Dee Sterling Reply to the Jewish Federation of Orange County
Here are our main points. If you want additional information, please read the letter below.
1. DURING THE 2008 AND 2010 JEWISH FEDERATION SUPPORTED OLIVE TREE INITATIVE TRIPS, STUDENTS MET WITH GEORGE N. RISHMAWI, A CO-FOUNDER OF THE ISM AND A MAN THAT MR. ELCOTT CALLED, 'A DESPICABLE CHARACTER.”
2. The original invitation by OTI to Monday’s event, as promoted by Hillel's student leader, referred to George S. Rishmawi as, "a leader and co-founder of the ISM, the International Solidarity Movement," a recognized anti-Israel movement.
3. George S. Rishmawi works for the Siraj Center which has numerous troubling anti-Israel ties and associations. Additionally, according to the Siraj Center website, he is a co-founder of ISM, and he contributed to the ISM website as recently as June 18, 2007, so Mr. Elcott's claims that he cut ties with the ISM in 2004 do not seem to be accurate.
4. Our original letter was concerned with OTI in general, especially its trips. An itinerary of the 2008 and 2010 trips shows talks with notorious anti-Israel and pro-divestment activists, some who have been identified by ADL for their anti-Israel activity.
5. This is about transparency. The community has a right to know more about OTI. The students are entitled to go on a trip like OTI on their own dime and meet with whomever they want, but since the community is funding it the community should have all of the necessary information to make an educated decision about whether or not OTI is the type of project they want to give their money to.
6. Given the facts presented in the letter below and additional information that can be provided on request, we stand by our request for the Jewish Federation and Hillel to disassociate from OTI.
Dear Shalom Elcott,
In your response you acknowledge Federation funding of OTI trips, which was one of our most significant original concerns. Let us reiterate and elaborate our continued concern over this. The George N. Rishmawi that Mr. Elcott referred to as a, “despicable character,” may not be at UCI on Monday, but he is one of the men that the students on the OCI Trip met with both in 2008 and on the most recent trip in 2010. ((http://collegelife.freedomblogging.com/official-itinerary-for-uci-olive-tree-initiative-student-trip-2008/ and otiatucla.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/UCI-OTI-3-Itinerary.pdf) On both itineraries he is listed as simply, George Rishmawi, but his listed associations, both as a co-founder of the ISM and current director of Palestinian Center for Rapprochement prove that he is in fact George N. Rishmawi.(http://www.pcr.ps/read/staff-and-volunteers) The Federation has thus clearly used community money to send Jewish students to meet with George N. Rishmawi, a co-founder of the ISM, and again, “a despicable character.”
Now, truly, what’s in a letter? Your response to our effort to expose an initiative and individuals who seek to defame Israel is to demonize the messenger and ignore the facts. You suggest that the real problem is a case of mistaken identity because there are two George Rishmawis, each with a different middle name and a different agenda… one bad, one good. If only this were the problem. There are two Rishmawis, and while their styles may differ their fundamental substance does not. Yes, we agree, that George N. is a wolf, however, had the Federation and Hillel done their due diligence, they would have discovered that George S. is also a wolf, in sheep’s clothing…yet no less anti- Israel.
The original invitation by OTI to Monday’s event, as promoted by Hillel's student leader, referred to George S. Rishmawi as, "a leader and co-founder of the ISM, the International Solidarity Movement," a recognized anti-Israel movement. After our letter of protest, the invitation was edited and removed any mention of the ISM. This is curious, as George S.'s Siraj Center biography lists him as a co-founder of the ISM. The biography which accompanies many of George S.’s public presentations prominently notes that he is a co-founder of the ISM. Clearly he values his association with the ISM. Additionally, the Federation stated that he cut his ties to the ISM in 2004, though on June 18, 2007 he posted an official entry on the ISM website. (http://palsolidarity.org/2007/06/2416/)
In our letter we quoted a San Francisco Gate article referencing a comment made by a George Rishmawi that co-founded the ISM. If that quote was not in fact said by George S., but rather by George N., we apologize to George S. for the misquote. This does not take away from our concerns over Monday's program, as George S.'s Siraj Center has deeply troubling anti-Israel ties, or our deep concerns over OTI in general, especially since George N. has participated in OTI trips.
