UPDATE, MAY 30, 10:37 A.M.: The Syrian Emergency Task Force-Greater LA has rallied outside the Syria Consulate office in Newport Beach and asked Dr. Hazem H. Chehabi to step down as honorary consul general (or for the UC Irvine Foundation to drop him from its board if he doesn't) over human rights abuses in his homeland.
Now, the group is moving their protest to the front of Chehabi's Newport Beach medical office.
It's set to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Newport Diagnostic Center, 1605 Avocado Ave., where the call will be the same:
The good doctor must step down.
UPDATE, MAY 19, 3:37 P.M.: While applauding sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, a Phoenix, Arizona-based Syrian rights group is calling for even stronger measures.
Among them: "Immediate dismissal of all Syrian diplomats on American soil."
How would that apply to Dr. Hazem H. Chehabi, the Newport Beach-based honorary consul general for Syria?
Zuhdi Jasser, the leader of Save Syria Now!, tells the Weekly: "Just like support of Hamas became illegal and the Holy Land Foundation trial convicted its board members of aiding a terrorist group identified by the US government as a terror group. Mr. Chehabi needs to publicly immediately dissociate his association with the barbaric regime of Bashar Assad and his henchmen or suffer the legal repercussions which I hope and pray now exist with official sanctions now in place against the Assad regime and his family.
"If not, Mr. Chehabi needs to be publicly repudiated as a sympathizer with a pariah state and government of Syria and an enemy of freedom and liberty of the Syrian people and humanitarian principles. Personally, I believe Mr. Chehabi also should apologize for his facilitation and empowerment on American soil of the vicious Assad regime and he should realize that while he may just have an honorary position this complicity holds him morally accountable for the regime he represents."
But Jasser conceded that, legally, Chehabi cannot be removed from the country like full-time Syrian officials.
"As an American citizen he is not just a diplomat so I do not believe he can be booted out like diplomats who are given those privileges while we have good diplomatic relations," Jasser said. "But certainly he should be held publicly accountable for his associations and removed from any American institutions that stand for individual rights and freedom."
Meanwhile, Jasser and Save Syria Now! had earlier issued the following statement about the unrest in their homeland and the U.S. response to it:
Syrian Americans applaud the long overdue decision of President Obama to sanction Bashar Assad; Save Syria Now! pleads for President Obama to do all in US power to hasten the departure of the Assad regime
PHOENIX (May 18, 2011) -Dr. Zuhdi Jasser from Save Syria Now!, released the following statement in support of President Obama's long overdue decision to sanction Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We applaud the long overdue decision of President Obama to impose sanctions on the despotic and morally corrupt regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. This decision brings much needed attention to the plight of the Syrian people and will hopefully embolden other nations to abandon any belief that the Assad regime is anything other than thugs and criminals. Assad's brutalization of the Syrian people can not be allowed to stand. The unfolding daily humanitarian disaster in the towns and on the streets of Syria with the Syrian military and police shooting democracy activists in cold blood, cutting off towns from the outside world and the complete isolation of Syria from foreign media have created an unconscionable situation for the Syrian people. Any verbiage from the Assad regime about 'negotiations' or 'reform' are all pure and simple lies.
"As Americans of Syrian descent we now ask President Obama to demand that President Bashar Assad and his ruling family of thugs go. The Assad regime has proven time and again that it cares little for the Syrian people and that it has no fear of retribution for its daily immoral and barbaric acts against its own people. As Syrians who enjoy the freedoms of America we demand our governments do everything possible to fulfill our moral obligations to stand for freedom in Syria against the brutality of the Assad regime.
"We implore the administration and our western allies to levy the heaviest sanctions available including:
"1- Immediate removal from Damascus of our U.S. Ambassador to Syria.
"2- Immediate dismissal of all Syrian diplomats on American soil. Our Syrian American contacts tell us that the intelligence operations against Syrian American families and their families in Syria by Syrian government sympathizers on American soil have been ratcheted up to the highest level in recent history as they collect names and impose a culture of fear upon Syrian Americans and their families in Syria. This protects them and sends a clear message about with whom we will maintain diplomatic relations.
"3- Economic sanctions against the Syrian government and its henchmen. The seizure and freezing of assets connected to the leading elite of the Assad government (political, military, and security forces).
"4- Demand that military vehicles, tanks, and personnel leave the streets of Syria (not just air activity as done with Libya) and permit the free open assembly of Syrian citizens. Humanitarian disasters are continuing in towns like Dara'a and Baniyas that have been under complete siege by Assad's tanks and military personnel. Food, water, electricity, and health care has been completely cut off from the people of Dara'a, Baniyas and other towns rising to demonstrate against the Assad regime. A mass grave of democracy activists was recently found in Dara'a.
"5- Demand the opening of Syria and its streets to international media and human rights organizations.
