Thursday, October 15, 2009

Orange County Register on Viva Palestina and George Galloway

Cross-posted by Gary Fouse

George Galloway (in red)
"Street-corner Cromwell"

Today, the Orange County Register published an article in their local section about the on-going controversy over George Galloway's May 21 appearance at UC-Irvine, in which funds were collected for Viva Palestina.
UCI investigating if money from event went to Hamas

2009-10-15 00:00:00

IRVINE UC Irvine is investigating whether a Muslim Student Union-sponsored speech by controversial British politician George Galloway was improperly used as a fundraiser, and have forwarded to the Justice Department allegations that money raised at the event went to a terrorist organization.

The university is looking into whether money was collected at the May 21 event for Galloway's Viva Palestina organization, despite the Muslim Student Union at UCI filling out a form promising that it wouldn't be a fundraiser. More serious allegations that Viva Palestina gave the money to Hamas during a trip to Gaza have been forwarded to the Department of Justice, UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said.

Muslim Student Union leaders acknowledged in a written statement that they might have mistakenly and unknowingly breached university policy, but contended that the complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America was part of a larger effort to intimidate UCI's Muslim community and challenge their freedom of speech.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller acknowledged that a complaint letter was sent to the Department of Justice, but said it would be inappropriate for them to comment at this time.

Galloway has received international attention for his outspoken opposition to the Iraq war, and his campaign in favor of the Palestinians.

Critics, including the Zionist Organization of America, allege that Galloway's actions have aided terrorist organizations.

This isn't the first time the Zionist Organization of America has forced a review at UC Irvine. Several years ago, a federal civil rights investigation into the group's allegations found insufficient evidence that the university had failed to respond properly to complaints of harassment of Jewish students.

Tensions between Jews and Muslims – particularly over Israeli-Palestinian issues – have spilled over to the blogosphere. Jewish student leaders last year issued a release saying that no one is in danger from anti-Semitism on campus.

Muslim Student Union leaders wrote in their letter to UCI staff that attacks by the Zionist Organization of America were a smear on their reputation, and were creating a hostile environment for Muslim students.

Fousesquawk comment: It's about time. Where have you been, OC Register?

Below is the letter from the Muslim Student Union to UCI:

October 13, 2009
Diane Fields Geocaris, Esq.
Chief Campus Counsel
University of California, Irvine
The Chancellor’s Office
Irvine, CA 92697-1900

Dear Ms. Geocaris,

We have been recently informed that the Zionist Organization of America (“ZOA”), an external organization with no registered connections to UCI or its student population, has filed yet another defamatory complaint against the Muslim Student Union (“MSU”) at UCI. Not only was this complaint sent to yourself and a number of other religious leaders and policy-makers, but it was also widely publicized on ZOA’s website and has been subsequently published on a number of affiliated organizational websites and blogs.

In the past, the MSU at UCI has practiced moral restraint, seeking to take the high ground by ignoring ZOA and its allied affiliates’ hateful and malicious attacks. Yet, we at the MSU, are becoming increasingly concerned and alarmed at the never-ending intolerable and potentially illegal tactics used by ZOA and its affiliates, including among others, the OC Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, Stand with Us, and the Anti Defamation League amongst others. These continual attacks have exacerbated the hostile environment against Muslim students and put to question the real intent behind ZOA and affiliates’ perpetual requests for investigations and calls for sanctions. ZOA and affiliates’ targeted attacks against the MSU indicate nothing more than a bad faith intent at denying MSU their constitutional First Amendment rights of speech, religion, and association.

ZOA and affiliates’ attacks of MSU are nothing new. Over the years, ZOA and affiliated organizations have continually lodged complaints against the MSU for our events, including most prominently, our Palestine Awareness Week. ZOA and affiliates have often chastised UCI for allowing us to bring speakers who allegedly espouse anti-Semitic rhetoric. Yet such assertions were found false after a year-long investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which stated in its letter to the Chancellor Michael Drake, “the speeches, articles, marches, symbols and other events at issue were not based on the national origin of the Jewish students, but rather based on opposition to the policies of Israel.” By recklessly conflating political critique of a nation-state (Israel) – which possesses the fourth largest military and nuclear armament and has engaged in a widely-documented history of persecution against a minority Palestinian indigenous population – with hostility against those of the Jewish faith, ZOA and its affiliates seek to deprive MSU of our constitutional rights; nothing less than our freedom of speech. At best, ZOA and affiliates’ accusations and demands for investigation would constitute grounds for malicious prosecution in a court of law. At worst, ZOA’s continual attempts to forcibly silence MSU by falsely categorizing political critique as hate speech against Jews smacks of fascism.

Yet ZOA and affiliated organizations have also sought to deprive members of the MSU from their religious freedom, by similarly and even comically lodging anti-Semitic complaints against Muslims who wore graduation stoles containing nothing more than Islamic script written in Arabic. Rather than verify that the stoles simply stated the shahada (the Islamic creed) and a prayer asking God for increased knowledge, anti-Semitic complaints were immediately lodged, detailing that the stoles incited terrorism against Jews and Israel. While seemingly laughable, such actions make clear that the ZOA and affiliated organizations seek to deny the MSU of its freedom of religion and of association, in addition to its freedom of speech. You yourself, Ms. Geocaris, have come to similar conclusions when you stated in a letter dated February 3, 2006, that some outside organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America have demanded upon UCI that it “silence just one side of the dialogue: the Muslim side.”

