Aziz Duwaik is a Hamas member and
elected member of the Palestinian legislature.
by Jeff Overley, The Orange County Register
Leaders of a UC Irvine program that studies the Israel-Palestine conflict are under fire for allowing students to meet with a Hamas official during a visit to the Middle East.
March 31, 2011
"It is inconceivable that UCI would expose its students to a recognized terrorist organization," says a statement Wednesday by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
The Bay Area think tank was responding to allegations in a newly unveiled letter sent by Jewish Federation Orange County in October 2009 shortly after students returned.
According to the correspondence, participants in UCI's Olive Tree Initiative – whose members come from varied religious backgrounds – were urged to keep quiet about their encounter with Aziz Duwaik, an elected member of the Palestinian Authority's legislature and, in some eyes, rightful president.
The silence, according to the letter, was intended to avert problems with Israeli customs and "avoid confrontation with anyone who would have disagreed with this meeting had they known about it in advance – namely, Orange County Jewish community and leadership, and UCI administration."
Cathy Lawhon, spokeswoman for UCI, said "meeting with people of many different points of view is consistent with (Olive Tree's) mission."
"Their stated mission is to hear varying points of view, and to take people of varying points of view over there," Lawhon said. "It's not a homogenous group at all."
The federation's letter suggested, however, that meeting with Duwaik crossed the line. "We expect that many in our Jewish community – in O.C., nationally and around the world – will be astonished and furious that a Jewish organization will sponsor any program that directly exposed students to a leader of a recognized terrorist organization," the letter says.
Word of the meeting has quickly spread to Jewish publications worldwide, including the Jerusalem Post.
The incident is the latest to roil UCI's always taut atmosphere on the Israel-Palestine issue. Misdemeanor charges were brought recently against 11 students who disrupted a speech at UCI by Israel's ambassador to the United States.
Duwaik, who holds a doctorate in regional and architecture planning from the University of Pennsylvania, was arrested by Israel in 2006 for belonging to Hamas and jailed until mid-2009. Within the group, he is regarded as somewhat moderate, arguing that calls for eliminating Israel are unrealistic.
Lawhon said more trips to the Mideast have taken place since 2009, but that she is unaware if additional meetings with Duwaik or other Hamas officials were held.