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Thus, the outrage over the OTI is twofold: first, the organization’s entanglement with individuals such as George S. Rishmawi and Mazin Qumsiyeh is highly problematic in the sense that, not only does the OTI provide a platform for their vicious misinformation and propaganda, but by simply extending these individuals a seat at the table, their views are elevated to the status of legitimate dialogue. However, George S. Rishmawi is not interested in dialogue. Neither are the numerous other OTI-affiliated individuals who share his cause. They traffic solely in Palestinian propaganda and the incitement of absolutist anti-Israelism. Their entire raison d’être is the delegitimization of Israel and the conversion of supporters to that cause. Secondly, sending young Jewish students into the arms of individuals who are behind organizations like the ISM, who have forsaken dialogue by their commitment to warfare (of one kind or another) against Israel, is simply setting students up for indoctrination of the worst possible kind. It should be no surprise that students come away from the program with a new appreciation of the systemic “racism” of Israel, or that the people who spread this narrative are really “nice” once you get to know them.
It should also be no surprise that where the views of Israel-demonizers have been brought into legitimate debate, the discourse has accordingly become more acerbic and hateful. This, in fact, has proven true at UC Irvine. In 2010, a talk by Michael Oren, ambassador of Israel to the U.S., was momentarily overtaken by a mob of anti-Israel students, who had to be forcibly removed from the event — but not before hurling accusations of Israeli-perpetrated genocide and intimidation the ambassador into silence. The incident made national news and disgraced the university. UC Irvine is part of a growing number of colleges hosting the misinformation campaign known as “Israel Apartheid Week” and whose student governments are considering divestment of university funds from Israel, a process in which external anti-Israeli organizations are often actively involved.
More than mere anti-Israelism, these “Israel Apartheid Weeks” are often harbingers of naked anti-Semitism — sometimes in such an extreme form, it bears comparison to the darkest eras of Jew-hatred in modern history. Gary Fouse, adjunct teacher at the UC Irvine, has observed that anti-Semitic activity is rare at Irvine, but it peaks during the annual Israel Apartheid Week or when anti-Israel speakers are invited to the campus. One speaker such, Imam Muhammad Al-Asi, said to his Irvine audience in 2001:
We have a psychosis in the Jewish community that is unable to co-exist equally and brotherly with other human beings. You can take a Jew out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the Jew.
Jews have been harassed and, in at least one instance, a classically anti-Semitic caricature of Ariel Sharon was affixed to a mock rendition of Israel’s Gaza defense barrier, Fouse reported.
At another UC school, the University of California – San Diego, conservative author and activist David Horowitz delivered a lecture as an answer to the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) 2010 Israel Apartheid Week. During an exchange with an MSA member after the talk, Horowitz asked the student if she was “for or against” a statement from the leader of Hezbollah professing that he wanted all the Jews to gather in Israel so he didn’t have to hunt them down globally. The student said she was “for it.” The incident was thankfully captured on film and was picked up by the media, giving the world a glimpse of the horror that is infecting our universities. But the problem only continues to grow.
Credibility of anti-Israeli views is especially reinforced when they are expressed under the auspices of respected organizations like the Jewish Federation and Hillel. The Jewish Federation at Orange County has dismissed this criticism by saying that it provides students with “nominal” funding to participate in OTI trips through its Rose Program and that it is important for Jewish students to have a presence in the program. Numerous citizens, religious leaders, and respected activists, however, are resolute in their outrage over the association. Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid, PhD, CEO and education director of StandWithUs, respectively, have spoken out about the OTI and its involvement at UC Irvine. To highlight the severity of the concern, Rothstein also attested to witnessing George S. Rishmawi tell an audience that the Israelis had developed a gas that slowed Palestinians down so that they could be shot in the back. There was, sadly, no evidence of what the nature of the gas was, he admitted, because the clever Israelis pick up the canisters before anyone can see them.
The request of the aggrieved is a simple one: no one is disputing the right of individuals like Rishmawi to speak at universities or the right of Jewish students to attend his talks or even adopt his deeply misguided views if they like. Neither is there a desire to see funding stripped from Hillel of UC Irvine or the OC Jewish Federation. The issue that has enraged so many, activists say, is that Jewish philanthropic money is being used to either host these individuals or send young Jewish students into what are quite literally anti-Israel indoctrination retreats abroad.
The justification, supporters say, is ever-fashionable “dialogue.” But what value is there in dialogue with terrorist co-conspirators? Why waste philanthropic resources for trips to the West Bank when students are already exposed to the worst aspects of the dialogue in their own universities? At the very least, we should expect alleged bridge-building programs to produce actual results in terms of peace and understanding — but it has ushered in only more anti-Semitism, more hatred, more legitimacy for the killing of Jews. Renowned world leader Rabbi Aba Dunner, who represents all orthodox rabbis of the U.K. and Europe as executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, deftly highlighted this absurdity in a recent letter to the OC Jewish Federation CEO, Shalom Elcott. The trend of exposing “youth to all that is available is valid up to a point. But not when it endangers the continuity of the Jewish people.”
Unfortunately, the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s response has so far been unsatisfactory to OTI objectors. The request of concerned parties has consistently been that the Jewish Federation of Orange County disassociate from the OTI, particularly in terms of any funding for student participation in OTI programming, yet there is no evidence that this has been undertaken. Communities leaders have expressed frustration that the federation will not even investigate the extent of the group’s ulterior motives and its negative impact on Jewish students. This is in stark contrast to Israeli government’s recent decision to probe domestic NGOs, which, although entitled to free expression, may owe much of their ability to wage political warfare against Israel to the financial beneficence of foreign government, activists, and financiers. This engenders the obvious question: if the Israel government is concerned enough to investigate these groups, some of which (Breaking the Silence and Ir Amim) have clear association with the OTI, why won’t the Jewish Federation of Orange County do the same?
A reasonable enough resolution has been raised by the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, which has formally asked the Orange County Jewish Federation to adopt the Jewish Community of San Francisco’s guidelines for funding. Among other things, the guidelines prohibit funding for any activities that “advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the [BDS] movement, in whole or in part.” Whether such a measure or other reconciliatory actions will be undertaken by the federation is sadly unclear. The need for such action, however, is not.
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Ryan Mauro contributed to this report.
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