Since its birth, Israel has repeatedly defended itself against conventional military threats, terrorism, and hateful propaganda. The Jewish community would be aghast if it learned that its local Jewish Federation was subsidizing Syria’s army or Hezbollah. It should be aghast when it learns that its Jewish Federation has been funding a program that gives credibility to the trained operatives of the International Solidarity Movement — an organization whose goal is to eradicate Israel via the “soft” means of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).
Yet, California’s Orange County Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) has been supporting such a program — the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) — since 2008, and public statements by its leadership indicate that it intends to continue.
Whether UC Irvine should run the OTI is an issue for another forum. The issue for us is whether OTI deserves endorsement and funding in any amount by JFFS.
The overwhelming evidence must lead to the conclusion that continued Jewish community support is wrong. Here are just a few reasons:
- The OTI brings Jewish and non-Jewish students and faculty to “dialogue” with trained high-level ISM propagandists, whose mission is to undermine Israel via subterfuge, economic BDS, and “peaceful resistance and nonviolent direct action.” They, together with their UN allies and worldwide networks of NGOs, accuse Israel of human rights violations so as to justify its elimination as a Jewish democratic state. What they cannot accomplish militarily, they try to do by other means. Why give them credibility?
- The OTI and its funders risk the physical safety and security of the students. Events such as a secret 2009 OTI meeting with Aziz Duwaik, a leading Hamas official, might one day lead to disaster. Should the ISM, which has a record of cynically sacrificing the lives of naive youthful supporters (like Rachel Corrie and Vittorio Arrigoni), be trusted? Moreover, JFFS itself faces liability if things go wrong. Has JFFS purchased the requisite insurance, and is this the best use of its funds?
- The OTI is a university program, run by academics and not by the Jewish community. OTI does not seek to foster Jewish identity or pride, but rather to instill doubt and give equal validity to the “narratives” of all parties. Why expose students to in-person Palestinian indoctrinators? Why not give OTI-designated dollars to proven programs like Birthright?
- The OTI has disrespected major Jewish holidays, forcing Jewish participants to choose between observing Rosh Ha’Shana and Yom Kippur and participating in planned activities. Why didn’t JFFS protest the scheduling of the trip during High Holidays, imaging the difficulties faced by Jewish students having to forgo 3 days out of a short 12-day trip? Did this scheduling discourage observant Jewish students from attending in the first place?
- The Federation claims that the OTI fosters better relations among Jewish and Muslim students at UC Irvine, and that it educates the UCI community about the complex problems of the region. If so, why was Ambassador Michael Oren so viciously disrupted last February? Why does a UCI spokeswoman shrug off the secret meeting with U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas as just another opportunity for dialogue which the university supports?
- JFFS has lied and misled the community about its involvement in this program. Sometimes it boasts that it was the largest single funder; other times it downplays any involvement. It has misinformed its public about facts such as the connection between OTI guide George Rishmawi and the ISM, while instead attacking the reputation of community members who challenge the merits of Federation involvement. If OTI makes JFFS so uncomfortable that it is forced to mislead and conceal, then why continue support? Are there any other secrets that JFFS is concealing?
- Former President Jimmy Carter and the Council on American Islamic Relations favor programs like the OTI. That alone should give us pause. Does JFFS really want to share common ground with them? Isn’t it more appropriate for JFFS to respect the opinions of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Zionist Organization of America, and other national organizations, all of which have expressed strong reservations about the OTI?
- JFFS leadership suggests that it must maintain involvement so as to maintain the ability to influence. However, its track record has been less than impressive. Moreover, this type of reasoning leads to appeasement. Does JFFS recognize that?
In this era of tight budgets and scarce dollars, and in light of the above, it is up to JFFS to prove the wisdom of continuing support for OTI at the expense of funding other programs and helping needy recipients. Even if OTI donors started out with the best of intentions, it is now time to reassess and pull the plug.
It is also time for JFFS to publicly adopt a policy that prohibits support or endorsement of organizations which, directly or indirectly, engage in BDS or delegitimization activities. Members of the local community have proposed a sample policy (found on www.ha-emet.com) and the Jewish Federation of Sarasota and Manatee Counties has already adopted it. The OTI, and all the questions that it raises, should serve as the catalyst for adopting a similar policy in Orange County and around the United States.