US-based sheikh calls on university students to ‘fight Zionism’

For anti-Israel activists like Sheikh Osman Umarji, there is no legitimate course of action Israel can take to defend itself because Israel itself is illegitimate.

Israel Apartheid Week in May 2010 at the University of California, Irvine. Credit: AMCHA Initiative.
Israel Apartheid Week in May 2010 at the University of California, Irvine. Credit: AMCHA Initiative.
Steven Emerson, founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Credit: Courtesy.
Steven Emerson
Steven Emerson is founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

The Muslim Student Union at the University of California, Irvine, wrapped up “Anti-Oppression Week 2019” on Friday with an anti-Semitic sermon denying Israel’s right to exist.

“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.

Umarji wrapped up the week with an incendiary sermon titled “The Oppression of Zionism,” joining a long list of U.S.-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 anti-Semites 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 its homeland in Israel is a form of anti-Semitism.

He also accused supporters of Israel of maintaining dual loyalties—a sentiment that plays into centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes that resurfaced after U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) 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 Ph.D. student at UCI’s School of Education who previously enrolled in Islamic Studies at Egypt’s 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 Israel Defense Forces to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, in attempt to ridicule university campuses that host Israeli soldiers.

“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 the false and unsubstantiated claim that Israel’s “military sprayed herbicides all over [Palestinian] plants before the harvest so the Palestinians, when they grow their own land because they cannot import because of sanctions, they have to throw away their entire crop.”

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

In advance of her lecture, Billoo claimed that her work is part of a wider effort to “build bridges with allies on civil rights issues.” There should have been a caveat: Billoo works with anyone except mainstream rights organizations that maintain ties to Israel.

UCI 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” prosecuted following the disruption, showed no remorse following the successful conviction. Three years later, as AMP’s associate director of outreach and grassroots organizing, Herzallah proudly justified Hamas rocket fire into Israel while calling images of wounded Israeli soldiers “the most beautiful sight.”

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

The day after Umarji defended Palestinian terrorists, Gaza-based groups fired more than 600 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 tunnel extending into Israeli territory. U.S.-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 anti-Semitism. 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 anti-Semitism.

Steven Emerson is founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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