Does The Olive Tree Initiative Lack Credibility?

by Jerry Gordon (July 2011)

On May 9th, the President of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, California (JFOC), Shalom Elcott, was loitering on the plaza during the first day of the 2011l anti-Israel Apartheid Awareness Week organized by the Muslim Student Union (MSU)at University of California, Irvine (UCI). He encountered Professor Amihai Glazer. Glazer was one of 60 faculty members who had signed a letter expressing the view that antisemitism did indeed exist on the UCI campus – Islamic antisemitism. The conversation became heated when Elcott suddenly hit Glazer with coiled up flyers after Glazer told him he had “a credibility problem.”  

Elcott is the brother of Prof. David Elcott of NYU Wagner College. David Elcott is a former US Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee. He left to become executive director of the J Street ally, the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). His successor at the IPF was MJ Rosenberg an active supporter of J Street’s mantra of “pro- Israel and pro-Peace” seeking immediate declaration of a Palestinian State. Rosenberg is now working for Media Matters for America.

One potential problem at UCI was the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI). The OTI was co-founded as a student led group in 2008 that included former Muslim Student Union President, Ali Malik, Isaac Yerushalmi, former head of Anteaters for Israel, and then graduate student, now director of the OTI, Daniel Wehrenfennig. The objective of the OTI program, sponsored by the JFOC Rose Project, was to send Jewish and non-Jewish students to Israel and the West Bank to expose them to a variety of views from Israeli and Palestinian representatives so they might gain an understanding of all sides of the issues.

Jewish student leaders at UCI Hillel, local JFOC officials and Jewish students who have gone on OTI sponsored trips persist in saying that antisemitism doesn’t exist on campus.

Especially troubling is that the OTI model is being spread to other U.C. campuses and to private higher educational institutions in California. The Fourth Spring OTI Symposium was held at UCLA on the weekend of April 9th and 10th. According to the UCLA OTI program announcement, students from “U.C. Irvine, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Santa Barbara, U.C. San Diego and University of Southern California are expected to attend.” 

Some OTI students may have come back from encounters on the West Bank and Israel as converts to the Palestinian cause. Those Palestinian representatives included the Hamas Speaker in the Palestinian legislature, Aziz Duwaik, recently arrested by the IDF for the third time, George Rishmawi, co-founder of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and Mazin Qumsiyeh, a leading architect of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Qumsiyeh was arrested by the IDF during the May 15, 2011 Al Nakbah day protest on the West Bank, and had been involved in an antisemitic email incident at Yale University in 2003. George S. Rishmawi, one of the OTI tour guides and also an ISM co-founder, spoke at a November, 2010 OTI event at UCI.

JFOC vigorously denied that OTI students met with Rishmawi, the ISM co-founder, alleging confusion over two persons with the same name with one having an S and the other an N as middle initials. OTI students met with both Rishmawis. JFOC President Elcott said they would “never meet with the despicable George N Rishmawi, however, they did. The facts are that OTI materials containing the 2008 and 2009 itineraries expressly identify George Rishmawi as an ISM co-founder. Who is kidding whom?

Islamic Antisemitism at UCI

For the past decade, the MSU chapter at UCI  has been engaged in the annual anti-Israel Apartheid Awareness Weeks  (AAW) each May just before IFest, Israel Week on campus, the later celebrating Israel’s Independence, or as the MSU would call it Al Nakba (“the disaster” in Arabic). In February, 2010, an emboldened MSU orchestrated the premeditated disruption of a speaking engagement by Israeli’s Ambassador to the US Michael B. Oren; a speech underwritten by JFOC’s Rose Project. That disturbance of a public gathering and denial of Oren's and our free speech rights resulted in the arrest of MSU protesters and suspension of the MSU chapter from the UCI student activities program for a short academic quarter. It was simply a slap on the wrist.
Eleven members of the U.C. Riverside Muslim Students Association (MSA) and UCI MSU chapters were charged following a grand jury investigation by Orange County District Attorney Rackauckas with conspiring to disrupt Ambassador Oren’s speech. Ironically, “Jewish Studies” faculty members at a number of U.C. System institutions signed a petition in support of the 11 Muslim students indicted by the Orange County DA.  

