Cal Irvine students met with Hamas leader

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Students from the University of California, Irvine met with a Hamas leader during a 2009 student trip to Israel.

The Institute for Jewish and Community Research said it learned recently that the university’s branch of the Olive Tree Initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, arranged for a meeting between the Irvine students and a Hamas leader in the West Bank while the students were on a trip to Israel in September 2009. The institute is protesting the meeting.

The meeting was revealed in correspondence between the university and the Jewish Federation of Orange County, California, which protested the meeting.

In October 2009, the federation sent UC Irvine’s chancellor a letter complaining of the meeting and saying the students were told to keep the meeting secret. That was to avoid problems re-entering Israel, the letter alleged, and to avoid angering local Jewish organizations, including the federation, which at one time was the initiative’s biggest single funder.

The letter said the federation had reviewed the trip itinerary ahead of time with the faculty member and graduate students in charge, and was “surprised to learn” afterward “that they conducted an unapproved, off-itinerary meeting with Aziz Duwaik.” The federation demanded that the university investigate the incident.

The university did, and later acknowledged that the meeting was inappropriate and unapproved, a federation official, Jay Feldman, told JTA this week. The individual who led the trip was reprimanded, and the university pledged that the incident would not repeat itself — and it hasn’t, Feldman said.

Duwaik is the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, but for years he had been a leader of Hamas, the federation letter noted. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization according to the United States, Israel and many European countries.

The Institute for Jewish and Community Research this week urged UC Irvine to “respond to this serious misuse of funds and gross violation of public trust.”

The University of California system is facing federal anti-Semitism complaints against its Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses. In December 2007, a federal civil rights investigation into similar allegations at UC Irvine by the Department of Education found “insufficient evidence” that the university failed to respond to complaints by Jewish students that they were being harassed.