Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010, Pages 44-45

Southern California Chronicle

Academic Boycott on Israel Flexes Its Muscles

By Pat and Samir Twair

ISIS protester Dr. Vida Samiian. (Staff Photo S. Twair)

WERE IT not for the eagle eyes of Nur Marsalha, a professor of religion and politics in England, perusing the program for the biennial conference of the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS), Israel might have won a small victory in its efforts to legitimize its military occupation of the West Bank.

The May 27-30 conference at the Doubletree Inn in Santa Monica featured 66 panels, but Marsalha questioned the institutional affiliation of one particular participant: Ronen Cohen, who stated he was from Ariel University in Samaria, Israel.

Not only is Ariel University situated in Israel's fourth largest illegal West Bank settlement, but it originally was a satellite campus of Bar Ilan University—until Israel's Minister of Defense Ehud Barak rushed through its accreditation, without evaluating its academic qualifications.

As a result, a total of 120 academics registered their objections in a letter to ISIS arguing that the Ariel settlement is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power cannot populate a territory it occupies.

ISIS claimed that it was being victimized by the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. In response, ISIS member Vida Samiian, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State University, explained: "We tried to present a resolution allowing the general membership to vote on the matter. ISIS leadership blocked this."

While ISIS did remove "Samaria" as the site of the Ariel institution, it blocked Internet access to Cohen's paper, titled "The Hojjatiyeh: The Real Bringers of the Islamic Revolution of Iran." Meanwhile, the chair and three other participants on the "Shi'ism, Clerics and Movements of Revolution and Reform" panel dropped out, leaving Cohen as the sole remaining member.

Finally, days before the conference, three new participants and a chair were announced—too late to review their abstracts for the session renamed "Dialogues and Contentions."

Incredibly, one of the new panelists was Judea Pearl, a UCLA computer science professor and father of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by extremists in Pakistan. The title of his paper, "Carving a Dialogue between Muslims and Jews," was a misleading one for Pearl, who vociferously rants about Islamist violence. He is the polar opposite of Cindy and Craig Corrie, who have responded to Israel's killing of their daughter Rachel with a message of reconciliation.

On the second day of the conference, when Cohen was scheduled to speak, about 20 concerned academics and activists handed fliers to people arriving at the Doubletree Inn. Many stood behind a cardboard apartheid wall and held signs stating that ISIS approves of apartheid.

(L-r) Steve Gilula, president of Fox Searchlight; “My Name Is Khan” director Karan Johar; and MPAC’s Noor Khan. (Staff Photo S. Twair)

"We don't object to an Israeli participating in the conference," stated economics professor Sasan Faymazman during the informational May 28 picket. But "why did ISIS include a paper from a settler institution? Why did ISIS block the membership from reading Cohen's abstract which deals with a so-called nuclear Iran and its 'threat to the Middle East or maybe to the world?'"

The picketing was a success, as Iranian-American photographers and reporters left the conference to interview dissenting scholars. Dr. Ahmad Karimi, a past ISIS president, confronted the picketers and voiced his objections to their accusations that ISIS supported apartheid. Agreeing that military occupation is wrong, he stated that the controversy will be reviewed at the Middle East Studies Association convention in November.

The incident gives notice to Israel that no trick to gain cultural or academic legitimacy is too small for Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) activists to uncover and expose. For more information, visit <www.usacbi.org>.

MPAC Media Awards

What do best-selling author Dave Eggers, the Emmy-award winning TV series "Grey's Anatomy," and feature films "Amreeka" and "My Name Is Khan" have in common? All are recipients of the Muslim Public Affairs Council's (MPAC) 2010 media awards, presented May 1 at the Westin Bonaventure in Downtown Los Angeles. More than 600 members and guests gathered for the 19th annual event honoring film, TV and literary projects that cast Muslims in realistic roles.

Eggers has been the hero of the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities since July 2009, when he published his best selling book, Zeitoun (available from the AET Book Club), which chronicles the harrowing post-Hurricane Katrina ordeals of Abdulrahman Zeitoun. Accepting the award, Eggers recalled how, when he began to interview them, Abdulrahman and his wife, Kathy, protested "Who will care about our story?" Instead they became the first Muslim family many American readers came to know.

MPAC selected an episode from "Grey's Anatomy" for its media awards because it focused on the deep faith of a Muslim lab technician (Faran Tahir) who insists on surgery for an inoperable tumor. In the November 2009 episode, entitled "Give Peace a Chance," the Muslim patient makes du'a, and his faith enlightens the surgeon (Patrick Dempsey).