As of late, ZOA has continued its oppressive tactics against the MSU despite having the Department of Education, the UCI Administration, and even Jewish student organizations, including Hillel, call its bluff. In its most recent defamatory letter to the UCI general counsel, ZOA accused MSU of “maybe” providing material support, but if nothing else, of violating university technicalities. Such accusations were blasted over the internet and sent to numerous individuals including the California State Governor and a U.S. Congressman. To say the least, ZOA’s accusations against MSU constitute nothing short of libel. ZOA seeks to smear MSU’s reputation by maliciously accusing MSU of breaking U.S. laws without providing any real evidentiary backing. Then, almost as an afterthought upon realizing the absurdity of its first accusation, the ZOA seeks to chastise the MSU for breaching university policy, a policy that even UCI administrators overlooked.

While the MSU does not deny that it might have historically made mistakes and unknowingly breached university policy (as undoubtedly have every student organization on campus as well as university administrators), the reality is that ZOA’s complaint is not about rectifying MSU’s wrong, but rather it is about what it has always been about: censorship, defamation, and malicious prosecution. As an external non-UCI organization, ZOA is acting as a vigilante group, constantly defaming the MSU in its efforts to silence and shut down MSU. While ZOA and its affiliates succeeded in instigating a U.S. Department of Education investigation against UCI, due primarily to accusations that MSU was engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions, the Department of Education dismissed the investigation in November 2007, concluding that there was “insufficient evidence” to support ZOA and affiliates’ allegations. How much longer will ZOA and its affiliates continue to cry wolf at the expense of the MSU and its memberships’ constitutional rights and protections?

Unfortunately, the untold reality is that ZOA and affiliates’ defamatory press releases, letters, and statements have actually created a hostile environment for Muslim students at UCI. MSU receives hate mail on a regular basis by individuals who threaten MSU members with hate, violence, and even death. One such email recently received stated, “Get off of our campuses and get out of America you anti-semitic heathens.” This email was immediately forwarded to the Dean of Students. Another email stated, “You represent the new Nazis. Zeig heil you son-of-a-b**ch.” At MSU events, it is not uncommon for audience members to shout out “camel jockeys” and even “sand n***ers.”

In the post 9-11 world with the upsurge of “Islamophobia,” Muslims have become the most discriminated religious group in the nation.[1] Where individuals such as Daniel Pipes, the man who coined the term “Islamo-fascism” and built his career on preaching hate against Muslims and Islam, and Ann Coulter, the woman who unequivocally stated “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity,” are common occurrences at university campuses, including UCI, the MSU deeply sympathizes with individuals who are victimized based on their religion, ethnicity, or race. Yet we at the MSU will not tolerate increased discrimination and its consequential chilling effects as a result of ZOA and affiliates’ defamatory and libelous accusations, which seek nothing more than MSU’s censorship and eradication.

First Amendment rights should be especially cherished and protected and we at the MSU will do everything in our power to ensure that our rights are not trampled upon by external vigilante organizations. We hope that UCI, the UC Regents, the California State Assembly, and the U.S. government support us in protecting our First Amendment rights against those who engage in malicious prosecution and vindictive accusations. While ZOA and affiliates have historically had a carte blanche in defaming and smearing MSU, we at the MSU demand an end to ZOA’s illegal attacks and will be consulting with university administrators and external entities to best advise us on a proper recourse. It is with our growing concern that we request that the UCI Administration begin to investigate how best to protect the legal rights of its organizations and students from the chilling effects of vigilante external organizations such as the ZOA which continually harass and plant the seeds of hate and discord on campus. Enough is enough.

With great appreciation,

Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine

Fousesquawk comment:

"While ZOA and affiliates have historically had a carte blanche in defaming and smearing MSU, we at the MSU demand an end to ZOA’s illegal attacks and will be consulting with university administrators and external entities to best advise us on a proper recourse. It is with our growing concern that we request that the UCI Administration begin to investigate how best to protect the legal rights of its organizations and students from the chilling effects of vigilante external organizations such as the ZOA which continually harass and plant the seeds of hate and discord on campus."

The Zionist Organization of America is hardly a vigilante organization. Vigilante organizations do not request the appropriate law enforcement agencies to investigate possible violations of law. They take the law into their own hands. What the ZOA did was to ask the Justice Deprtament to investigate the event that took place at UCI on May 21 to determine if US laws had been violated by collecting funds that went to Hamas-a US designated terrorist organization.

ZOA has no interest in harrassing MSU or planying the "seeds of hate and discord" on the UCI cxampus. What ZOA has objected to is the stream of MSU-sponsored events and speakers that have exhibited anti-semitism-an accusation that I concur with.

"ZOA seeks to smear MSU’s reputation by maliciously accusing MSU of breaking U.S. laws without providing any real evidentiary backing."

If, in fact, US laws were breached by George Galloway and MSU on May 21, 2009, then there is plenty of evidence to show that funds were indeed collected at the behest of Galloway. What evidence, you ask? Tons of videotapes and eye-witness testimony since approximately 800 people were present. Of course, most of those 800 people are not anxious to testify, but a few dozen are-including myself.

"In the past, the MSU at UCI has practiced moral restraint...."

Yes, like inviting speakers to campus like Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who praise suicide bombers and advocate killing of "Zionist" Jews. Or people like Mohammed al-Asi, who stated at UCI, "Jews are low-life ghetto-dwellers." and "you can take a Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of a Jew".

I could go on and on about the MSU's "woe is us" letter to UCI. After years of putting on radical speakers on the UCI campus who not only hate Israel, but hate America and Jews as well, the MSU is cloaking itself in victim's clothing as they do when anyone has the cojones to stand up and call their message what it is- a message of hate. The fact of the matter is that the appropraite letters have been sent to the appropriate authorities. Now it is up to them to determine if US laws and campus rules have been breached by the MSU and their pathetic "steet-corner Cromwell" (as he has been appropriately labeled in Canada) George Galloway.

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