SoCal Syrians call for removal of UC Irvine foundation trustee, supporter of Assad government

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From a helpless distance, Syrians in Los Angeles have observed a year of violence in their home country. Along with trying to raise awareness about a complicated political situation, many have begun campaigning for the removal of Syria’s consul general in Orange County, Dr. Hazem Chehabi.

Chehabi is also a physician in Newport Beach, as well as president of the University of California Irvine Foundation board of trustees. Seven years ago, he and his wife donated $1 million to the university.

Syrians in the Southland know Chehabi and his family. His father, an army general, oversaw a massacre in Hama, Syria back in 1982. Chehabi grew up with Syria’s current president Bashar al-Assad; political observers say the two meet regularly.

“You cannot have a representative of the Syrian regime, a brutal regime that is killing children, women and men, and have them on the board of UCI Foundation. That is an oxymoron," says Dr. Saleh Kholaki, part of a growing coalition of Syrians who want Chehabi to step down.

"So we are demanding that he either renounce his affiliation with the Assad regime publicly [and] resign from the foundation board, or the foundation board has to ask him to step down.”

In a response to his critics, Chehabi wrote that his consular position is volunteer-based, that he is not paid by the Syrian government and that he has no ties to the Assad regime.

People have been calling for Chehabi’s removal for a little over a year. Thursday night, the Associated Students organization on UC Irvine's campus voted on a resolution regarding Chehabi's ousting — and according to Rashad Al-Dabbagh, communications director for the Syrian-American Council, that resolution has passed.

According to Al-Dabbagh, the university does not have to abide by the vote, but the measure does put more pressure on them.

This story has been updated.

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