"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act" George Orwell
Letter from Naya Lekht to the Federation
To Shalom Elcott, President and CEO of the
Orange County Jewish Federation:

My name is Naya Lekht. I am a PhD candidate in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recently, I have been made aware of the OTI (The Olive Tree Initiative) of UC Irvine. I am extremely concerned about this program, as I strongly believe that it is doing much harm to both Jewish students on campus and the image of Israel in the public arena.

I am particularly troubled by several tenets and goals of the OTI. First and foremost, in times when Israel is demonized and unjustly singled out for perennial rebuke in the world, it is morally wrong to bring speakers who further implicate and vilify Israel. Part of the OTI goals is to better acquaint students with various ideas and narratives about the conflict in the Middle East. By drawing an equal sign between those voices who support Israel and those who wish to destroy Israel the OTI is, in effect, legitimizing a narrative that argues for the extermination of the State of Israel. To draw a rather stark comparison, allow me this example. If, for instance, students were asked to gather for a panel discussion on the Holocaust and two speakers came to debate the historicity of the event, that very speaker who denies the Holocaust would not only be given a stage and microphone, but more importantly, his position, would, inadvertently, become a legitimate one. From recent information made clear to me, close to 20% of the speakers furthers a perspective on Israel that question the right for Jewish State to exist. Students who attend the planned trip are exposed to such speakers. Fifteen of the speakers have ties with organizations that have participated in the murder of Jews and consistently advocate for the extermination of Israel, sign petition to economically strangle Israel’s vibrant economy. How can you, a Jewish organization, not only stand by such injustice, but worse, operate as a conduit for these egregious speakers?

I am a student of Jewish history and much to my dismay, the OTI is not unique. Let me, for a moment, indulge in two instances in the history of Soviet Jewry. In 1920, the Soviet Union installed an organ of the state, Evsektsiia, or, The Jewish Section of the Communist Party. Used as tool to gather the backward Jews of Russia’s Pale of Settlements, these newly electrified Jews, who successfully absconded from their religious homes, often engaged in the most egregious behaviors. The nadir of the organ’s existence can be viewed in the numerous times that members of the Evsektsiia met rabbis and religious boys on the streets, only to spread pig fat on their beards and peyes. The early Soviet Jews demonized their own Jewish fathers and mothers in the most reprehensible ways. How is this organization different, for it, too, chooses to demonize the only Jewish country by giving credibility to those speakers I mentioned above?

The second example comes some forty years later, in the 1960s, wherein the Soviet Union carved out special positions to be filled solely by Jews. These Jews were hired in order to denounce their co-religionists for Zionist activities. My own grandfather was interrogated by a Jewish member of the Soviet Ukrainian secret police for displaying Zionist interest in the classroom. I often shudder about these dark moments in our history, of which I only listed two.

I view the OTI organization as troublesome and very harmful to the Jewish people and therefore ask you to reconsider the support you offer as it will, undoubtedly, have a negative impact on both the fate of Israel and world Jewry.

Naya Lekht, M.A., C. Phil
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of California, Los Angeles
December 14, 2010
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