Letter from Jewish Federation of Orange County
What's in a Letter?
An email is being circulated in our community that derisively criticizes Jewish Federation & Family Services and Hillel Foundation with respect to a program of UCI’s Olive Tree Initiative (OTI).
The email being circulated incorrectly identifies the speaker coming to UCI. The speaker is George S. Rishmawi. However, the person being described in the letter being circulated is George N. Rishmawi. While the names are only separated by one letter – a middle initial – these are two different people with two different points of view. George S., who is coming to campus, has met with Jewish students on previous OTI trips and is not , to our knowledge, a member of the International Solidarity Movement (a well-documented anti-Israel enterprise), having cut his ties to ISM in 2004. By contrast, his cousin, George N, is the despicable character being described in the circulated email.
As importantly, however, the writers of this email call for removal of funding from the only Jewish and pro-Israel groups on campus, a suggestion that could not be more absurdly misguided. And worse yet, they engage in personal attacks on professional staff, attacks that could warrant legal action based on their erroneous statements.
In the event that you have received or may receive that email, I wanted to share these important facts with you. There is a genuine difference between promoting dialogue and promoting hate. We will not stand on the sidelines as some attempt to push aside an honest agenda for true dialogue.
We understand that there are members of our community who have zero tolerance for anything hateful being said against Israel or Jews. We, too, share those feelings .
What we do not share is the viewpoint that every distasteful occurrence at UCI provides grounds for a chancellor to be dismissed, for an administration making effective progress to be sanctioned, and for contributions in support of our Jewish students to be withheld.
Whether they realize it or not, the circulators of the email are engaging in the same tactics of delegitimization used by the anti-Israel people they condemn.
Here are the facts that we know:
Fact #1: Jewish life on campus is thriving and the pro-Israel voice at UCI is the strongest that it has ever been. That’s not our statement, that’s what the Jewish students at UCI are saying. Visit the blog (link below) to learn more.
Fact #2: The Rose Project has, in the past, provided scholarship funds for knowledgeable Jewish students to participate in OTI’s annual trip to the Middle East, in the company of students of other faiths.
We have never sponsored, funded or promoted OTI’s speaker series at UCI. While we do not control who gets invited to the campus, we do help facilitate OTI’s invitation of pro-Israel speakers. A case in point is the December OTI program that features David Makovsky of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy and Gaith Al-Omari, Advocacy Director at the American Task Force on Palestine. These two gentlemen are on a joint speaking tour regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Rose Project of JFFS has also sponsored speakers at UCI such as Alan Dershowitz and Ambassador Michael Oren.
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Everyone in the Jewish community has a voice, and we respect every voice. We respect, more, the voices that are for something constructive than the voices shouting in opposition to our direct communication with, and support of, Jewish students.
We will not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Real progress has been made for Jewish students at UCI. We believe that the development of intelligent, capable, self-sufficient Jewish leaders means that, occasionally, students may have to be exposed to some distasteful things during their development.
Therefore, we ask that you disregard the call, by a few in our Jewish community, to abandon the students and the institutions that support them.
Jews should not be fighting other Jews. That is precisely what the delegitimizers of Israel and the anti-Semites would like to occur. Rather, we should work together to fight delegitimization tactics aimed at Israel and the Jewish community.
Shalom C. Elcott
President and CEO
Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act" George Orwell