Comment on Articles in Orange County Jewish Life Regarding Olive Tree Initiative -  Gary Fouse
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act" George Orwell
This month's edition of Orange County Jewish Life (OCJL) magazine is out. Its cover story addresses an issue it would normally avoid, but cannot. That is the on-going controversy within the OC Jewish community regarding the UC-Irvine Olive Tree Initiative (OTI). More specifically, it addresses the conflict over the involvement of the OC Jewish Federation, the Rose Project and OC Hillel. A community member, who I will leave unnamed, has called on the above organizations to drop their support for OTI based on the fact that many of the contacts involved in the OTI's Middle East tours are working to bring an end to Israel. In November, George S Rishmawi, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, came to UC-Irvine to speak as a guest of the OTI. This appearance cause further controversy within the Orange County Jewish community. Now OCJL has featured two articles on OTI, one by editor Ilene Schneider; the second by local Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie. I would like to discuss a couple of points in each article. (I have been unable to find these articlesa as yet online.)

Ms Schneider's article is an attempt to air both sides of the controversy. There are quotes from the CEO of the Jewish Federation, a representative from the Rose Project and the community member in question. At the risk of nit-picking, I bring attention to this statement:

"In November, International Solidarity Movement co-founder George Rishmawi spoke at UCI. While Rishmawi has allegedly broken his ties with that organization, which is said to be 'vehemently anti-Israel....'(italics mine).

Ms Schneider, ISM is not "said to be" vehemently anti-Israel", it is vehemently anti-Israel. That is not even an opinion. It is incontrovertibly a fact. For any informed reader, it is not necessary to go into a litany of their activities against the state of Israel. While they call themselves "peace activists", they are dedicated to the deligitamization and end of Israel.

Then there is this misleading comment:

"While other organizations including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Stand With Us, initially criticized the choice of Rishmawi as a speaker. Elcott (CEO of Jewish Federation) said that most of the feedback he received on the Rose Project's relationship with the Olive Tree Initiative was positive."

Very clever use of words indeed. A reader might easily conclude that the Wiesenthal Center and Stand With Us had changed their minds on their initial criticism of Rishmawi's appearance. Have they, Ms Schneider?

Finally, I feel that Ms Schneider could have written in more detail about some of the pro-Palestinian figures and organizations with whom Jewish students in the OTI trips have met and been exposed to in the Palestinian territory. Therein lies the crux of the controversy

More troubling, however, is the article written by local Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie. He describes his own skepticism about OTI and seems to be trying to play the role of mediator in this controversy. He presents the reader with the question of whether the Jewish community should support the OTI given the agendas of some of the pro-Palestinian contacts. He even states that the Federation and Hillel should apologize to the community member for their "strident response" (to that person's criticisms). He says their response was "overly harsh". That is an understatement in my view given the articles and letters published on the Federation's website OC Jewish Experience.

What I really take exception to, however, is Eliezrie's statement that the community member should "do the same" (apologize) for going public first before trying to resolve this specific issue privately and asking for a boycott of funding."

First of all, this community member does not have to apologize to anyone for anything. This person is owed an apology for being attacked. All this person is guilty of was doing what the Federation and Hillel should have been doing all along. More importantly, it is unseemly for a rabbi to call out for criticism, a private individual of the community by name in a monthly Jewish community publication. All Eliezrie has accomplished is to subject this person to community ridicule. That is wrong.

Secondly, I know for a fact that this person has had numerous conversations with "the powers that be" over the on-going issues at UCI. It was this same individual who, after the Oren event, organized the local community to turn out at the Israel Apartheid Week events in May and show the American and Israeli flags, an action that turned the tables on the Muslim Student Union and their radical speakers. That was an action that the Federation and Hillel opposed.

Here are Rabbi Eliezrie's own words from a previous article.

Rabbi Eliezrie, the person in question is the one who did exactly what you proposed in the above article. That person turned the tables last May. If you say nothing much changed, you are dead wrong. Those who come to speak at UCI now know that they will be confronted by strong voices.

As a non-Jew, I also regret the division in the Jewish community. Ever since I got involved in the UCI campus issues, I have shaken my head at the fragmentation that exists within the Jewish community-even on crucial issues pertaining to anti-Semitism. It actually proves the lies about the anti-Semitic canards about "Jews controlling everything" in America. How can they control anything when they can't stop fighting each other?

I am not calling for anyone to cut off funding to the Federation, Hillel or anyone else. I support Israel and I abhor anti-Semitism. Thus far, I have tried to limit my role in the OTI issue to researching and reporting on the individuals involved in meeting UCI students in the Middle East tours. If they are questionable or objectionable, let the readers decide. Make no mistake, however; I am a friend and supporter of the person involved. I will not stand by and allow this person to be attacked publicly by the high and mighty without responding.

It would be wise to remember the old story about David and Goliath. While Goliath may prevail in many of life's situations, David will always win in the court of public opinion.
posted by Gary Fouse at 2:59 PM on Jan 1, 2011
Click Here to See this Article from Fousesquawk