The ‘Flytilla': Brought to You by Friends of the Olive Tree Initiative

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Evidence continues to mount over the nefarious nature of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a controversial student program that originated at the University of California, Irvine and is rapidly spreading to other campuses. Radical anti-Israel activists with long-standing involvement in the program have been identified as lead organizers of what has been dubbed the “flytilla,” a recent stunt aimed at putting the Israel delegitimization campaign back in the headlines. Sending young college students to meet with such Israel-hating extremists — including a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas — is what the OTI’s powerful patrons consider “holistic” education.

Of the numerous parties involved in the “flytilla,” more technically known as the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, two of them are associated with the OTI. The campaign’s purported objective was to inundate the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv with foreign activists ultimately destined for a week-long agitation event in Palestinian territory. The spectacle was also intended to coincide with the unsuccessful effort to sail a multi-national flotilla to the Gaza Strip. However, Israel refused entry to hundreds of known flytilla activists, achieving cooperation from airport personnel in other countries, who disallowed identified activists from boarding flights to Israel. Regardless, a deluge of activists were able to travel to Tel Aviv, some of whom were permitted entry into Israel upon arrival, although many were detained or sent back.

One of the key campaign organizers was the radical anti-Israel activist Mazin Qumsiyeh. Qumsiyeh, a PhD who previously taught at Yale, has served for the past three years as a speaker for the OTI. He travels the globe giving presentations against Israel, and commonly accuses the country’s government of being a Nazi regime, which previously collaborated with the Third Reich and killed twice as many Palestinians as are estimated to have died in the Holocaust. Nonetheless, he is a highly-esteemed figure among OTI participants.

Qumsiyeh’s involvement is perhaps best chronicled by the numerous mass emails he has sent out to his followers regarding the Welcome to Palestine campaign. For instance, on June 12, in reference to Welcome to Palestine, Qumsiyeh assured his acolytes in the “Palestinian American Congress” that he was “back in Palestine and busily working with dozens of volunteers (but we need more) on the July and other actions to challenge the system of [Israeli] apartheid.” Illustrative of his typical dementia, Qumsiyeh also told followers that a young Jewish American was “attacked by apartheid state mercenaries” for speaking out, presumably against Israel.  Qumsiyeh, it should be pointed out, works tirelessly to popularize the defamatory notion that Israel, the only non-apartheid, democratic country in the Middle East, is an “apartheid state.”

In a July 7th email, while again extolling the Welcome to Palestine campaign, Qumsiyeh promised that afterward, “We will plan bigger and more dramatic events in the months to come.” And in response to Israel’s largely successful attempt to thwart Welcome to Palestine, Qumsiyeh told followers that “Israeli policies towards anything or anyone relating to ‘Palestinians’” are “dictatorial, racist, and criminal and not complying with basic elements of democracy or human rights.” He also accused Israel of attempting to “isolate and imprison Palestinians.”

These diatribes are typical of Mazin Qumsiyeh. He is not neutral, nor does he pretend to be. He is a man working night and day to bring about an end to Israel through a worldwide public relations program to paint Israel as a racist, militant, and colonialist state. That mission is clearly being fulfilled through his work with the OTI. For example, in a 2009 OTI program booklet titled “Expressions/Impressions,” one student recorded the valuable message he learned from Qumsiyeh (emphasis added):

Rhetoric, [Qumsiyeh] explains, 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.

What is meant by “rhetoric,” of course, is maliciously contrived, thoroughly invented demonizing propaganda, the truth behind which this particular student observer was not interested in ascertaining. Instead, the student wrote, he learned to “respect that rhetoric” and that “emotions and suffering becomes more important than fact[.]”

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  • sflbib

    So, he taught at Yale, did he? Undoubtedly the product of diversity uber alles.
    Read "Heil, Professor" [] that ideas have consequences and that intellectuals who advocate despotic philosophies should be "strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest" and "be left hanging from the lampposts for as long as was compatible with hygiene."

  • guest

    What does this have to do with OTI? As far as I can tell, its only that one of the speakers they heard from was part of the flytilla? I also heard they meet with mark regev….does that make them netanyahu's babies? I don't undertstand what the flytilla has to do with OTI.

  • gary fouse


    There are at least 4 persons involved with the Flytilla who are also involved with the OTI

    Mazin Qumsiyeh
    George N Rishmawi
    George S Rishmawi
    Sam Bahour

    They are all Palestinian activists on the West Bank.

    Gary Fouse

    • guest

      gary- are they members of the group in Irvine? or are they just speakers?

  • gary fouse

    They are contact points for OTI groups in the West Bank. They speak to the groups and give them tours. George S Rishmawi spoke to the OTI at UC-Irvine last November. (I was there.)

    George S Rishmawi and Qumsiyeh travel often to the US and Europe to give speeches against israel. Bahour is actually a US-born Palestinian American from Ohio.