Virulently antisemitic Muslim Brotherhood speakers such as Mohammad al -Asi, Malik Ali and Siraj Wahhaj have spoken at UCI under MSU sponsorship. The usual venue is the plaza or “flagpoles” on campus where each day at noon during AAW, MSU chapter members, UCI students, JFOC officials and community activists gather to hear the vitriol of hate. Hillel has a food stand about 40 feet from this UCI speakers’ corner. The program for AAW 2011 was “Palestine an invisible Nation.”

The 2011 AAW program put together by the MSU featured a peculiar mix of anti-Zionist Israeli and Jewish speakers coupled with the usual contingent of pro-Palestinian speakers. They included;

  • Alison Weir, President of the pro-Palestinian Council for the National Interest (CNI), who has accused Israel of  harvesting Palestinian Prisoner organs.
  • Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, head of the extreme Orthodox Jewish anti-Zionist Neturei Karta of the Satmar Chassidic court, a group that regularly protests pro-Israel rallies and has shown up at paid photo ops in the West Bank with the late Yassir Arafat of the PLO and in Tehran at Holocaust denial and peace conferences with Islamic Republic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  • Matan Cohen, an Israel refusenik and  anti-Occupation activist injured in a protest at the West Bank village of Biilin whose case against the IDF was dismissed by an Israeli Court in 2009.
  • Hazem Batian, a radical U.C. Berkeley professor who co-authored the CAIR-sponsored first Annual Report on Islamaphobia in America recently released by the University’s Center for Race and Gender.
  • Michael Prysner, a former US Army radar operator and anti-war activist with the extreme leftist groups ANSWER and March Forward. He ran in 2008 on the Socialism and Liberation ticket in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District against current Rep. Alan West and former Rep. Ron Klein.
  • Hedy Epstein, an 86 year old Holocaust survivor who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 via a Kindertransport and settled in the US in 1948. She is an ISM member who at the last momemt did not board one of the Free Gaza Movement Flotilla vessles in Larnaca, Cyprus in 2010. Epstein regularly engages in anti-Israel campus activism. Her famous quote is: “everything is due to the Holocaust. But Israel is not being persecuted now. Israel is now the persecutor.”

The prior Thursday, May 5th, UCI Students for Justice in Palestine brought in ex-US Ambassador Edwin Peck, a former member of  the board of COIN, who was on one of the Free Gaza Movement Flotilla vessels captured by Israeli Naval commandos in June, 2010 and ejected from Israel.

At a 2008 Hillel Summit in Washington, DC UCI Chancellor Dr. Michael Drake was challenged by Mort Klein of Zionists of America about Antisemitic speakers on his campus. Watch Chancellor Drake’s response to Klein’s question on this Los Angeles Jewish Journal You Tube video.

To paraphrase his comments:

We reject those divisive messages, absolutely and morally. Antisemitism is not tolerated on our campus and should not be in our society. In the words of famed U.Cal President Clark Kerr, our job is to make students safe for speech, but not make speech safe for students because we cannot control all speech.

Watch this video of the Rabbi Weiss exchange with Jewish activists at the 2011 AWW at UCI:


JFOC loses its Credibility- the smoking gun letter.

The JFOC’s credibility problem surfaced from a response to a California Public Records Act (PRA) request by local activists from Ha’Emet. That information surfaced a “smoking gun” letter sent by JFOC President Elcott to UCI Chancellor Drake in October, 2009 revealing a meeting between OTI students and Hamas representative Duwaik. The JFOC leaders seized upon this letter as evidence that they had brought this to the attention of UCI administrators seeking an investigation. The JFOC leaders never informed the community.

In the JFOC letter the authors wring their hands about the fact that Jewish students on the 2009 OTI trip inadvertently met with a Hamas leader of the West Bank, Aziz Duwaik, on September 16th. The students were told by an unidentified person, presumably, the field co-coordinator for the OTI program, to say nothing while passing through Israel or upon arrival back in California, as it might look as if under our laws they were giving material assistance to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Here are some excerpts of the JFOC letter to Chancellor Drake:

On Sunday, September 20, 2009, the second class of the Olive tree Initiative (OTI) returned from their travels in Israel and the west Bank. As its largest funder, Jewish Federation has strongly supported the concept and development of OTI from its inception.

