An Open Letter to the Orange County Jewish Community from Rabbi Dov Fischer

There is now a full-blown county-wide community controversy over the forthcoming speech at UCI by George Rishmawi. In letters from the professional directors of both the Orange County Jewish Federation and the Orange County Hillel, it is emphasized that the speaker coming to UCI campus for the “Olive Tree Institute” (OTI) – an institute that the OC Jewish Federation, the OC Federation Rose Project, and the OC Hillel respectively support and endorse – is George S. Rishmawi, not George N. Rishmawi. In their public letters, the OC Hillel in particular targets for searing personal attack a woman in the Irvine Jewish community, who apparently spearheaded the controversy by first challenging the propriety of the Federation and the Hillel allying so frontally with OTI. In the letter from Hillel, this woman is explicitly named three separate times in a remarkably personal and disparaging way. In addition to the Hillel letter, an appended letter, signed by student leaders at UCI whose names were gathered for the letter, names this woman explicitly four times. I leave it to others to evaluate who wrote the students’ letter and who helped organize the signatures of some one hundred UCI Jewish students, past and present, in a matter of one or two days. However, I am galvanized to write because the effect of the responsive letters by the Orange County Jewish Federation director and the Hillel professional is to delegitimize this lady as a voice in the greater Jewish community.

I know this lady. I have spoken with her twice or thrice in the past year, and I know others who have worked with her. She is a passionate supporter of Israel and a pest, a nudnik, a real annoyance . . . to anyone who fails to act with the energy, passion, and frontal direct path that she feels others should follow. Her approach is not always the right one, but she is a valid participant in the greater community’s support for Israel. So she has annoyed Hillel and the Federation in the past. And now, having ostensibly conflated George N. Rishmawi with George S. Rishmawi, this lady seems to have been targeted as fair game for explicit ad hominem character assassination, to negate her as a serious voice in the community. Interestingly, the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles also wrote the OC Jewish Federation two or three days ago to express virtually the same concerns that this lady raised. However, the name of Simon Wiesenthal has not been attacked, nor has the name of the Wiesenthal executive who signed that letter. Thus, it appears that the Orange County Jewish Federation and Orange County Hillel shied away from “picking on someone your own size.” Instead, she was targeted.

I therefore write and soon will be posting on my website. Among other stations I hold in the community are: Rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, Member National Executive Committee Rabbinical Council of America, former National Vice President Zionist Organization of America, and former Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review. I comment here on several matters:

1. Do Not Stand by Your Brother’s Blood. I have the deepest contempt for people who see someone being slandered or character-assassinated, who further recognize the grave injustice, privately shake their heads with a sense of shame over the injustice that the Jewish community is at it once again, destroying someone daring who challenges a defective aspect of the status quo, but who then remain silent rather than defend someone being attacked. They fear that, if they speak out to defend, then they also will see their own names and reputations besmirched and sullied by the same people ready to character-assassinate. So I write to speak out against the attempted character assassination of this lady. And although I have seen and spoken to her only once in the past five months – for thirty seconds at a wedding that I conducted, where she was but one of the assembled invited guests – I am stating publicly, here and now, that I will stand by her if any further attempt is made after this evening, November 20, to further assassinate or attack her character or motives.

2. The Enormous Value of Orange County Hillel and Hillel at UCI. I believe that Jewish students at UCI deserve the fullest, strongest possible programming in Israel education. Thus, I support UCI Hillel and personally continue to respect its professional director. I am proud to have my name associated with OC Hillel, on whose Board of Directors I proudly served the past three years. I am very glad that UCI Hillel has played a critical role in so many ways to support Israel on campus and to advocate for Jewish students at UCI. UCI Hillel runs an annual pro-Israel week on campus on Ring Round, works closely with UCI Chabad to facilitate aspects of Jewish observance for those students interested in Judaism, and even has coordinated with Hillel of Long Beach to bring Rabbi Drew Kaplan to campus every week for students interested in meeting with a rabbi. UCI Hillel has met with UCI administrators in the aftermath of Moslem Student Union (MSU) acts of hate. UCI Hillel continues to deserve support.

