Cal accused of taking Saudi money with al-Qaida ties

Funders of U.C. Berkeley's Center for Middle Eastern Studies have links to al-Qaida, according to a campus Jewish newspaper.

Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who funds the center's Sultan Endowment for Arab studies, is a primary defendant in the $100 trillion lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the Berkeley Jewish Journal wrote Tuesday in a special investigative report.

The lawsuit charges bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi defense minister, with financing al-Qaida terrorists, according to Matt Levitt, a senior fellow on terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The paper also implicates Xenel Industries, a chief donor to the center's Al-Falah program, which "supports better understanding of Islam, Muslim culture in the U.S. and economic development in the Islamic world," according to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies' Web site.

U.C. Berkeley's Center for Middle Eastern Studies rejected the Jewish Journal's charges.

"The article in question is fundamentally erroneous and misleading on a number of levels. It is clearly polemical, giving voice only to the most extreme form of right-wing Zionism," Emily Gottreich, the center's vice chair, wrote JTA in response to the article.

"More seriously, it is racist in its selective listing of our affiliated faculty, naming only those professors with Arab- or Muslim-sounding names, and omitting those with Anglo-Saxon sounding names," she wrote. "The primary funding for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies comes from the United States Department of Education."

Endowments from bin Abdulaziz and the Al-Falah Foundation are "run by faculty committees with absolutely no obligation to, or oversight from, the donors in question," Gottreich continued.

Had the Jewish Journal asked, she said, it "would have learned that our newest endowment, which is funded at a significantly higher level than the Sultan Program, is the Helen Diller Family Jewish Studies and Israeli Visiting Scholars Program."

However, when the Bulletin reported on the establishment of the Diller grant in October, Helen Diller said one of the reasons she set up the program was that as an alumna, she was disturbed that U.C. Berkeley was the scene of fervent pro-Palestinian activism and that its Center for Middle Eastern Studies was heavily funded by Saudi Arabian sultans, industrialists and other members of the Arab or Muslim community. "Israel is not well-represented academically, and I think this will help," Diller said at the time.

For some Jewish experts on campus affairs, the Jewish Journal article underscores the potential influence of Saudi money on universities' Middle Eastern studies departments.

U.C. Berkeley is a prime example of that influence, according to Martin Kramer, author of "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America," which posits that a pervasive pro-Arab, anti-American and anti-Israel bias has tainted research in recent decades.

"It was no surprise that academics hadn't a clue that 9/11 was possible, and it's because al-Qaida was not on their radar," Kramer said. "You could not do honest research" on Saudi Arabia "and expect at the same time to be a candidate for millions of dollars in Saudi largesse."

Kramer said U.C. Berkeley and Harvard are flooded with Saudi money, which impacts their professors' research on the country and simultaneously corrupts the integrity of other universities' Middle East studies departments, which also want such funding.

"The Saudi issue is a subset of the bigger issue," Kramer said, referring to what he calls the pro-Arab leanings of Middle Eastern studies departments at many U.S. universities.

In the field, "certain ideas are out of favor, and being pro-Israel is one of them," Kramer said, insinuating that a pro-Israel bias could hurt one's chances of advancing in the department.

News of the article was just beginning to spread on the Berkeley campus Tuesday afternoon.

"They'll find out about what we know today. It should be interesting," said managing editor David Abraham, 19, who said the Jewish Journal had not discussed the topic with university officials or with Jewish groups on campus before the issue hit newsstands.

An introduction to the article posed some tough questions for the paper's readers.

"Should the No. 1 public university in the U.S. have a higher standard of ethics than the Business Bureau of Orlando? Does the university owe it to the students whose lives it changes and transforms, to use more discretion when excepting [sic] donations?" wrote Robert Enayati, the paper's editor. "Should it accept money from those who, as you will learn, are trying to uproot Jews and Zionists from the campuses of America?''

The campus newspaper also reported that Xenel's CEO, Abdullah Alireza, has links to the Swiss bank Dar al-Maal al-Islami, which has financed al-Qaida through the bank's subsidiaries.

Those ties are corroborated by the Orlando Sentinel in its coverage of a business deal between Osceola County, Fla., and Xenel.

The Sentinel had reported that one of the Swiss bank Dar al-Maal al-Islami's subsidiaries is among the co-founders of another back, called Al Shamal Islamic Bank. That bank includes Osama bin Laden as a co-founder and was used to finance al-Qaida operations, the Sentinel reported, citing U.S. State Department records.

The revelation ultimately prompted Osceola County commissioners to withdraw a $100 million contract awarded to Xenel to build a new convention center, the Sentinel reported last December.