{. . .}  We expected, and believed we had received, full disclosure about program details. This is why we were quite surprised to learn, following the recent return of the OTI group, that they conducted an unapproved, off-itinerary meeting on September 16thwith Aziz Duwaik, a notable Hamas figure.

One UCI faculty member and two UCI doctoral candidates were in charge of arrangements on the ground. [Name redacted] was well aware of Jewish Federation's ‘redlines’ – what could or could not be done on an OTI trip. Taking UCI [students] to meet a Hamas leader crossed those red lines, and put the University and Jewish Federation in a precarious position. We are deeply troubled that this incident could potentially derail the substantial progress we have made together in building multicultural bridges at UCI.

Elcott goes on to wring his hands about the untoward consequences of this OTI Hamas meeting:

We expect that many in our Jewish community – in Orange County, nationally and around the world – – will be astonished and furious that a Jewish organization would sponsor any program that directly exposed students to a leader of a recognized terrorist organization. Our community’s relations with the Israeli government may be affected, and there may be cause for action by our parent organization, United Jewish Communities.

Towards the end of this letter to Chancellor Drake, the authors  try “to connect the dots” between September, 2009 OTI Hamas meeting on the West Bank with the May, 2009 George Galloway Viva Palestina MSU fundraiser on the  UCI campus that we wrote about in an NER investigative article, “Coming to a Mosque Near You: “Pimping for terrorists”.

The ZOA has reason to believe that this fundraiser may have provided material support to Hamas in July, 2009. While this is an entirely separate issue from the OTI concerns, you should take into account the possibility that both issues involving Hamas could be linked in any media story.

If JFOC President Elcott and Rose Project co-heads Margolis and Weiss wanted to inform Chancellor Drake and preserve the OTI program, why did they write this letter, instead of personally arranging a meeting with Drake, presenting the facts and getting the situation squared away quietly? Because the letter has so many co-authors we suspect that the counsel for JFOC suggested this approach so as to put the onus on the University. The existence of this letter was like a ticking time bomb in the JFOC’s files. They knew it was only a matter of time before someone would discover and disclose it.

Then there was the matter of whether the Rose project provided funds to the OTI.

From the PRA discovery documents secured by Ha’Emet it appears that JFOC donated nearly $60,000 to the OTI over the period from 2009 to the present. Moreover, UCI provided $10,000 in support of the 2010 OTI trip in November, 2009 just weeks after the exchange of the JFOC letter with Chancellor Drake.

As noted in a recent FrontPageMagazine article, “The Patrons of Anti-Israelism”, U.Cal Chancellor Yudoff also provided funds to OTI:

. . . only a matter of weeks after the Hamas meeting was made known to Drake, University of California Chancellor Mark Yudoff donated $5000 to the OTI via the Lumina Foundation for Education. This was followed in May 2010 with a $2000 award to the STUDENT LEADERS OF OTI by Yudoff for the university’s Presidential Leadership Award.

There were allegations of fraud and character assassination perpetrated by the student President of UCI Hillel in a petition supporting OTI, purportedly containing 87 student signatures. It has been reported that there were fewer than six. The petition also attacked a local community activist, Dee Sterling  of the Ha’Emet, The Truth, website, for “disrupting Jewish life on campus.” Sterling had organized two pro-Israel rallies by community members, including non-Jewish Zionists, opposing the MSU AAWs in both 2010 and 2011.

Joe Wolf, a PhD candidate at UCI, reported the Hillel student petition signature fraud in Pajamas media. He commented “Sterling’s reputation was slandered in a letter that mischaracterized her intentions.” These PRA disclosures began the unraveling of a conspiracy by JFOC and the Rose project to cover up the truth about the OTI.

A Balanced OTI Itinerary?

