A Chapter That Should Be Expelled from Hillel

Jewish leadership in Irvine helps a terrorist front group infiltrate the campus.

It is an open secret that university Hillel chapters often find themselves on the side of campus constituencies that support the agenda of Israel’s most vicious enemies. One particularly appalling example of this alliance comes to us from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), whose Hillel chapter has formed an incestuous association with the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a controversial student program that emulates the model of the terrorist front group, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and indeed, even works with ISM leadership. In its most scandalous episode yet, the OTI has been exposed for arranging a meeting between students and a prominent leader of the genocidal terrorist organization Hamas. UCI Hillel’s on-going alliance with such an organization and its record of deceit demand that drastic measures be taken.

Controversy with UCI Hillel erupted in November 2010 when the organization’s president promoted a speaking event featuring a Palestinian activist named George Rishmawi. The event was arranged under the auspices of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), but was promoted over Facebook by Hillel leadership. Importantly, the original Facebook flier described Rishmawi as the “cofounder [of] the International Solidarity Movement” (ISM) and the “head of [the] Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies.” This is crucial to note, as the significance of Rishmawi’s affiliation with the ISM cannot be overstated. The ISM is a viciously anti-Israel organization that endorses Palestinian terrorism and is infamous for its abetment of terrorist operations in Israel through its facade of “nonviolent” activism. The group specializes in propagandizing Westerners, whom it uses as human shields to provide cover for terrorists.

Needless to say, when the Orange County Jewish community was alerted to the event, many were outraged. The Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism publicized the event on its website, but shortly thereafter, the event information, including biographical information on Rishmawi, had changed. Rishmawi was described as the “Coordinator for Siraj, Center For Holy Land Studies” and a “former member of the International Solidarity Movement” (emphasis added). Hillel UCI President Matan Lurey explained on the event’s page that there are, in fact, two George Rishmawis, and that there had been confusion about which one had been invited by OTI. Defenders of the talk claimed that it was George S. Rishmawi who was invited to speak, not George N. Rishmawi, a relative and colleague of the former, and notorious cofounder of the ISM.

Unfortunately, the controversy only escalated from there, much of which, is chronicled at www.ha-Emet.com (Hebrew for “the truth”), a community response to events exposed in November. Numerous members of the Jewish community, led by Dee Sterling, were disturbed by the Rishmawi talk and dispatched a letter to Jordan Fruchtman, executive director of Orange County Hillel (which oversees the UCI Hillel). The letter was also sent to Shalom Elcott of the Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC) and Jay Feldman, coordinator of the JFOC’s Rose Project, which funds the OTI. More broadly, the letter objected to Hillel and the federation’s support for the OTI, which was being increasingly exposed for the radically anti-Israel student indoctrination program that it is. The letter read, in part:

“It is particularly disturbing that the UCI Hillel, under the guidance of Hillel Director Jordan Fruchtman has also contributed to supporting the OTI. A former Hillel Israel Fellow participated in an OTI trip and the current student leader of Hillel is actively promoting the event this coming Monday with George Rishmawi....We also ask Jordan Fruchtman how Hillel which, '...provides opportunities for Jewish students to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity...’ can reconcile this noble work with the history and actions of the ISM.”

The response from the recipients of this letter, however, was truly disgraceful. With respect to Fruchtman in particular, rather than accept responsibility for the egregious lack of judgement, Fruchtman disseminated a letter to the Orange County Jewish community personally attacking Sterling, claiming that she was maliciously spreading untruths and was mistaken about which Rishmawi was speaking. “Hillel does not support George N. Rishmawi or ISM, the organization with which he is affiliated,” Fruchtman said. “As a matter of principle, the values of ISM are in direct conflict with Hillel’s values and Hillel’s stance on Israel...[T]he person that has been invited by the Olive Tree Initiative to speak at UCI on November 22, 2010, is a different George Rishmawi, whose full name is George S. Rishmawi[.]” Fruchtman advised others to ignore Sterling’s “reprehensible” statement.

Beyond the extreme lack of decorum in terms of the letter’s personal attack against an active, upstanding member of the Irvine Jewish community (for the crime of voicing her objections to a malicious anti-Israel activist being brought on campus), the letter sent by Fruchtman was seriously factually challenged. First, it is incontrovertible that an event featuring the “cofounder of the ISM” had been promoted by Hillel leadership. In fact, the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles issued a similar objection to the JFOC based on the same information. The alleged confusion was only “clarified” when public criticism was made of Hillel publicizing the event in the first place.

Secondly, George S. Rishmawi (the “good one”) also has a close relationship with the ISM. His biography at the Siraj Center also describes him as the “cofounder” of the ISM. Moreover, although Fruchtman in his letter claimed that George S. “was no longer involved” with the group, it is not as if organizations like the ISM offer membership cards or any other formal recognition of association. What it means to say that one has “cut ties” or dropped affiliation with the group is extremely ambiguous and practically impossible to verify.

But in fact, such verification is not even necessary. OTI itineraries from 2008-2010 identify two George Rishmawis giving talks and tours to students on OTI trips to Israel and the disputed territories (including Hillel members). These two individuals are clearly differentiated on the 2008, 2009, and 2010 itineraries as “George S. Rishmawi (Siraj Center)” and “George Rishmawi (cofounder ISM).” Clearly, both Rishmawis are involved in the program, unless, for some strange reason, George S. Rishmawi -- the “good” ISM cofounder according to UCI Hillel -- was identified two different ways on the same itinerary.

Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that investigating the controversy did not at the very least bring to the attention of OC Hillel leadership (Fruchtman among them) the fact that the campus chapter was committing an egregious error by associating with the event as initially publicized. Instead of accepting an iota of responsibility for this disgrace, offering an apology, or ensuring that misled students were corrected for wrongfully endorsing the event, Fruchtman was moved only to personally discredit the messenger.

The Tale of Two Rishmawis remains unresolved in Orange County, California. The OC Hillel president has not issued a public apology for his organization’s proven association with a group infiltrated by high-ranking ISM activists (again, this a group that endorses and abets Palestinian terrorism). This may, in fact, have much to do with the OC Hillel President Jordan Fruchtman’s personal affinity for the OTI himself. According to a 2010 OTI booklet titled “The Olive Tree Initiative: Expressions/Impressions” obtained by the Orange County Independent Taskforce on Anti-Semitism, Fruchtman is listed as an “individual supporter” of the OTI. It is no mystery why UCI Hillel will not publicly condemn this program or disassociate from it, after being given every opportunity.

To further besmirch and cow the opposition, Fruchtman publicized a petition “signed” by Hillel students. The problem was, many of the signatories were exposed to be fraudulent. Pajamas Media discovered that numerous individuals alleged to have signed the petition never, in fact, did nor did they have knowledge of the petition. A UCI PhD candidate Joe Wolf reported, “The student president of Hillel at UCI publicly admitted to a group of students and community members on Monday, November 22, that the majority of students who were listed were never shown the letter before it was sent out the afternoon of Friday, November 19.”

The president, Matan Lurey, claimed that the seemingly fraudulent petition was the result of a mailing list error: “Using both the contact lists in my phone, and my friends, who run two other large Jewish groups at UC Irvine, we compiled a list of students we would contact to get their approval for the response letter. Unfortunately, due to the frenzied environment … the letter was accidentally sent out to the mailing list, where it was copied to a blog and forwarded along several other sources.”

As if this saga weren’t enough of a betrayal of the OC Jewish community, the coup de grace is only now just being uncovered. What is also printed in the 2010 Expressions/Impressions booklet is the 2009 OTI itinerary, which lists Aziz Duwaik, a high-ranking Hamas politician, among the scheduled speakers. The timing of the Duwaik talk was mere months after Duwaik had been released from an Israeli prison after being arrested in 2006. It should be common-knowledge to most FrontPage readers that Hamas is a US-classified terrorist organization which is expressly devoted to exterminating Jews.

A recently publicized letter written in 2009 to the Chancellor of UCI, Michael Drake, from Shalom Elcott of the JFOC and two co-chairs of the federation’s Rose Project (The federation identifies itself as the “largest funder” of the OTI) expressed distress over the Duwaik meeting. They claim that students were told -- it is unclear by whom, as the name was redacted -- to keep the meeting secret in order to avoid detainment crossing borders, problems traveling to and from the US, and backlash from the OC Jewish community. Nonetheless, all of these parties -- the federation, UCI, Fruchtman -- all continued to support the OTI. Many of them claim the Duwaik meeting was impromptu, saying that a canceled meeting was replaced extemporaneously with Duwaik by a leading graduate student in the field. However, no one seems concerned how it is possible that OTI leadership could possibly arrange a spontaneous meeting with a leader of a genocidal terrorist organization.

The Hillel-entwined OTI has not only been infiltrated by the likes of terrorist sympathizers and leaders, but the program itself shares the modus operandi of the same skillful anti-Israel propaganda technicians, like Rishmawi and Duwaik, who posture as moderate "peace-seekers" in order to seduce erstwhile pro-Israel students to their deadly cause. It was the OTI’s George N. Rishmawi himself who opined in a 2004 interview: “When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore, but if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” How long before it is a student at UC Irvine?

Unfortunately, the only voices who seem capable of calling this insanity what it is and warning students of the significant danger it poses are the ones that are routinely opposed by Hillel chapters on college campuses. "Why would they [Jewish students] be going over to meet with people who want to kill them except to be deceived into thinking they're civilized?" remarked David Horowitz, whose recently launched campus campaign, the Palestinian Wall of Lies, has met a  disturbing degree of opposition from Hillel chapters, typically in the form of accusations of hate-mongering.

"The alleged 'hate' in our [Wall of Lies] ads is that we call lies, lies. When we ask what is offensive about them, our detractors don't have a response except to issue insults," Horowitz said. The Palestinian Wall of Lies campaign is strictly factually-based, refuting point-by-point the predominant falsehoods promulgated by Israeli Apartheid Week. Instead of joining with the Freedom Center in this cause, "Hillel members are willing to join coalitions with groups like MSA which is a Muslim Brotherhood front group and is sponsoring anti-Israel hate weeks.”

And in some cases, as with UCI, Hillel members are willing to hear out a terrorist group leader and give him his say. At the same time, it is those who speak loudest against radical anti-Israel hatred who are quickly castigated from the dialogue. “They’ll dialogue with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, rather than have an open community dialogue with those of us who support Israel as a Jewish State and oppose Jewish funding of OTI,” explained Dee Sterling, who has been prevented from speaking publicly due to her grassroots activism against the UCI Hillel and other Jewish groups’ continued association with the OTI. Unfortunately, it is a travesty that is becoming more ubiquitous, not less.