Dialogue and Deceit

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The psychological war against Israel is silently securing a foothold in the U.S. before our very eyes.  The latest example is a controversial student program known as the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), which has bamboozled many peace-minded individuals, even those in the usually vigilant Jewish community. While masquerading as a “bridge-building” enterprise, the OTI’s history and ongoing activities show it to be closely affiliated with virulently anti-Israel activists, who openly condone violence and are devoted to the delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish State. Controversy has mounted over the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s decision to give funding for Jewish students to participate in OTI programming, which, all reports suggest, it has no intention of discontinuing. This leaves many to worry about the inroads radical front groups have made into the mainstream, and the likelihood that such acceptance will spread.

Formed in 2007, the OTI claims to promote peace and a fair understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by providing a platform where both Israelis and Palestinians can engage in dialogue. It preforms information-sharing and awareness activities, often in the form of panel discussions and speaking events. It also organizes trips for students to visit Israel and disputed territories, one of its major “bridge-building” functions. Yet, many OTI speakers and organizers involved in the Israel trips show that the group’s interest in fairness and balance is extremely disingenuous.

In a December 2010 letter to the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Orange County and the Hillel Foundation, Dr. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the University of California – Santa Cruz provided an assessment of groups and speakers involved in the OTI’s student trips. Of these parties, Dr. Rossman-Benjamin explained, “an overwhelming majority have expressed an overt animus towards the Jewish state.” According to Dr. Rossman-Benjamin, over a third of the speakers representing the Palestinian side promote boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) strategies against Israel, while others call for Israel’s elimination or are allied with violent, anti-Semitic terrorist groups.

The preponderance of BDS supporters involved with the OTI should not be overlooked. Central to BDS campaigns is the assumption that the country being inveighed against, in this case Israel, is so fundamentally oppressive toward marginalized groups, that the ordinary political process is ineffective. This assumption serves to delegitimize the authority of the oppressive state (think disobeying an “unjust” law) and to justify extreme measures taken by the oppressed group. For instance, many of the advocates of BDS strategies against Israel liken the Jewish State to apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany, a completely false imputation that recklessly demonizes the county. One such advocate and OTI speaker is Diana Buttu, a Canadian-Palestinian lawyer and former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 2008, following the outbreak of war in the Gaza Strip (initiated by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel) Buttu claimed in a Fox News interview that Israel used the inauguration of President Barack Obama as an opportunity to “go into the Gaza Strip and kill Palestinians.” When the interviewer, Greg Jarrett, asked Buttu if the terrorist group Hamas shared any culpability in the war’s bloodshed, she responded, “Absolutely not. You are blaming the victim.” She then went on to accuse Israel of “war crimes,” for which it should be prosecuted.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the OTI’s association with Palestinian extremism. Irvine community member Dee Sterling became embroiled in the situation when she discovered that the OTI had sponsored George S. Rishmawi to speak at the University of California – Irvine in November 2010 and that the event had been promoted by the Jewish student president of the university’s Hillel group. Rishmawi has been very active in the OTI and is the cofounder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a very controversial and notoriously anti-Israel organization. It has long been known that the ISM approves of violence against Israel and cooperates with anti-Semitic terrorist organizations. Two of its other cofounders, Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, told the Palestinian Chronicle in 2002, “We accept that Palestinians have a right to resist with arms” and that resistance “must take on a variety of characteristics—both non-violent and violent.” The ISM’s own website states, “We recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggles.” The ISM has also admitted that it cooperates with terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as affirmed by the Washington Post in 2006.

Lee Kaplan, undercover investigative journalist with expertise in the ISM, says that the group was founded under the guidance of a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Kaplan has reported much of his research to the Israeli government, which has used the information to help develop ways of counteracting the ISM’s support of terrorism. Kaplan was also appalled to discover Rishmawi’s involvement in the OTI and his presence at UC Irvine. He, too, has documented Rishmawi’s extensive involvement with organizations, such as Al-Awda, which are animated by a desire to dismantle the Jewish State through violence and to demonize it into de-legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. In essence, as Kaplan aptly described, groups like Rishmawi’s ISM are not at all interested in dialogue, but in conducting “economic and propaganda warfare” against Israel. Likewise, BDS strategies, which the OTI has a pronounced association with, is no less a form of economic warfare.