According to it’s website, The Siraj Center, “aims to create links between Palestinian people and people from around the globe through educational tourism, interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, culture and youth exchange programs.” Further investigation reveals that two of its honorary board members Mazin Qumisyeh and Robert Tobin have advised and/or worked with the rabidly anti-Israel Sabeel. The Simon Weisenthal Center has come out against Sabeel and the ADL, which named Sabeel to one of its top ten anti-Israel organizations, refers to Sabeel as, "a driving force behind the campaign by mainline Protestant churches to divest from Israel." (http://www.adl.org/main_Interfaith/sabeel_backgrounder.htm)
Under the title of activism, The Siraj Center website promotes a link to stopthewall.org, which calls itself a, "Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign." In addition to the use of the word Apartheid regarding Israel, this site actively promotes Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
Beyond the Rishmawi issue, the OTI trips have also included a number of rabidly anti-Israel speakers and programs. Mentioned above, Mazin Qumisyeh is a notorious anti-Israel activist who openly admits to his involvement with the Somerville Divestment Project, which attempted to get the town of Somerville, MA to divest from Israel. (http://www.sirajcenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=121&Itemid=48) The ADL reports that Qumisyeh, "often equates Israel interchangeably with apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany and his arguments frequently focus on “Zionist” control of American foreign policy. Qumsiyeh fundamentally rejects a two-state solution..." (http://www.adl.org/israel/qumsiyeh/default.asp)
Diana Buttu is a well known Palestinian apologist and anti-Israel activist. CAMERA says she, "is a shameless practitioner of the 'big lie' technique in vilifying Israel..."(http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=3&x_outlet=14&x_article=1594) In a tv interview, Buttu acts as an apologist for Hamas and blatantly lies by claiming that rockets shot into Israel, "do not have explosive heads." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt1GnEbB8hc)
Mustafa Barghouthi, another vehemently anti-Israel activist has said, "This is a struggle between people who are oppressed and an oppressor, people who are under colonialism and a colonialist, people who are suffering from apartheid and a system and a force that is practicing apartheid and hurting the future of both Palestinians and Israelis and destroying, because of this apartheid system, the whole potential and possibility of two-state solution." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb_QylA45OE) In good faith, we beseech you to listen to the following lecture from Barghouthi. We anticipate that his hateful anti-Israel distortions of history will make you recoil. (Pt. 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJvi8b_IGAM, Pt. 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb_QylA45OE)
Given the facts stated above we again ask you to disassociate from OTI.
We need to set the record straight:
We respectfully ask that you do not distort our words. We did not and would not issue a call to abandon students. Our call was to ask those whose professional responsibility it is to represent the community to refrain from using community money to provide a platform to anti-Israel and anti-Jewish programs and individuals.
Our call was also for transparency. The Jewish Federation is an organization that is funded by the community, and the community has a right to complete transparency regarding OTI, its affiliations and its partnerships, and has the right to make decisions about what it chooses to fund. It was inappropriate to get UCI students involved in this matter. The students should be kept out of this completely. It's not about them, it's about our Jewish leaders and their accountability to the community that pays their salaries.
We did not, as you state, ask for the removal of funds for Jewish students. We are not asking for people to stop funding The Jewish Federation and Hillel indefinitely, only until they disassociate themselves with OTI. Some have made the argument that this will hurt Jewish students because there will be a lack of funding for them. To try and make donors and the general community feel guilty for not funding Jewish students is misguided and puts the blame on the wrong party. The onus is on the Federation and Hillel to do the right thing. The donors and community wish to enthusiastically support the Jewish students, but not under any circumstances. Certainly not under circumstances where their money will fund anti-Israel propaganda and activities.
While some Jewish life on campus may be thriving, we cannot ignore the significant evidence and testimony of the many students who feel threatened and marginalized. There seems to be a disproportionate effort from the Federation to present a view of Jewish campus life that does not include the anti-Semitism experienced by many students. To categorize what these students have experienced as “distasteful” is a serious failure of understanding and dismisses the truth.
Let us not forget these facts. The following is a partial list of anti-Israel or anti-Jewish events and/or incidents that have occurred since the 2008 OTI Trip.
1. Anteaters for Israel website hacked by alleged cyber-jihadists. (10/08)
2. Israel: The Politics of Genocide (May 2009)
-10 anti-Israel events including: Viva Palestina with George Galloway (5/21/09) which allegedly raised money for Hamas.
3. A video made by Muslim students in 2009 included the lyrics: "With all force we'll drive them away…We will restore purity to Jerusalem."
4. Disruption of Michael Oren Event (2/8/10)
5. Israel Apartheid Week: A Call to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel (May 2010)
-10 anti-Israel events including one where Malik Ali said called Jews, "the new Nazis."
6. Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (10/28/10)
Speaker stated that palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948.
In closing, we appreciate your acknowledgement of ISM as an anti-Israel enterprise. We continue to ask that you end your relationship with OTI. We also ask that you repudiate 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 or their initiatives.
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 Rabbi
Mort 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