Accepting the award were Pakistani-American actor Tahir, executive producer Mark Wilding and writer Peter Nowak.

Bollywood director Karan Johar traveled from India to receive his MPAC award for his film, "My Name Is Khan."Inspired by political events in the U.S., the feature film tells the story of Rizvan Khan, a Muslim afflicted with Asperger's syndrome who travels to the post-9/11 U.S.

In the U.S., Khan falls in love with and marries a Hindu divorcee, helps a small town in Georgia cope with a Hurricane Katrina-like flood, and launches a mission to tell newly elected President Barack Obama that his name is Khan and he's not a terrorist.

Cherien Dabis' film "Amreeka" explores how someone from the West Bank starts life over in the Midwest. The screenwriter and director was applauded by MPAC for her tragicomedic view of a Palestinian divorcee's rough awakening to life in post-9/11 America.

Dabis used her own experience of coming of age in the Midwest during the first Gulf war to tell the story of her fictional heroine, Munah, and her teenage son, Fadi. Dabis' Palestinian parents emigrated to Ohio shortly before her birth. Her father was a highly respected physician until the first Gulf war began. Soon, the Arab-American family was treated like a pariah.

SAWA Fetes Syrian Stars

SAWA gala headliners (l-r) Dr. Hazem Chehabi, incoming SAWA president Salwa Chehabi, and outgoing SAWA president Ilham Kalioundji. (Staff Photo S. Twair)

The Syrian American Women's Association (SAWA) has been providing medical assistance to hearing-impaired children in Syria for a decade. On May 1, it celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala dinner in the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

Dr. Kamal Batniji, who has helped SAWA perform cochlear implants to deaf children in Syria, received the group's Golden Heart award. Also receiving the award for their assistance were Dr. Hatem and Salwa Chehabi, Dr. Abdallah and Daad Farrukh, and Jim and Pricilla Khoury.

A highlight of the charitable organization's annual event is the presentation of al-Ataa awards to Syrian stage and screen stars. This year's recipients were actress Sulaf Fawakheri and producer/director/actor Jamal Soliman. Presenting the awards were Farouk Ubaysi and SAWA president Ilham Kalioundji.

Over the past year, SAWA provided eight cochlear implants to deaf children and donated 250 hearing aids. It also spearheaded the development and implementation of a speech rehabilitation curriculum at Damascus University.

Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.


MSU Appeals UCI Suspension Recommendation

The showdown for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Orange County Jewish Federation and Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan versus the Muslim Students Union (MSU) of the University of California at Irvine (UCI) took place June 14 when the Jewish Federation went public with a confidential UCI recommendation to suspend the MSU for one year.

At UCI, where Muslim and Arab students are equal in number to Jewish undergrads, creative MSU programs have outraged off-campus Zionist leaders. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education Office on Civil Rights determined ZOA complaints of UCI campus anti-Semitism were unfounded.

The conflict came to a head Feb. 8, when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren spoke at UCI and his speech was interrupted 10 times by 11 students—two of whom had lost relatives killed during Israel’s 22-day blitzkrieg of Gaza (see May/June 2010 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 36).

A delegation from the Orange County Jewish Federation traveled to Oakland, CA to present their allegations to UC Chancellor Mark G. Yudorf.

With the June 14 release of the recommendation of the suspension of MSU for one year effective in September, and an additional one year of probation, attorney Reem Salahi filed an appeal on behalf of the MSU. “Even the fraternity at UC San Diego which hosted the racist ”˜Compton Cookout’ wasn’t suspended,” she noted. “It appears UCI is applying a different standard of punishment against the MSU than any other campus organization.”

Emphasizing that MSU is primarily a religious organization that provides prayer services on campus, Salahi said as many as 250 Muslim students would be affected by the suspension, leaving them without a voice or means of association.

“UCI is clearly caving into the pressure of these external organizations who seek to silence dissent and criticism of the Israeli state,” Salahi concluded. “Collectively punishing the entire Muslim population is truly chilling.”

Stated UCLA anthropology professor Sondra Hale: “This ruling will be a major setback to activist students everywhere and a blow to academic freedom, not to mention underscoring the degree to which officials of the UC system cater to outside proponents of Israel’s government policy.”—Pat McDonnell Twair