The list of OTI’s despicable speakers and other associations extend well beyond Rishmawi. Dr. Rossman-Benjamin’s original letter to the Jewish Federation of Orange County lists a host of others — and these are only from the OTI’s trip to Israel in 2010. Sam Bahour, a well-known Palestinian activist, has accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and supports BDS; the group Breaking the Silence promotes the libelous Israeli “war crimes” meme and has been criticized by the Israeli police for “antagoniz[ing]…settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them.”  Mazin Qumsiyeh, co-founder of Al-Awda (a Palestinian group that opposes Israel’s existence and supports the covert dismantling strategy known as the Palestinian “right of return”) and an early advocate of the BDS movement, is known for his interchangeable use of “Israel” with “apartheid South Africa” and “Nazi Germany.” He also promotes the well-worn anti-Semitic canard that “Zionists” control American foreign policy and he rejects the possibility of a two-state solution — extreme even in terms of extremists.

It is not uncommon for impressionable students who participate in OTI’s Israel trips to come back harboring radically negative views about the country because of the misinformation they have been exposed to. According to Dr. Rossman-Benjamin, after visiting a Palestinian refugee camp, one such student blogged: “I will never understand how Israel offers Jews from the diaspora a right of return from 4,000 years ago, and denies Palestinians the right of return from 60 years ago. The math feels racist.”  Dee Sterling, who has set up the website www.ha-emet.com on the OTI controversy and has helped craft a petition demanding that the Jewish Federation stop supporting the OTI, has had similar experiences. One student related to Dee that he thought Mazin Qumsiyeh was a nice person and claimed Ms. Sterling would like Qumsiyeh if she knew him. Hearing this disturbed Dee a great deal, knowing the full extent of Qumsiyeh’s views; clearly something the student was not aware of.

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  • USMCSniper

    Why did you delete my comment?

  • USMCSniper

    It is our killer instincts which must be harnessed if we expect to survive in a war with the Jihadists. Our weapons are only tools. It is a hard heart that kills. If our killer instincts are not clean and strong we will hesitate at the moment of truth. We will not kill. We will become dead Americans. And then you will be in a world of trouble. Because there are a billion Muslims and on a few of us who will fight! Do you understand?

    • Andres de Alamaya

      Right on!!!!!

  • Snarky

    How does one research an organization like OTI to learn its sources of funding and actual purpose?

  • Raymond in DC

    It's been suggested that a liberal is one who will take the other's side in an argument. That too often seems to apply to the very liberal Jewish organizations in the US.

    A few years ago it was the SF Jewish Film Festival that featured a film about Rachel Corrie (with the ISM-supporting martyr's mother in attendance). In Washington, DC we had the JCC putting on the anti-Semitic play "Seven Jewish Children" and, more recently, the pro-Palestinian play "Return to Haifa".

    Then, of course, we have the campus Hillels that, when they're not hosting groups like Breaking the Silence and J Street, are dialoging with groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Ironic that they have forgotten Rabbi Hillel's "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"

    • Steve

      Nobody. It will be complete silence…beleive me…it was silence then, it is silence now, it WILL be silence tomorrow…

  • Andres de Alamaya

    While Muslims produce suicide bombers, the Jewish left produces suicide voters and the suicidal blind.

    • Steve

      Yes!!

  • muchiboy

    "delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish State."

    As was shown for Apartheid South Africa and racial Rhodesia there can be legitimate criticism and questioning of the core values and very (existential) existence of such states as they exist.Israel is no exception.If it can be shown that the core values of the Zionist state are inhumane,and the impact on its people,even,and especially, those wrongfully denied their homeland and birthright,anathema to western and humanitarian values,then a similar approach to restructuring this state is both legitimate and morally imperative.That is not to say a restructured Israel cannot serve as a homeland for Jews,but needs to include the Palestinians as equal partners in every sense.Those who cannot live in such a state,Palestinian or Israeli,should settle elsewhere.There are both risks and benefits for all,and much to gain and lose.muchiboy

  • MixMChess

    "If it can be shown that the core values of the Zionist state are inhumane,and the impact on its people,even,and especially, those wrongfully denied their homeland and birthright,anathema to western and humanitarian values,then a similar approach to restructuring this state is both legitimate and morally imperative."