The Jerusalem Post published a recent  article, “A Very Balanced Itinerary” that reflected the views of JFOC leader Elcott, Rose project funder Margolis and OTI co-founder, Yerushalmi, who may be contemplating making aliyah to Israel after graduating from UCI. The article noted:

Jerusalem Post columnist and senior contributing editor Caroline Glick referred to Elcott and the JFOC as being among “anti- Zionist Jews” that are “hijacking communal funds and facilities to finance anti-Israel activities,” due to their support for the OTI.

Elcott answered community criticism of OTI this way:

We could all agree that we don’t love all the speakers, but we have to work with American Jews to develop a greater understanding about how important that diversity of opinions in Israel is. Our job is to work with OTI and open the door to the best possible teachers and people who know the facts on the ground and make sure they’re engaged on the trip.

Margolis of the Rose Project commented;

On college campuses, in Orange County and throughout the country, there are messages about the Israeli Palestinian conflict, including the labeling of Israel as an apartheid state, claims of human rights abuses, the use of the term ‘occupation’… and of course, if our students don’t understand how these messages are being formulated and if they’re not intelligent in terms of hearing them and seeing them firsthand, we think it can be very difficult for them to develop effective dialogue methods for coping with these challenges.

The OTI understands that people are unlikely to change their points of view on these trips, but our experience is that the people who go on these trips pro-Israel come back even more so, and the people who go anti-Israel, come back more moderate and able to engage in a dialogue – and this dialogue never existed before on campus.
[. . .]

There are people who do support BDS or calling Israel an apartheid state giving students the ability to understand how they construct these messages is important for the development of their leadership abilities and their ability to hold a dialogue.

This comment from OTI co-founder Isaac Yerushalmi completes the questionable views of those involved with the UCI program;

OTI alum Isaac Yerushalmi said he had helped found the program with a poly-religious group of students because “there wasn’t really an environment that was conducive to constructive dialogue.”

When asked about criticism of the OTI, Yerushalmi, the former president of the UCI pro-Israel group “Anteaters for Israel,” said that “people who are accusing it of being an anti-Israel organization obviously haven’t looked at the itinerary.

Almost half of the speakers are Zionist or pro-Israel, some are in the middle and are not affiliated with the Palestinian or Israeli side, [working] with non-partisan NGOs or organizations.

It’s a very balanced itinerary, and we’ve always been open to hearing from people who have ideas and additional perspectives.”

One is given the mistaken impression that students who come back from these OTI trips comprehend what is being said by contending groups, both Israeli and Palestinian. The reality is that they frequently come back confused with muddled minds. JFOC leaders and OTI students would have you believe Israelis in the settlement movement like Mayor Ron Nachman of Ariel support the OTI program. An email to Ha’Emet by Avi Wasserman, Director of American Friends Ariel states otherwise. Wasserman notes:

Mayor Nachman has always and will always invite any and all who wish to get a close up on reality to see Ariel for themselves. This is not an endorsement of any given program, rather an invitation to “discover for yourself”.

 Further, as we shall see, the itinerary is hardly balanced.

The Pied Pipers of Muddled Minds

The driving forces at UCI behind the OTI are two international multi-culturalists, Paula Garb and Daniel Wehrenfennig. Garb is an adjunct associate professor, co-director and co-founder of the Citizen–Peace Building Center (Center) at the School of Social Sciences at UCI. She is American born and reared in San Francisco. Her Russian Jewish father came to the US as a refugee during the Civil War between the Bolsheviks and Whites in the late teens of the last century. In the 1960’s she traveled to the Soviet Union met and married a Soviet citizen eventually raising two sons. She received a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from Moscow State University and later completed her doctorate in anthropology from the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Anthropology. She became involved with so-called peacemaking in the internecine war between the breakaway province of Abkhazia and the new Republic of Georgia following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.  She came to UCI in 1991 to eventually establish the Center. In a UCI profile published in 2002, just after 9/11 she noted:

. . . the lessons learned from the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict and similar wars are meaningful as Americans try to come to terms with terrorist and Middle East violence.

We live in an interdependent world and we understand that more than ever before. That requires that we work on all possible fronts to prevent further violence. I hope more ordinary Americans make themselves visible to people in the Islamic world so they have a better chance to understand who we really are, and we get to know them better, too. This sort of citizen diplomacy can make a difference.

