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

UPDATE, JULY 8, 5:25 P.M.: Syrian freedom activists say that when they protested at UC Irvine the morning of June 9, a campus official promised a future meeting with an associate chancellor to discuss what they consider a troubling relationship between Syria's brutal regime and Dr. Hazem Chehabi, Syria's honorary consul general in Newport Beach and the UCI Foundation's president-elect.

But the Syrian Emergency Task Force of Greater Los Angeles received word this week that meeting won't happen and, when later pressed by the Weekly, UCI officials claimed it was never promised.

When organizer Ammar Kahf of the Syrian Emergency Task Force had not heard back about a date for the meeting he told me his group was promised, he sent a letter to Deborah F. Nielsen of UCI Chancellor Michael Drake's office.

In fairness to the university, Kahf only mentions having requested a meeting, not being promised one, in the following letter:

Dear Ms. Debbie Nielsen,

My name is Ammar Kahf, and I am an organizer with the Syrian Emergency Task Force in Los Angeles which is a Syrian-American organization that works on supporting the aspirations and demands for freedom and democracy by the Syrian people. Human rights groups such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have documented numerous human rights abuses and mass killing on the hands of the Syrian people. His rule is an illegitimate one, as declared by his own people for killing his people.

We at the Syrian Emergency Task Force demand that our US government expel all Syrian diplomats to further put pressure on the Syrian state to move out and stop killings its people. Over 1,500 have been killed since March 15. We were shocked to notice that a Syrian diplomat who is very influential in Syrian affairs serves the esteemed UCI Foundation Board [as] president-elect. We issued several appeals for his removal unless he denounces his regime's killing unequivocally or resigns his Syrian diplomatic position. His post poses a great conflict between the values of democracy, freedom and civic society that UCI stands for and the killing and massacre that his regime represents.

We came to your office on June 9th and requested an appointment with UCI Chancellor to explain our position. I am still waiting for your response regarding an appointment.

Please review the following articles for your reference:


Also the national campaign to oust Syrian diplomats:


Also attached our appeal.

I await your reply with an appointment as this matter is of an urgent matter.

Ammar Kahf, Ph.D
Syrian Emergency Task Force-LA

Kahf then received this response:

Dear Mr. Kahf,

No one from campus is available to meet with you at this time.

Thank You,

Debbie Nielsen
Office of the Chancellor
University of California, Irvine
510 Aldrich Hall

Kahf cc'd me on his letter and Nielsen's response. So, I e-mailed Nielsen for an explanation, noting that I had been told a meeting with an associate chancellor had been promised on June 9. She did not reply, but Rex Bossert did. The UCI School of Law's assistant dean for Communications and Public Affairs explained he sometimes helps University Communications.

Bossert told me, "There is no meeting planned with this group, nor was one promised, as I understand, but the Chancellor has just issued this statement about Dr. Chehabi:"

Statement from UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake

We join the world community in expressing outrage at the continued violence toward unarmed civilians in Syria and in demanding that the violence stop. We appreciate Dr. Chehabi's support of our university and our students over the years. We support his efforts and those of the broader world community in reaching a peaceful and just resolution.

Bossert said he'd also be sharing the message with Kahf.

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:

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