Islamic head blasts U.S. ties to Israel

In speech at UCI, the head of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., condemns Mideast policy.

May 15, 2007|By Michael Miller

UCI CAMPUS — A national Islamic leader criticized America's support of Israel in a fiery speech on campus Monday but stressed that opposition to the Israeli government did not equal anti-Semitism.

Imam Muhammad al-Asi, the leader of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., launched the Muslim Student Union's annual week of seminars, "Israel: Apartheid Resurrected," with a speech by the campus administration building. Addressing a crowd of about 100 students and frequently shouting into the microphone, al-Asi condemned both Israel's treatment of Palestine and the United States' support for its top ally in the region.

The strife between Israel and Palestine has led to conflict at UCI recently, with the federal government and Hillel Foundation of Orange County both investigating allegations of anti-Semitism on the campus. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter angered many earlier this month when he spoke about his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" in the Bren Events Center. Al-Asi, however, urged the crowd not to confuse racism with politics.


"I would pray for the day in the near future when a sizable amount of Jews can take a public position, and speak loudly for the record, that Zionism is one thing and Judaism is another thing," he said.

As al-Asi spoke, onlookers milled around a mock "security wall" that the Muslim Student Union had installed on Ring Road. The wall, which sported an Israeli flag on top, consisted of a series of panels showing photographs, statistics and even sardonic nursery rhymes that accused Israel of oppressing Palestinians.

A half-dozen police officers stood on guard during al-Asi's speech, which a number of Muslim and Jewish students attended, but the event passed without incident.

Al-Asi, who planned to give a speech Monday night about the Palestinian political group Hamas, was the first of five speakers that the Muslim Student Union scheduled for this week.

Throughout his speech, he voiced sharp criticisms of Israel and U.S. foreign policy — even questioning at one point whether the government knew of the 9/11 attacks in advance. The war in Iraq, he argued, was fought largely for Israeli interests.

"You can't differentiate between Washington and Tel Aviv any longer," al-Asi said.

Two Jewish student groups — Anteaters for Israel and the Hillel Jewish Student Union — set up a tent near the wall installation and handed out free T-shirts and other items. The shirts read "Got peace?" on one side and "Got Israel" on the other.

Shalom Elcott, the chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, attended the speech and said afterward that he took issue with most of al-Asi's points.

"I think the sad thing is that here in Irvine, where you have a smart constituent of students, this kind of libel is allowed to take place in the context of academia," he said.

  • MICHAEL MILLER may be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at
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