I was surprised to read in the last issue of the New University a headline that read, “UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Under Investigation.” The article claimed that the MSU was to be investigated – by the FBI no less – for fundraising for Hamas. Call me forgetful, but I don’t recall ever getting that memo. The ludicrousness of this accusation was explained when my eyes fell on a single name – the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
The ZOA, an external organization with no official affiliation to UCI, has a long history of attacking organizations that it deems a threat because they do not fall in line with its extreme right-wing stances on the issue of Palestine. Not only has it gone after pro-Palestinian organizations, but it has also attacked pro-Israeli groups that it deems too soft. Recently, ZOA, in a letter to the chief campus counsel at UCI, attacked and defamed the MSU by claiming that it broke university policy as well as fundraised for Hamas. The truth of the matter is that ZOA has been attempting to defame, censor and essentially eradicate the MSU for years now. This is only the most recent attempt to silence the MSU and restrict its constitutional right to freedom of speech, religion and association.
Although this is not the first time the organization has made such claims against the MSU, the complaints continue to receive attention. This is surprising, considering all previous claims the organization made against MSU have been proven to be groundless. In 2004, ZOA claimed that the green stoles MSU members wear during graduation were a symbol of support for Hamas. After a national uproar, independent experts were brought in to mediate the issue and quickly discovered that this was blatantly false. In fact, the stoles had the Shahada – the central creed of Islam, which states that we believe in one God, and that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final messenger of God – written on them.
Again, about three years ago, the ZOA convinced the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to carry out an investigation of claims on anti-Semitism at UCI. This was yet another tactic to try and smear the name of MSU and label its political stances against the injustices perpetuated by the government of Israel as hate speech. In its report, the investigation by the Office of Civil Rights cleared all counts of anti-Semitism.
Now, it seems the ZOA has gotten even more desperate. In its most recent string of absurd allegations, ZOA refers to an MSU-sponsored event last May featuring British member of Parliament George Galloway. This was part of the MSU’s two-week long series of events aimed at raising awareness about the Palestinian-Israeli issue and empowering students on campus with knowledge about the conflict. ZOA claims that donations made to Viva Palestina, collected through impromptu donation boxes that were passed around at the end of the speech to support Galloway’s humanitarian convoy to legally provide medical aid to Gazans, “may have” monetarily supported Hamas.
This is a clear falsehood and yet another attempt to censor and defame the MSU while stifling any discussion or critique of the nation-state of Israel. Viva Palestina made it explicit, in both speeches given by its representatives and on its Web site, that all donations would be given to humanitarian non-governmental organizations in accordance with US law. The Viva Palestina Web site reads: “Viva Palestina USA intends to remain in full compliance with applicable domestic laws and particularly with the statutes prohibiting the provision of material support and resources to designated terrorist organizations, 18 U.S.C. 2339A-B.”
Viva Palestina also recently issued a statement, which can be viewed on the Web site, confirming that the promises made to donors “were upheld to the highest degree. Every transfer of funds for medical supplies and the purchase of vehicles to be used for humanitarian purposes was well-documented … and the donations were given to a non-governmental consortium in Gaza” (http://www.vivapalestina-us.org/media/article/4).
Despite the MSU’s lawful intent and Viva Palestina’s assurances that it complied with the law, ZOA is directly attacking the MSU, a student group, with yet more false and malicious accusations. It is ironic that of the thousands of individuals and groups who donated money to Viva Palestina, ZOA remains obsessively set on singling out the MSU and smearing its name. As the saying goes, history repeats itself and ZOA is repeating its historical attacks and false allegations in its effort to mute and censor us. If anyone is acting illegally, it is the ZOA, by seeking to discard the very principles of the First Amendment in trying to shut us up and shut us down.
Hadeer Soliman is a fourth-year Spanish major and a member of Muslim Student Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.