[UPDATED with UCI Promising Meeting:] Dr. Hazem Chehabi Urged to Cut Ties With Syria's Brutal Regime or Step Down From UC Irvine Foundation Board

UPDATE, JUNE 9, 4:31 P.M.: This morning's rally at UC Irvine targeting Dr. Hazem H. Chehabi--the UCI Foundation's president-elect, Syria's honorary consul general in Newport Beach and a prominent Orange County philanthropist and nuclear medicine specialist--went "smooth," according to an organizer.

In fact, Ammar Kahf of the Syrian Emergency Task Force of Greater Los Angeles says the demonstration led to a promised future meeting with a campus official.

"We went in to ask for an appointment, and they promised a meeting soon with the associate chancellor," Kahf writes in an email to the Weekly.

Here is a photo that accompanied the email from today's rally in front of the UCI Administration Building:


UPDATE, JUNE 9, 9:47 A.M.: As blogged here repeatedly, Southern Californians shining a light on the brutal repression of their brothers and sisters in Syria have called on Dr. Hazem H. Chehabi to step down as that country's honorary consul general in Newport Beach or to quit (or be fired from) the UC Irvine Foundation Board of Directors, which has chosen the radiologist as its president-elect.

Protests have been staged outside the Newport Beach offices of the Syria consular and Chehabi's medical practice. It's UCI's turn this morning.

Protesters, who occupy a corner of Campus Drive and Berkeley Avenue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, "will ask Chehabi to resign from his position as consul or issue a public statement expressing unequivocal support for the legitimate demands of freedom and democracy by the Syrian people and strongly condemning the brutal response of that country's government," reads a statement from the Syrian Emergency Task Force of Greater Los Angeles. "The Syrian regime's response to peaceful protesters has included arbitrary detention, torture, mass killings, and shooting of civilians expressing their unalienable right of freedom of expression and self-determination."

Task force organizer Ammar Kahf calls it "immoral, hypocritical and unacceptable for a prestigious academic institution such as UCI, which teaches about democracy and freedom, to accept Dr. Chehabi on its board of trustees. Dr. Chehabi chooses to officially represent a brutal dictatorship that engages in the killing of its own people. It is contradictory to UCI's mission and values to accept on its board an official representative of a foreign government engaging in crimes against humanity."

Today's UCI protest will be a warm-up to another one nearby on Saturday, which has been dubbed "Global Syria Day." Rallies supporting freedom and drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis in Syria are planned in New York, Michigan, Germany, Montreal, Toronto, Arkansas, London, Vienna, Tunisia, France, Sweden, Algeria, Lebanon, Washington, D.C. and--from 6-8 p.m.--the corner of Culver Drive and Alton Parkway in Irvine.

M. Zuhdi Jasser
Meanwhile, another physician has included a "Chehabi case study" in his column titled "Syrian Reform Starts at Home: Beginning to Crack the Global Syrian Culture of Fear" on Weiner-exposer Andrew Breitbart's Big Peace page. Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander who now practices medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, and presides over Save Syria Now! and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, believes he has uncovered the reason Chehabi (whose last name he spells Chahabi) has not forcefully called out the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.

Jasser writes that Chehabi's father, Hikmat (with yet a third spelling of the last name, Shihabi) was the Soviet-trained, "right-hand henchman" for Assad's father, Hafez:

Chahabi was head of the army when tanks surrounded Hama in 1982 and committed genocide against over 40,000 Syrians including women and children led by Rifat Assad. There was a similar heinous massacre in Tadmur in 1980 against political prisoners with thousands dying in cold blood at the hands of the Syrian military. The Syrian Human Rights Committee has a detailed accounting of the massacre and murders as well as a number of other crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hafez Assad and his military (of whom General Hikmat Chahabi was a leading figure).

Jasser goes on to accuse Hikmat Chehabi of being among those who looted Syria of millions of dollars. The power struggle that resulted after Hafez Assad died in 2000 and his son took over the country included charges of corruption leveled at Hazem Chehabi's father, according to the author. To save his hide, Hikmat retired to California to join his son. Jasser intimates that the father passed his wealth to his son, who has lavished Orange County charities, candidates like Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and especially UCI with tens of thousands of dollars over the years. The author dares call this blood money and finds it "incredulous" that media other than the Weekly have not picked up on the Chehabi story.

There needs to be an immediate public investigation into what Hazem Chahabi received if anything in exchange for all of those donations and more importantly what impact his involvement at UCI and in various political campaigns had upon American policy toward the pariah state of Syria. There also needs to be an investigation into why Chahabi's history was not a red flag to any of the institutions and politicians to whom he gave donations or was given positions of leadership. The Chahabis have given apparently vast sums of money to University of California-Irvine (UCI)--underwriting events like the UCI Medal winners dinner, where they gave $100,000 in 2003. The Chahabis later gave many additional donations to UCI, including the largest ever single donation of $1 million in 2005. It would also be interesting to know who the initial investors were in Dr. Chahabi's Newport Beach Diagnostic Center opened in the early '90s.


At the minimum, Chahabi's much publicized philanthropy bought him a pathological blindness from the local community of southern California regarding the corruption in Syria of which his family came out of and remained uncritically and intimately enmeshed. Perhaps Dr. Chahabi's  move to the United States for medical specialization training and his posting as an 'honorary' Consul General combined with his father's marginalization from Hafez Assad's inner circle became an opportunity for the Chahabis to remain relevant and wealthy by becoming leaders in the current American influence operations of the Bashar Assad regime. It is exceedingly important for such an influential Californian to be transparent about the origin of the millions he donates to American institutions.

Jasser concludes by saying citizens of Syria and the United States deserve better.

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