Garb was on the first OTI trip to Israel and the West bank in 2008, she noted at the time:

Israel felt like her father’s home, especially during Shabbat dinner despite his never having lived there.

Garb may have misrepresented the facts about whether the OTI students met with ISM representatives while on the West Bank. A Los Angeles Jewish Journal article on the roiling OTI controversy in March 2011 noted:

OTI faculty adviser Paula Garb said that none of the three OTI trips to Israel have included ISM speakers.

“The ISM has not been represented at all, and speakers haven’t brought up ISM,” Garb said. “At the end of each day [of the trip], we have a formal discussion about what we all heard. I don’t remember an occasion when the group got a different message than what we thought was going on.”

Garb must not have read the itineraries that clearly indicated discussions in 2009 with George Rishmawi, listed as a co-founder of the ISM. The same Rishmawi who spoke at an OTI-sponsored event at UCI in November, 2010.

Daniel Wehrenfennig was a co-founder and is current director of the OTI at UCI. According to his biography on Changemakers, he is Director of the Program in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, School of Social Sciences, a colleague of Dr. Garb at the Center for Citizen Peace Building. A native of Germany he received his undergraduate education at the Heinrich-Heine University in Dusseldorf before coming to UCI to earn a PhD in Political Science in 2009. Wehrenfennig had become interested in citizen involvements in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990’s, participated in the Abkhazia – Georgia research project with Dr. Garb, did a film documentary about issues in Malawi and the Northern-Ireland sectarian conflict and peace brokered by former US Senator George Mitchell who was also President Obama's Special Envoy to the Middle East. He did his PhD thesis on the ‘relevance’ of the Northern Ireland peace paradigm to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  

Wehrenfennig had organized the OTI programs, developing speaker contacts and establishing itineraries for the more than two dozen students who annually went on the trips to Israel and the West Bank. His rationale for OTI is captured in a UCI article on the program, “Sowing the Seeds of Peace”:

Olive Tree has opened up a new platform for dialogue. As long as there is conflict in the Middle East, there will be conflict on campus. For such a young organization, the Olive Tree Initiative has done quite a bit to encourage discussion on these issues. . . . We hope to replicate vision in that region so more people can share their narratives and start working on a solution. It would be a waste of time if we did this here and it didn’t have an effect over there.

After the 2010 OTI trip there was a vigorous exchange of views between Wehrenfennig and Tammi Rossman – Benjamin, an adjunct member of the U.C. Santa Cruz faculty that was published by the OC Task Force on Antisemitism. Ms. Rossman-Benjamin had criticized the predominance of anti-Israel, alleged antisemitic Palestinian speakers, who were engaged in development of BDS initiatives: Mazin Qumsiyeh, George Rishmawi and Sam Bahour. She noted among other criticisms the core problems of OTI, furthering the doctrine of moral equivalence of Israeli versus Palestinian “narratives” and exploiting Jewish community funding for this purpose.

That is because I believe these pro-Israel speakers are being unwittingly used to provide a fig leaf of “balance” for the OTI and to give the false impression that pro-Israel and anti-Israel speakers are not only equally represented numerically, but that these two perspectives are somehow objectively equal — simply two different but equally legitimate narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, this is the kind of thinking that underlies your philosophy of “360-degree education.” However, I find such thinking to be both logically and morally flawed.

Do you honestly believe that the argument in favor of BDS is equal and opposite to the argument against it, or that advocating for the elimination of the Jewish state and against the elimination of the Jewish state are equally legitimate positions??

However, by pairing them as you have with legitimate arguments made in defense of the Jewish homeland and the Jewish people; you have given respectability and legitimacy to illegitimate, Antisemitic perspectives.  In my opinion, it is despicable that you have used Jewish communal funds for this morally reprehensible purpose.

You assert that the OTI has “become an important hub for bridge-building, dialogue and cooperation between individual students and student groups,” although you have produced no evidence of this being the case.  

In fact, the campus climate for Jewish students at UCI has not improved since the establishment of the OTI, and in some ways it has significantly deteriorated.