    Very clever, Ronald Grant (aka Naziboy Ontario Corrections Officer), create your own test to apply double standards to Israel. Unfortunately (or fortunately) you are not clever enough to defame Israel even with a self-created standards!

    By your own admission, if a nation has Western and Humanitarian values than it is both legitimate and moral. Israel is without question a legitimate and moral nation, especially when applying your self-created Western and Humanitarian values test… Lets take a closer look shall we?

    Israel does not discriminate against anyone. Israel is an secular democracy is the only country in the Middle East that provides civil rights, human rights and equal rights to all of its citizens regardless of race, religion or sexuality. This includes Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens which make up roughly 20% of the population. Recall, Israel provides more rights to its Arab citizens than most European nations and every single Arab/Islamic country in the world.

    Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that hosts several gay pride parades throughout the year (in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv). In fact, Jerusalem had a gay mayor! Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that guarantees religious freedom and protects its religious minorities (such as Bahai, Sufi Muslims, Christians etc.).

    Lest we forget that Israel provides humanitarian aid to its neighbors and the world at large. Israel provided over 1 million tons in aid to the Gazans in 2009 alone! Israel also provided the economic aid and security necessary to allow the W. Bank to experience a economic and financial boom in 2008-2009 that continues to this day! But Israel doesn't limit its aid to just the Palestinians. Israel provided humanitarian aid to countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, Eritrea, Sudan and even Turkey (Earthquake relief in the late 90's).

    In fact, Israel outranks most Western countries when it comes to Western and Humanitarian values. For instance, Britain still uses forms of torture that were permanently banned in Israel over a decade ago. Israel gives full rights to its Arab citizens, whereas countries like France refuse to do the same.

    "That is not to say a restructured Israel cannot serve as a homeland for Jews,but needs to include the Palestinians as equal partners in every sense."

    Israel already treats the Arabs as full and equal citizens under the law. Israel has constantly treated the Palestinians as equals in peace negotiations. Why is it that the Palestinians refuse to accept Jews as equal partners in peace or even as equal human beings? When will the Palestinians stop being xenophobic and renounce their intention of genocide of the Jews?

  • 1000roses

    All who wish to reproduce my comment on mailing lists, repost on other blogs, or send to congress, senators and state representatives, or use for lobbying are welcome to do so. Let justice be served:

    The only solution for a lasting peace is absolute democratic process (that we Americans cherish so passionately) for the entire territory in question, otherwise, the peace will not last. All people who lived there without regard to religion, race, etc. should vote on how they would like their one country to be run. I favor one state solution because two states would only attempt to “legalize” Zionist occupation that will be remembered in history until it is corrected by future large scale conflicts, so no lasting peace will result.

    The only issue with the fair democratic process is what to do with all manipulated Jewish people who the Zionist regime imported for decades to increase the Jewish population from around 100,000 to over 5 Million since the start of the occupation. This is obviously an attempt to unjustly manipulate any future democratic process by forcefully increasing the occupier’s population at the expense of others. Any compromise other than the absolute fair democratic process with no manipulated population will be temporary with terrible conflicts looming to correct it in the future.

    The truth is that the Zionist regime will not accept any democratic process even if the manipulated Jewish population is included because it cannot exist as a democratic country as Zionists will be outvoted by all others who live there (Zionists were in an infinite minority before the occupation). The Zionist regime can only temporarily exist through the force of its arms as a one people country where only select ones can vote and where different laws apply to different people.

    The world must stand up against the Zionist regime by cutting all diplomatic and economic relations with it. Many countries have already stopped all relations with the Zionist regime and others are in the process of doing the same. We Americans need to completely distance ourselves from this oppressive regime through urging our state representatives and senators to do what the rest of the world is doing

  • GreySky

    If it is ever reached, the current and any other artificial “peace agreement” will be illegitimate before it is ever signed because (1) all people living in Palestine regardless of religion, race, origin, etc. (hereinafter “All People of Palestine”) were never given a choice on how they want their land to be governed, and (2) all contracts signed under duress are null and void.
    The biggest problem in Palestine is that the Zionist regime never offered a choice to All People of Palestine on how they want to govern their land because the Zionist regime cannot exist as a democratic entity. If there was ever any democratic process in Palestine, Zionists would have been outvoted and the Zionist regime would have never existed. That is why the Zionist regime is the occupier because it does not offer choice (i.e. democracy), but instead imposes its regime (i.e. occupies). Imagine if Russians would simply occupy a town in the U.S. where they are in significant numbers and attempt to create a Russian state there without giving the rest of the Americans living there a choice. Imagine then if they would try to institute a “peace agreement” that would attempt to legitimize their occupation. The “peace agreement” would logically and legally be illegitimate because the Americans were not given a choice.

