Several organizations have signed an open letter addressed to the UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake demanding the immediate removal of a Syrian diplomat from the UCI Foundation's board of trustees. The letter was sent two weeks after the student government voted in favor of legislation calling for Dr. Hazem Chehabi's resignation.
Chehabi is Syria's honorary consul general, a Newport Beach doctor, and a major donor to the university. He has refused to publicly condemn Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters has left more than 9000 people dead since the uprising in Syria began one year ago. The letter describes him as the "highest-ranking Syrian diplomat still associated with the brutal Assad regime."
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Sixteen organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, and the Syrian American Council, signed the letter, which demands "clear and direct actions from UC Irvine distancing itself...from any and all connections with the Assad regime." Unlike the ASUCI legislation, which solely demands the university cut ties with Chehabi, this letter also calls for Chehabi to disassociate himself from the Syrian government.
Ever since students and community members began protesting Chehabi's tenure nearly one year ago, the school has made no indication that it will consider removing him from his position as chairman of the UCI Foundation's board of trustees - the fundraising arm of the university. In an emailed statement released the day after students voted in favor of the legislation, UCI's Drake cited Chehabi as an active and longtime supporter of the university. In 2007, Chehabi donated $1 million dollars to the foundation.
"We understand the feelings of our students, but directing this resolution at Dr. Chehabi is not the answer," Drake stated. "From what we have seen, his volunteer community work as honorary consul is on behalf of the Syrian-American people, not the government. He has worked to keep channels of communication open between those living here and their friends and family there."