Wehrenfennig in his reply gave some credence to Rossman-Benjamin’s criticism:

I will not discuss or challenge the information Tammi Rossman-Benjamin has provided about 15 of the speakers and organizations we allegedly visited with, some of which we didn’t meet with. Though others probably would challenge her categorization and analysis of these speakers. Let’s assume, however, for argument’s sake that it is true that these 15 organizations and speakers expressed strong anti-Israel tendencies (which they did not in their actual presentations). But they are still only 15 of the over 70 speakers we met with.

It is alleged that Wehrenfennig might have arranged the encounter with Hamas Representative Duwaik. No doubt that inadvertent meeting with Duwaik was an effort to maintain equivalence in presenting contrasting views from a group, Hamas, whose charter seeks the obliteration of the Jewish State of Israel.

Students who went on the same 2009 OTI trip had the chance upon their return to UCI to record their thoughts in a glossy journal replete with photographs and endorsements from the UCI Administration and JFOC. The student journal, Expressions/Impressions was supported by both Ford Foundation and JFOC Rose project funding. Here is a sampling of student comments:

Nahian: True dialogue is difficult with Israelis and Palestinians. As an example when we met with Avi Zimmerman, a representative of the Ariel settlement in the West Bank and Khaled Zighari opposed to the existence of a separate Israeli State in Palestine. These two men resisted dialogue not because of their sharply opposed political positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but because they took every fact they heard and tried to put it into their own narrative.

Aran: East Jerusalem is being strategically overtaken by Jewish Citizens. The West Bank’s mobility is suffocating from every direction and the Gaza strip is being starved of food and supplies. The drastic economic disparity and the Israeli government lack of accountability remind me how much American foreign policy facilities injustice around the world.

Isaac Yerushalmi, co-founder of the OTI, cited Zoughbi Zoughbi director of the Wi’am (Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem) who is a leader in the BDS campaign: “peace will come when the Israelis understand the Palestinian narrative and the Palestinians understand the Israeli narrative.”

For nearly my whole life I have only addressed the Jewish perspective, but traveling to Israel and the territories exposed me to another experience, one that was not necessarily in line with what I believed my whole life. Although these two narratives contradict one another together they create the truth.

Spencer: both sides want peace. They just have trouble communicating. The key to peace is understanding and that comes from dialogue.

Oren Klein:  OTI could be the model for the larger political framework. Peace is a way to respond with optimism and hope in difficult times of despair.  It is a method, not a result of moving forward and working together. Dan Avnon of Hebrew University said that perception is more important than facts – this puts conflict into context. Personal experience is more important than facts. Narratives that explain history and facts are subjective. This was the topic of discussion with Mazin Qumsiyeh. Qumsiyeh said “rhetoric is key to framing the conflict and regardless of the truth behind the terms, what matters is how we invoke a response and convey our message.”

Klein’s response: In essence I learned to respect rhetoric, when dealing with emotion and suffering becomes more important than fact.

These statements are indicative of the lack of any critical thinking.  Instead, it is indicative of the muddled minds sought as a victory by the pied pipers of the OTI, Drs. Garb and Wehrenfennig.  

The Risks of Continuing the OTI Program

The 2011 OTI program is set to roll out this summer in the midst of roiling Palestinian protests raising concerns about possible threats to OTI students from kidnapping or worse. In Mid-April AP and The Jerusalem Post reported the abduction and execution by Al Qaeda Salafist extremists of 36 year old ISM Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.  

Roger Simon on Pajama Media’s blog, The Tattler, noted in a post, “Headless in Gaza”  the consequences of Arrigoni’s death vis a vis the OTI at UCI and other UCAL system colleges and universities.

The ISM, I should remind readers, is the “activist” (what a reactionary term “activist” is – only the MSM could coin it) group that sponsored the trip by UC Irvine students on which they were told to lie about their meeting with a Hamas leader. The politically unconscious souls who arranged that tour should be thankful one of the UCI students wasn’t kidnapped.

This raises the prospect of real danger to students who go on these misguided trips to dialogue with Jihadi enemies of the Jewish State of Israel. A matter of concern. that we had raised in an Iconoclast blog post, “It’s Security Stupid: Stop the Olive Tree Initiative Programs in the U.Cal System, Now! 

