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May 8, 2019 7:40 am

US-Based Sheikh Calls on University Students to ‘Fight Zionism’

avatar by Steven Emerson

Opinion

The Muslim Student Union (MSU) at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), wrapped up “Anti-Oppression Week 2019” last Friday with an antisemitic sermon denying Israel’s right to exist.

A video of the sermon can be seen at the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

“I ask Allah … to give us the courage to fight Zionism. I ask Allah … to free the Palestinians from the oppression,” Sheikh Osman Umarji preached during a sermon posted on Facebook.

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Umarji’s incendiary sermon was titled “The Oppression of Zionism,” joining a long list of US-based imams and spiritual leaders who incite against Israelis.

He railed against specific Israeli government policies and Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. These points are fair criticisms that may facilitate a worthwhile debate. But Umarji made the main purpose of his “anti-Zionist” sermon very clear: the denunciation of a Jewish state in any form.

“We are here as anti-Zionists, not as antisemites and not as anti-Jewish. Listen to me very clearly. We are against a foreign body, a foreign entity, coming into our land occupied by existing people. … We will fight you, we will speak out against you, we will boycott you, and we will raise enough awareness until you will fall. So, first, we are anti-Zionist.”

Whether Umarji accepts it or not, denying the Jewish people’s right to a homeland in Israel is a form of antisemitism.

He also accused supporters of Israel of maintaining dual loyalties — a sentiment that plays into centuries-old antisemitic tropes that resurfaced after Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) levied similar accusations.

“Are we living in an alternate universe, where allegiance to a foreign entity is more important than allegiance to the country you live in? Wake up,” warned Umarji.

Umarji is a PhD student at UCI’s School of Education, who was previously enrolled in Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University. He also has research interests in positive psychology, and the “development of character strengths and moral beliefs.”

For such an experienced educator, it seemed odd that Umarji’s speech was filled with conspiracies and false dichotomies. He alleged that Israel poisons Palestinians, and compared the IDF to Hamas — a designated terrorist organization.

“IDF soldiers have the audacity to come here and pretend like they are protecting some innocent authority. … Can you imagine if Hamas walked on the campus, the entire FBI would be here taking them out. You’d have snipers everywhere. If the IDF comes and everybody is silent, may Allah give us strength.”

Umarji further incited the crowd by spreading a false and unsubstantiated claim that Israel’s “military sprayed herbicides all over [Palestinian] plants before the harvest so the Palestinians … have to throw away their entire crop.”

UC Irvine’s “Anti-Oppression Week” also featured prominent US-based Islamists who have called for Israel’s termination, including Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) figures Zahra Billoo and Hussam Ayloush.

UC Irvine has a long track-record as a hostile campus for students who support Israel. In 2010, the MSU received a year-long suspension after its students conspired to shut down a speech by former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) leader Taher Herzallah, one of the “Irvine 11” who was prosecuted following the disruption, showed no remorse following the successful conviction. Three years later, as AMP’s associate director of Outreach & Grassroots Organizing, Herzallah proudly justified Hamas rocket fire into Israel, while calling images of wounded Israeli soldiers “the most beautiful sight.”

Umarji also is a product of UC Irvine, serving as MSU president in his undergraduate days.

The day after Umarji defended Palestinian terrorists, Gaza-based groups fired hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into southern Israel, killing four Israelis and wounding many others. In response, Israel struck hundreds of terrorist targets and infrastructure, including an underground attack tunnel spanning into Israeli territory. US-based Islamists and their high-profile supporters, however, instinctively blame the Jewish state for sparking the latest escalation regardless of the facts.

During his talk, Umarji complained that any criticism of Israel is immediately shot down in American political discourse and labelled as antisemitism. But for anti-Israel activists like Umarji, there is no legitimate course of action Israel can take to defend itself from a barrage of terrorist rockets — because Israel itself is illegitimate.

And that viewpoint is at the core of modern antisemitism.

Steven Emerson is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing, and operations. He is the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit organization that serves as one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

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