The University of California, Irvine, has launched an internal probe and contacted law enforcement authorities over a student-organized event that may have raised money for Hamas.
The investigation is in response to allegations made by the Zionist Organization of America, which also alerted local law enforcement officials last week about the May event.
Organized by the Muslim Student Union at UCI, the event featured British politician George Galloway, who reportedly solicited funds for "Viva Palestina," his organization that brings aid to Gaza.
ZOA officials said evidence shows Viva Palestina monies may have ended up in Hamas hands. ZOA officials said Galloway visited Gaza in March, when he donated 100 vehicles and some $1.4 million.
"We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine," Galloway reportedly said at the time.
Upon his return, he launched a Viva Palestina speaking tour of the United States, making stops at college campuses, including UCI's event, billed as "Israel: The Politics of Genocide."
In July, Galloway returned to Gaza with more aid.
"One concern is whether our universities or college campuses are being used as a base for fund-raising for terrorism, which is a violation of federal law," said Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA's Center for Law and Justice. "It has to be investigated."
This is not the first time Galloway and his Viva Palestina campaign has raised suspicions. The Anti-Defamation League last spring took its concerns to the US Attorney-General's Office. In late March, Canadian immigration officials refused to allow Galloway entry on national security grounds.
A spokesman for Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at the time that the ban was in accordance with an immigration law that protects citizens from people who fund, support or engage in terrorism.
The Jewish Defense League of Canada wrote an open letter urging the Canadian government to keep Galloway away.
"We're going to uphold the law, not give special treatment to this infamous street-corner Cromwell who actually brags about giving 'financial support' to Hamas, a terrorist organization banned in Canada," the ministry's spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, told The Guardian in March.
"I'm sure Galloway has a large Rolodex of friends in regimes elsewhere in the world willing to roll out the red carpet for him. Canada, however, won't be one of them."
"This idiotic ban shames Canada," Galloway said in a statement at the time.
In the UCI matter, university officials have pledged to investigate whether the group organizing the event violated campus policies by holding a fund-raiser.
In asking for permission to hold the event, the Muslim Student Union said it would not be a fund-raiser, and publicity around the event indicated it would not be a fund-raiser. But according to those present, collection boxes were distributed.
"We have initiated an internal review of these matters, and will proceed as expeditiously as possible," Diane Fields Geocaris, chief campus counsel and associate general counsel, wrote to ZOA officials in a letter dated September 30. "UC Irvine takes very seriously all allegations of wrongdoing. We appreciate your bringing this to our attention."
The May event featuring Galloway disturbed Jewish groups concerned with Galloway's anti-Israel rhetoric. During his talk, Galloway referred to Gaza as a "concentration camp" and called Israel an apartheid state.
"Why are you making the Palestinian people pay in 2009 for what European fascists did in 1941?" he reportedly asked.
Prior to his trip to Gaza in July, the ADL expressed concern about whether Viva Palestina was providing material aid to Hamas. On its Web site, the ADL details Galloway's spring speaking tour in the United States.
"Galloway spoke brazenly about giving material support to Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, asserting, 'Who else would you give it to if not the elected government?'" the ADL said, referencing an event at Columbia University on March 23.
In May, the organization wrote to US Attorney-General Eric Holder, expressing concerns about the Viva Palestina campaign's intentions.
"It is not verifiable that this 'committee' will function independently of the Hamas leadership in Gaza, and Galloway, who plans to lead the American convoy, has already demonstrated his willingness to directly support Hamas," the letter said.
In another letter to UCI administrators dated September 22, the ZOA questions whether the conduct of Galloway and the student group violated campus policies.
ZOA officials said school administrators at the event overlooked the collection and did not reporting the fund-raising to senior university officials.
Martin Migdall, who lives near the university and attended Galloway's speech in May, described escalating anti-Israel rhetoric on campus in recent years.
Migdall first became aware of the problem when he attended a lecture at UCI several years ago and was greeted by anti-Israel protesters.
"Here's a hotbed of anti-Semitism in my own neighborhood," he recalled thinking.
Several years ago, he was part of a community task force that investigated and found anti-Semitism on campus.
After Migdall observed the collection boxes at the Viva Palestina event and learned the event had not been billed as a fund-raiser, he contacted the ZOA. He said most troubling is that school officials and campus police chose to overlook blatant violations of campus policy.
ZOA officials said for years UCI's Jewish students have grappled with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric accusing Zionist Jews of being Satanic, among other things. In recent years, "two students left UC-Irvine because they couldn't tolerate the hostility any more," the ZOA's Tuchman said.
In 2004, the ZOA filed a complaint on behalf of Jewish students with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. The complaint was dismissed, and the ZOA is currently appealing the ruling.
"What wasn't different about this event" in May, "was the kind of hateful rhetoric that was being promoted," Tuchman said. "But what was different about this event was the possibility that funds were being raised for Hamas, and Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization, designated as such by the US State Department."
She said a second concern is the reaction of UCI administrators, during this and other contentious interactions between Jewish and Muslim students.
"The administration's silence in response to the hate and bigotry is almost as bad as the hate and bigotry itself," Tuchman said.