"6- Pass Senate Resolution introduced by Senators Lieberman, Rubio and Kyl condemning the Assad Regime and urge the House to also act now to pass the strongest language possible against the Assad regime.
"7- Push the U.N to support and reach out actively and openly to the heroic groups on the ground protesting against the despotism of Assad's regime.
"8- An urgent press conference by leading elected officials in DC on Syria to demonstrate the seriousness and level of attention necessary.
"The Syrian people are calling for freedom and are paying the ultimate price for their courage. As a country based in the concepts of 'Liberty for All,' we must support the efforts of the Syrian people to lift the yoke of oppression and step out from the boot of the Assad regime."
About Save Syria Now!
Save Syria Now! is a group of Americans of Syrian descent organizing to put pressure on the United States to call for immediate action to be taken against the regime of Bashar Assad of Syria and to bring true liberty to the people of Syria. We stand with the Syrians protesting in the streets to end the tyranny of the Assad family.
UPDATE, MAY 18, 10:25 A.M.: U.S. officials say the Obama administration will slap sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
The Washington Post breaks the news on the first time the Syrian leader has been personally penalized for the actions of his security forces.
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 12, 8:42 A.M.: A prominent, Newport Beach board-certified physician in nuclear medicine is being urged to resign as the honorary consul general for Syria, whose treatment of peaceful demonstrators was just deemed "brutal" by the U.S. government Wednesday.
And if Dr. Hazem H. Chehabi refuses to cut his ties with the current regime in Syria, he should step down from the University of California Irvine Foundation Board of Trustees, which has selected him its president-elect, it is further demanded.
Making those demands is the Syrian Emergency Task Force of Greater Los Angeles that has staged demonstrations in Orange and Los Angeles counties in support of Syria's "freedom movement" and against President Bashar al-Assad's government. A March protest was held at Chehabi's Consulate General of Syria office near the corner of San Joaquin Hills and Jamboree roads in Newport Beach.
Organizer Ammar Kahf explains the task force believes Chehabi "is representing a brutal regime" and that his government role, albeit honorary, clashes with the mission of the UCI Foundation board, which promotes the university, seeks to boost philanthropy and manages and grows the university endowment.
In a letter sent to Chehabi Wednesday, the group demands that the physician "declare a public position on the Syrian regime atrocities and resign his post as Consul of Syria." (Here is the
Chehabi accepted one of those challenges.
"Personally, I am opposed to the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and find no justification whatsoever in shooting unarmed civilians," Chehabi responded in an email to the Weekly. "I am saddened about the daily loss of life in Syria and hope to see it come to an end as quickly as possible."
He also displayed deft diplomacy when it came to his critic.
"Mr. Kahf enjoys living in a free country where he can express his opinions," Chehabi notes. "He is entitled to his opinion."
It is the opinion of many local Syrian-Americans that Chehabi is a government stooge, as pro-freedom protesters accuse the consul general and consulate staff of snapping photos of them at rallies around Southern California and passing information about them to the Syrian government's intelligence agency.
Based on these allegations, the Syrian Emergency Task Force has issued a
from the UCI Foundation board.Officials at
UCI declined to comment on the task force's demands when contacted by theWeekly
So far, the Los Angeles chapter has only appealed to Chehabi, the university and the public. The Syrian Emergency Task Force main office in Washington, D.C., has turned to the U.S. courts, filing a federal lawsuit against top Syrian officials, including the Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Chehabi is not named in the complaint.
Chehabi began working with UCI doctors soon after he began practicing medicine in Orange County in 1989. He offered his Newport Diagnostics Center facilities for training and began serving as a volunteer faculty member in UCI's Department of Radiological Sciences in 1994. He is the author of several articles in medical journals and a former president of the Medical Board of California.
He joined the UCI Foundation board in 2006 and his term ends in 2012. Chehabi has chaired the board's Strategic Planning Committee and served on the Executive, Nomination & Board Development and Strategic Communications committees. He's also been a member of the Athletic Director Advisory/Leadership Council and School of Social Ecology and is a Chancellor's Club Lifetime Member.
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Chehabi and wife Salma Chehabi spread the philanthropic wealth beyond UCI. Just this week, they doled out $6,000 for a Pelican Hill Villa Getaway at the 2011 Human Options Dove Award fund-raiser honoring the Peter and Virginia Ueberroth Family Foundation. Salma Chehabi also has ties to UCI, having earned a bachelor's degree in biological sciences there in 1999 and going on to add a bachelor's degree in psychology and social behavior from the university.
Kahf, a second generation Syrian-American born in the U.S., has UC ties as well. A Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, he's in the process of submitting an approved thesis titled "Syrian Authoritarianism: Persistence or Change."
His sister is Mohja Kahf, a poet, author and associate professor of comparative literature and faculty member of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Her family has long been involved in Syrian opposition politics, which has also been a theme of some of her writings.