About the Olive Tree Initiative
There has been significant controversy in recent months surrounding the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI). Supporters of the OTI have attempted to make this a complicated, emotional, and a personal issue. Let’s take all that out of it and distill this down to the basic facts:
1) The Olive Tree Initiative sends university students on annual trips to Israel and the West Bank
2) On the West Bank the students meet with individuals that are founders and members of groups that are openly hostile to Israel and delegitimize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They support BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) of Israel, and in some cases are closely aligned with terrorist groups, such as Hamas, PFLP and Islamic Jihad. All of this is well-documented. Details can be found on the website: www.ha-emet.com, where one can read about Mazim Qumsiyeh, founder of Al Awda, and linked to Hamas and Hizbollah. OTI students also met with George S. Rishmawi, co-founder of the Hamas-supporting International Solidarity Movement, who has made the absurd and dangerous claim that: “Israelis have developed a gas that slows down Palestinians, so that Israelis can shoot them in the back…”. Another is PLO attorney, Diana Buttu, who has make the ridiculous claim that the Qassam rockets fired on Sderot by Hamas from Gaza never have warheads on them and cannot therefore kill people. These are but a few of the individuals that the students on the OTI trip have the “privilege” of hearing.
3) The OTI trips are sponsored by the Rose Project under the direction of the Jewish Federation. The Federation has expressed support for the OTI on its website: http://www.jewishorangecounty.org. The Federation continues to provide financial support for the OTI trips.
There are some who feel that OTI is a positive experience for the students and contributes to dialogue and combating anti-Semitism. The fact is that anti-Semitism on the UCI campus has gotten much worse since the time of the first OTI trip. A letter to the UCI chancellor signed by over 60 faculty members this past June is but one example of the worsening conditions on the campus https://octaskforce.wordpress.com/2010/05/10/some-community-members-students-and-faculty-indeed-feel-intimidated-and-at-times-even-unsafe/. While one cannot of course attribute this directly to the OTI trips, it should be obvious to any observer that OTI has not resulted in anything positive on the campuses.
One cannot quantitatively measure the damage that a program such as OTI can do. The anti-Israel speakers that the students meet with are very clever. They convince the students that they are for peace and a 2-state solution, and then burrow underground to work feverishly seeking the demise of the Jewish state by any means possible. Arguing that the students enjoy the trips is irrelevant, when the evidence is prima facie of its anti-Israel emphasis. There are many pro-Israel programs that the Federation supports, and others that could use their support. Also, if one wants to hear the anti-Israel perspective, there are numerous speakers provided by the Muslim Student Union at UCI and almost any other college campus in America.
If individuals choose to support the OTI or pay for their kids to go on OTI trips, that is their prerogative. The question remains, though, why would Jewish organizations support such a controversial program? There has been a rising tide of community protest against the OTI, and this has been supported by national Jewish organizations. It is now time for our local leadership to do the right thing and sever ties with the OTI. There is precedence for this: the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties has created guidelines that restrict funding groups that work to undermine Israel.