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To date, three groups of students from UCI (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other) have traveled to Israel and the West Bank to meet with both sides of the conflict. However, evidence has shown over the course of the last three years that this venture is heavily weighted with radical anti-Israelism and Palestinian whitewashing. This includes extensive, ongoing involvement with two co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), another group that participated in Welcome to Palestine and which also happens to endorse Palestinian terrorism. These two particular co-founders, George S. Rishmawi and George N. Rishmawi, have served as OTI speakers and guides for at least the last three years. According to one OTI participant’s account, George S. Rishmawi, promotes violence.
The ISM was also the signatory of a Welcome to Palestine appeal for participation published on one of the campaign’s affiliated sites. The statement itself scarcely conceals its contempt for Israel’s right to exist. It asserts that Israeli “colonial authorities are implementing their racist apartheid policies throughout historic palestine” and that “ethnic cleansing and killing/injuring civilians are just some of the many violations of basic human rights.” The statement then declared that the campaign’s purpose was to challenge the Israeli “siege of the whole of palestine.”
Perhaps the most egregious misstep made by the OTI occurred in September 2009, when students met with Aziz Duwaik, one of the most prominent leaders of Hamas, just months after he was released from Israeli custody. The OTI also attempted to coverup the meeting, which it did successfully until it was exposed in early 2011.
Nevertheless, the OTI remains sponsored by UC Irvine and, indeed, is a favored project of University of California President Mark Yudof. Most shockingly, the program’s self-professed “largest funder” is the Orange County Jewish Federation (OCJF), which has provided the OTI with tens of thousands of dollars through its Rose Project. In the face of enormous criticism, the OCJF refuses to withdraw support for the OTI. This has prompted a community response under the aegis of Ha’Emet (“the truth”) to urge other Jewish federations to pledge to disassociate from all delegitimization activity, including BDS, or the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.
With another trip being organized for September into this increasingly volatile region, who knows what the next OTI delegation will encounter. It is doubly concerning that the very individuals involved in the OTI are responsible for fomenting this volatility through their hate campaigns. As for those recalcitrantly sponsoring the OTI, it is high time they examine where their sentiments lie. The OTI is accomplishing nothing more than enabling and giving credibility to the Mazin Qumsiyehs of the world.
Gary Fouse, an adjunct teacher at UC-Irvine Ext. and retiree from the Drug Enforcement Administration, contributed to this report.
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