimidation tactics and praised UC Irvine for initiating an internal probe and seeking an investigation by law enforcement: “We once again thank UC Irvine for responding quickly and appropriately to the Muslim Student Union’s deeply troubling conduct. The Muslim Student Union’s attacks on the ZOA are nonsensical and plainly calculated to scare into silence those who, like us, abhor all forms of bigotry, including bigotry against Muslims. Promoting falsehoods about the ZOA, ADL and others, does not obscure the fact that in its letter, the Muslim Student Union has not denied that it solicited funds at UC Irvine for Viva Palestina in violation of University policy and without the University’s authorization. In its letter, the Muslim Student Union has not denied the fact that Viva Palestina furnished support and resources to the terrorist group Hamas. If these allegations are found to be true, and the Muslim Student Union’s role in the solicitation of funds is proven, then federal law and University policy have been violated and the Muslim Student Union should be disciplined for its serious misconduct, including by losing its status as a registered student group at UC Irvine.”