    Under all countries’ laws, any contract is null and void if it is signed under duress. The current Palestine “peace agreement” process reminds me of The Godfather movie where the mafia boss (i.e. the Zionist regime) made a guy “an offer he could not refuse” by placing a gun (i.e. Zionist conventional and nuclear arsenal) to his head and making him sign the contract. Like the mafia boss’ offer, any “peace agreement” other than the choice for All People of Palestine is a crime, and the contract is legally null and void.

    The bottom line is that All People of Palestine never wanted to divide their land into artificial two states the way the occupation and this “peace agreement” attempt to divide it. From the beginning of the Zionist regime to its unavoidable end, All People of Palestine and the region never wanted the Zionist regime and they do not want it even more after all the atrocities the Zionist regime committed. I just cannot believe how the Zionist regime can be so ignorant to think that this or any other “peace agreement” that does not allow people to choose how they want to be governed will last and ensure its people’s survival. The Zionist regime fails to realize that no matter if it succeeds in muscling this “peace agreement” by unspeakable historic coercion tens of millions of moral people around the world will oppose it until it is corrected, and until justice and free choice prevail. Also, ever increasing number of Jewish people are realizing that Zionism is becoming a destructive force for them and are leading the global resistance to it

  • Justice4all

    Why would Zionists want to discuss any peace agreement with the Palestinians when they have overwhelming military supremacy, seemingly ultimate power, and apparently bright future? Because the future is completely opposite and Zionists know it.

    1. All military powers in history with no exception ultimately came crashing down. Someone stronger always comes, and it does not take a rocket scientist to see (just look around you) this coming and not ending well for the current military power in Palestine. Forward-seeing Jewish people under the Zionist regime already started packing up and leaving for Australia, South America, and the U.S. before this occurs.

    2. It is obvious that the Zionist regime survives mainly because of its external allies who so far provided it with money, weapons, political support, access to markets, etc. After countless U.N. human rights violations, killing of its allies’ citizens (search on youtube for American “Rachel Corrie” video of Zionist bulldozer crushing her to death), forging of its allies’ passports in acts of murder, etc. its former allies are increasingly turning against the Zionist regime. Who would want to be remembered in history as an accomplice in international murders and especially of their own citizens.

    3. Not only that the list of remaining supporters is growing thinner, but an international coalition is formed and growing larger of countries that are cutting all economic and diplomatic relations with the Zionist regime.

    4. No country ever survived a complete isolation from its neighbors. No person of the area currently under Zionist occupation can obtain any type of visa from any of the surrounding countries for any reason – a complete land lock.

    5. Well attended speeches take place almost weekly at colleges and universities across the U.S. and the world condemning the Zionist regime, their remaining supporters, and companies that do any business there. These speeches are often lead by moral Jewish people, church leaders, business people, etc., in addition to traditional peace activists.

    6. The West where most of the traditional supporters of the Zionist regime are located is loosing global influence. China, the Middle East, South East Asia, Russia, South America, etc. are emerging as new pockets of economic and political power where the Zionist regime has angered most of the population.

    7. Not only that the West is declining, but Zionists are loosing political control in the declining West. Diversity is bringing minority groups into politics, groups that are actively opposing the Zionist regime.
    In conclusion, the Zionist regime is negotiating now because its future is changing for much worse. It knows that it temporarily exists now only through the force of its arms and this will be short-lived. It knows that it is at its peak and a downturn has come. It is a mistake to negotiate with the Zionist regime at the present time. But, if you have to negotiate, do not accept anything less than a single region in question (single state) where all who live there are equal. Any other “solution” would just reward the Zionist regime at the time of its demise. If the Zionist regime wants true piece, let’s not make it dependent on Zionist political and land acquisition goals, but on democratic vote for all who live there and making everyone equal (something we Americans cherish so passionately).

    All who wish to reproduce my comment on mailing lists, repost on other blogs, or send to politicians and public officials are welcome to do so. Let justice be served!