Deborah Glazer, Esq. pointed out in a Pajamas media article the risk of the OTI program exposing students to possible harm should something untoward occur during an OTI trip.  

We wonder if UCI had thought through the consequences, and if they have undertaken the requisite risk assessment of these feckless projects. Have they purchased kidnap, ransom, and torture insurance? Have they obtained waivers and indemnification from the participants, and have they received written opinions from credible counsel that the waivers and indemnification will stand up in court? They may want to take a look at their directors and officers liability policies while they’re at it. As a business attorney, I routinely advise clients to review their insurance coverages in light of their actual business operations. That is obviously an elementary and prudent step to take.

And, by the way, meeting with Hamas may have violated U.S. law. Not only that, but having the OTI faculty and advisors instruct the students to conceal the meeting, as disclosed in the October 2009 letter[5], may have violated U.S. and Israeli law, not to mention the university’s own policies of professorial conduct. Plus, it reeks of cover-up by all parties involved, including the Jewish Federation which failed to disclose this meeting with its own disgruntled community. The university, the Jewish Federation, and other supporters of OTI programs should be consulting with their compliance departments as well as with their risk managers.

What the Jewish Community of Orange County could do to bring the JFOC to Account

JFOC leaders persist in white washing a malformed and dangerous OTI program. At the least they could do something constructive. They could sign the Fogel Pledge about denying funds to BDS and student programs like OTI. The Fogel pledge is based on one adopted by the San Francisco Federation after the ruckus caused by the showing of the film Rachel, about ISM martyr Rachel Corrie at the Jewish Film festival in 2009. The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee County in Florida has signed the Fogel Pledge. Other JFeds are reviewing it as well.   

Jewish communities across the US are telling Jewish Federations like JFOC to stop programs like OTI.

On Manhattan’s upper West Side there is the JCCWatch. JCCWatch has reproached the Manhattan JCC about its sponsorship of The Other Israel Film Festival, which included a showing of films by a prominent Palestinian director who came to the Festival to discuss his anti-Israel films.

JCCWatch has also criticized anti-Israel Jewish groups who regularly use space at the Manhattan JCC. On Sunday, March 13th, JCCWatch sponsored a protest at the Manhattan West Side JCC to drive home its concern about Jewish community institutions and NGOs “seeking to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately destroy Israel by the spread of misinformation, by incitement, and by promoting every conceivable boycott imaginable: cultural, economic, union, religious, political, sports, academic.”

In Indianapolis a new group the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana (JAACI) was created to prod that Federation to replace the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and stop anti-Israel J Street activities. Note what motivated community activists in Indianapolis to form the JAACI:

While the JCRC would occasionally turn its attention to combating local or visiting fringe individuals and groups who worked to delegitimize Israel, these were infrequent diversions with dubious results. Oftentimes these efforts would include — bizarrely — requests from JCRC members themselves that any attempts by the JCRC to educate local groups about Israel include pro-Palestinian representatives in order to maintain a semblance of “balance.” Not surprisingly, suggestions that the JCRC should educate its local constituency on the global Islamist movement (with its well-known local affiliate) with its genocidal Antisemitic and anti-Zionist agenda were non-starters. In fact, on numerous occasions the JCRC enthusiastically promoted its participation in interfaith events that included stealth jihadist organizations with well documented Antisemitic track records, such as the Islamic Society of North America.

In Boston, the 70,000 strong Russian Jewish community recently sent a letter published in the Jewish Advocate opposing the JCRC of the Boston Combined Jewish Philanthropies, because they admitted J Street.  

The JFOC and the Rose Project might soon find themselves confronting an aroused Jewish community who may form their own version of JAAC for Orange County as retribution for creating the OTI credibility problem. Perhaps like the Indianapolis JAACI, the Orange County version could also become the ‘go to’ Jewish organization and lobby intensively to close down the OTI. That would mark a fresh start for the Jewish community of Orange County, California, whose leadership suffers from what Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist, historian and author Dr. Kenneth Levin called The Oslo Syndrome: delusions of a People under Siege. The saga continues.

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