The University of California at Berkeley's Center for Middle Eastern Studies runs two programs funded by groups and individuals the U.S. State Department links to terrorism, according to a campus student magazine.
The programs aim to increase "understanding of Islam and of Muslim peoples and cultures in the United States and around the world."
But two important benefactors are a Saudi businessman and a Saudi royal family member accused by the U.S. of channeling funds to groups that sponsor al-Qaida and international terrorism, according to the Berkeley Jewish Journal.
A $1 trillion class action suit filed by families of Sept. 11 victims implicates Al Saud in the attacks.
UC Berkeley administrators declined to comment Monday on the reports, said the California Patriot, a campus newspaper. However, the vice chair of the center, Emily Gottreich, acknowledged the programs receive funds from Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the second deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia.
Gottreich insisted the majority of the center's funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education, but university officials refused to release budget documents to the Patriot on Monday.
The study center's Sultan Program is named for Al Saud.
The brief filed by attorneys for the victims' families said, "At best, Prince Sultan [al Saud] was grossly negligent in the oversight and administration of charitable funds, knowing they would be used to sponsor international terrorism, but turning a blind eye. At worst, Prince Sultan directly aided and abetted and materially sponsored al-Qaida and international terrorism."
The writers of the Berkeley Jewish Journal story asked how the center can accomplish its stated goal of heightening "awareness of the Middle East and of its diverse peoples and cultures" when the funding for such an institution comes from "dubious sources."
Gottreich insisted the programs "are run by faculty committees with absolutely no obligation to, or oversight from, the donors in question." She told the California Patriot the center also receives funding from the Diller Family Jewish Studies and Israeli Visiting Scholars Program.
Gottreich attacked the Berkeley Jewish Journal article, calling the writers proponents of "the most extreme form of right-wing Zionism."
In return, the magazine's editor, Robert Enyati, criticized Gottreich's "name calling," saying it "very clearly shows the agenda of the institution."
Al Saud also is tied to funding of Middle Eastern studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Professor Stephen Humphreys, who holds an endowed chair in Islamic Studies under the sultan's name, contended the funding has no influence over his courses at Santa Barbara.
"No donor to Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at UCSB has ever, in any manner, tried to control, supervise, or influence expenditures of the funds they have donated," Humphreys said, according to the Cal Patriot.
However, U.S. Muslim leader W. Deen Muhammad, head of the Muslim American Society, has noted that when Saudi Arabia makes such gifts it requires that the receiver "prefer our school of thought," the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam it exports around the world.
Saudi Arabia is known to promote Wahhabism in the U.S. through prison recruitment, military chaplains, Muslim student organizations and underwriting as many as 80 percent of America's mosques.
Bin Laden links
In addition to his role as deputy prime minister and minister of defense, Al Saud chairs the government's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, which reviews and grants requests from Islamic organizations. Under Al Saud's leadership, the kingdom has funded organizations the U.S. and U.N. tie to terror, including the International Islamic Relief Organization, al-Haramain, Muslim World League and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
The International Islamic Relief Organization, or IIRO, has been implicated in the funding of al-Qaida and the Palestinian terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The organization is led by Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Khalifa, considered a major terror leader by the U.S.
The IIRO also has been tied to the 1993 World Trade Center Bombings, a plan to destroy New York's Lincoln Tunnel and Brooklyn Bridge, and plots to assassinate former President Clinton and the pope.
The class action suit brief says, "Beginning with the Gulf War, Prince Sultan took radical stands against Western countries and publicly supported and funded several Islamic charities that were sponsoring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida operations."
The Berkeley Jewish magazine also noted the school's Center for Middle Eastern studies has a program funded by a Saudi conglomerate, Xenel Industries.
The principal benefactor of UC Berkeley's Al-Falah program is Xenel's CEO Abdullah Alireza, who is on the executive board of Dar al-Maal-Islami, a bank managed by Osama bin Laden's brother and acknowledged by the U.N. as a supporter of terrorism.
According to State Department and U.N. documents, the bank has held funds for al-Qaida operatives through several of its subsidiary banks. One such subsidiary, Al Shamal Islamic Bank, held investments of up to $50 million from bin Laden.
'Proud of its record'
The Berkeley center's Gottreich told the California Patriot she is "proud of [the center's] record of providing a forum for a wide variety of Middle East-related voices on the UC campus."
The campus newspaper noted, however, the program has leaned heavily toward criticism of the United States and Israel.
The center's chair, Professor Nezar Al Sayyad, is an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war and President Bush.
He compared Saddam Hussein with President Bush at a campus forum on the war, stating "when the media speaks about the president and his two sons, I no longer know which president they are speaking of."
According to the Daily Californian campus newspaper, Daniel Boyarin, a near eastern studies professor at the center, said of the liberal former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak: He "is an evil man, he is a violent man, a racist and a liar."