Dee Sterling's Letter to the Federation
Dear Mr. Elcott, Mr. Feldman, and Mr. Fruchtman,
We are writing to protest the decision by the Federation, Hillel and their respective leaders to support the Olive Tree Initiative which is hosting a program in collaboration with individuals known for their radical anti-Israel views and actions.
On November 22, 2010 the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) will be hosting an event, Nonviolent Resistance with George Rishmawi, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The ISM is an anti-Israel organization that claims Israel is an apartheid state that must be dismantled. While the group claims to be non-violent, there is substantial public evidence that the ISM has supported those who have violently attacked the state of Israel, and that ISM volunteers have actively engaged in tactics that endanger Israeli civilians.
Their mission statement clearly demonstrates their belief that violence is a legitimate means of resistance: “As enshrined in international law and UN resolutions, we recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle.” (http://palsolidarity.org/about-ism/faq/)
Many of our foremost Jewish organizations including CAMERA and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have expressed their concerns about the ISM. The ADL, which recently named the ISM as one of the top ten anti-Israel groups says, “The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a well-organized movement that spreads anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation and voices support for others who engage in armed resistance against Israel.” Foreign policy analyst and Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise Mitchell G. Bard has written, “The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has harbored known terrorists and openly advocated violence and the destruction of Israel.” A 2004 article in the British newspaper The Telegraph called the ISM, “The 'Peace' Group That Embraces Violence.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/1451730/The-peace-group-that-embraces-violence.html)
According to the ADL, the ISM substantially aided in the efforts of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), whose members were on the Mavi Marmara, the ship which tried to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. This provocation by FGM and others, including Turkish terrorist group IHH, resulted in a violent incident when those aboard the ship brutally attacked Israeli soldiers. Some FGM members also have ties to Hamas, as they met with Ismail Haniyeh in 2008 at his home in Gaza, where they were given medals of honor. (http://www.adl.org/main_Anti_Israel/free_gaza_movement.htm?Multi_page_sections=sHeading_4)
In addition to the event planned for Monday, it is particularly troubling that George Rishmawi as well as other known anti-Israel activists and BDS supporters, such as Mazin Qumsiyeh and Diana Buttu, were speakers and/or tour guides on the 2008 OTI trip. If any one of these speakers came to UCI to speak on campus there would be outrage from the Jewish community for bringing an anti-Israel speaker to campus. Instead of bringing them to UCI, Jewish students are being sent right into the arms of anti-Israel activists with the full support of the Jewish Federation. This is supported by the Facebook invitation to Monday's event which names Rishmawi as a primary contact for OTI trips. This demonstrates that he is not simply giving a single speech on Monday, but rather that he is an integral part of OTI.
This is particularly troubling as George Rishmawi has made it clear that one of the tactics of the ISM is to use foreigners to gain media attention by placing them in harms way. In a 2004 SF Gate article he was quoted as saying, "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." (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi f=/c/a/2004/07/14/MNGBS7L5V71.DTL#ixzz15TTCDZVe)
As reported by CAMERA, “ISM encourages members to place themselves in dangerous situations to protect terrorists or their homes.” This is echoed by George Rishmawi himself in a speech he gave while on tour in the US, "since April 2002-well, March 29, 2002 to be exact-the ISM has managed to establish a permanent international presence in some Palestinian areas. Staying in homes, in Balata in the houses of martyrs that are targeted for demolition." (http://www.bobmay.info/profile_george_rishmawi.htm)
The Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Orange County through its Rose Project, managed by Jay Feldman. Jewish Federation president and CEO Shalom Elcott has emphasized the Federation's sponsorship of OTI as a positive step towards bettering the lives of Jewish students on campus. (http://www.jewishorangecounty.org/page.aspx?id=216050)
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 question of the wisdom of Shalom Elcott, Jay Feldman, and Jordan Fruchtman in sponsoring an initiative that works with activists who harbor anti-Israel views, including promoting Israel as an apartheid state and calling for it to be dismantled, have worked with terrorist groups that work to destroy Israel and kill Jews, and whose actions endanger Israeli civilians. We also question their judgement in encouraging Jewish students to participate in a program which publicly proclaims peace and tolerance, yet uses well known anti-Israel activists as speakers and tour guides on its OTI trips.
We ask Shalom Elcott and Jay Feldman to explain how the mission of the Rose Project which claims it, “is to ensure that students on Orange County university campuses and community leaders are informed about issues of Jewish life and Israel, that they are deeply educated on the facts and the myths, and that they are fully engaged in positive advocacy for Israel and in dealing with challenges that emerge,” can reconcile these noble ideals with the history, events, actions, and statements of the ISM and the other anti-Israel activists that are involved with OTI.
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. Hillel student leaders have the responsibility of representing Hillel to the public and the university community and in this case Hillel's student leader is promoting an upcoming event with a co-founder of the ISM. Hillel has the ethical responsibility to guide and nurture its young leaders. They must be educated about those whose history and intent is to demonize the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Hillel’s failure to do so is unconscionable.
Why would the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Hillel of Orange County allow themselves to be used as a vehicle to legitimize anti-Israel views that in turn engender hostility to the Jewish people?
It is evident to every proud and self-respecting Jew in our community that supporting programs that aid and abet the enemies of the Jewish people is unacceptable. We ask that you end your relationship with OTI. We also ask that you repudiate the ISM and any other organization which seeks to delegitimize or harm the Jewish state or her supporters and ensure that these groups will never be allowed to participate in future events under the sponsorship of the Jewish Federation and Hillel of Orange County.
We will encourage the hundreds of people bcc'd on this email and the thousands more who will read it on the internet, to withhold any and all financial support of the Jewish Federation and of Hillel until the relationship with OTI is ended and a commitment is made never to participate in events that, or work with those who, delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel.
Dee Sterling on Behalf of Many OC Community Members
Ted Bleiweiss, Orange County Taskforce on Anti-Semitism
Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center
Wayne Firestone, Hillel
Douglas K. Freeman, Ernest & Irma Rose Foundation c/o First Foundation Advisors
Helen Freeman, Americans for a Safe Israel
Abe Foxman, ADL
Rabbi Peter Haas, SPME
Rabbi Drew Kaplan, OC RabbiMort Klein, ZOA
Stephen Kuperberg, Israel on Campus Coalition
Andrea Levin, CAMERA
Chaim Liebtag, National Council of Young Israel
Elliot Mathia, Hasbara Fellows
Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs
Morey Schapira, Israel Peace Initiative
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"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act" George Orwell