3. Absolute, Unequivocal, Utter Rejection of Irresponsible Suggestions That UCI Is Not Safe for Jews. I further reject – absolutely, unequivocally, and utterly – any and all suggestions or intimations that Jewish students are so unsafe as Jews at UCI that they should consider avoiding the school. I have walked Ring Road many times while wearing my yarmulka, and I never experienced a problem. I have spoken for the UCI Campus Interfaith Center as an invited speaker on several different occasions at UCI, always being treated respectfully. There is a robust Jewish presence at UCI, and I condemn – outright condemn and denounce in the strongest possible terms – any suggestion that UCI is less safe for Jews than is any other American campus.

4. The “Olive Tree Institute” Does Not Deserve Jewish Federation Funding nor Hillel Endorsement as taglit-Birthright Does. I believe it is not responsible for a Jewish organization to bring Jewish students lacking the most maximal possible education in the area of Israel and Mideast Studies to engage in “dialogue” with trained anti-Israel propagandists and others whose life agendas unalterably are to present the anti-Israel narrative in a gentle, yet sophisticated way. According to the Orange County Jewish Federation’s chief professional officer, “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.” This is, in my opinion, a profound and irresponsible misuse of Jewish communal funds earmarked for Jewish students at this moment in time. By contrast, the Taglit-Birthright Hillel program is a fabulous investment of Jewish funds in the future of our community.

5. On George N. Rishmawi and George S. Rishmawi. The “Olive Tree Initiative” (OTI) is bringing George Rishmawi to UCI. First, the George Rishmawi it is not bringing is George N. Rishmawi. In the explicit words of the chief professional officer of the Orange County Jewish Federation, George N. Rishmawi is “despicable.” That adjective seems sufficient for the moment. And that brings us to George S. Rishmawi, who apparently is the George Rishmawi coming to UCI under the aegis of the Olive Tree Institute.

6. So Who is George S. Rishmawi? In the original OTI announcement, the Olive Tree Initiative described George S. Rishmawi as follows:

"George S. Rishmawi is a leader and co-founder of the ISM, the International Solidarity Movement, and the head of the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies(, a Palestinian NGO that operates in the West Bank to lead educational tours about Palestine and the Israeli Occupation.

Born in Beit Sahour, a city known for non-violent resistance, George S. Rishmawi is coming to UC Irvine as a guest of the Olive Tree Initiative, and for those of you interested in becoming part of OTI 4, George is one of our primary contacts in the West Bank."

(Emphases added.) Cf. George S. Rishmawi has devoted himself for years to “resistance against the Israeli occupation.”

The Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies. The website of the Siraj Center tells more about the Siraj Center and George S. Rishmawi:

Siraj organized fact finding missions to Palestine in order for people all over the world to have first hand experience of the on going Israeli occupation by meeting with Palestinians and Israelis and meet face to face with the real issues of illegal settlements, the Israeli Wall, Water issues, borders and refugees. . . . (Emphases added.)

As an example of his strategy to use tourism and manipulate children to embarrass Israel and delegitimize Israel’s security concerns, in one case George S. Rishmawi coordinated a donkey ride for Palestinian children that was aimed at creating a horrible anti-Israel media visual depicting Israeli armed forces blocking children from entering Jerusalem on Easter Sunday:
It is hoped that the image of the donkey at the checkpoint will speak with the innocence of a Palestine child who would simply ask the world, especially the Christian world, 'why can't we ride to Jerusalem like Jesus anymore?'

As Sunday's ride progresses, at some point, the donkeys will approach a military checkpoint, and campaigners hope all the world will see what happens next. Most likely, cameras will snap images, not of palm fronds being thrown under the donkeys feet as 2,000 years ago, but of guns and uniforms blocking the way.

"Right now, the checkpoint is heavily militarized," explains Rishmawi. "There is a military base with lots of patrols going back and forth. Rooftops in the area have been camouflaged, and Israeli snipers are all over the place." (Emphases added.) See “Children Ask Why They Can’t Enter Jerusalem on a Donkey,”

See also . One of the Siraj Center’s projects is “Abraham Path Walks.” Click the link on the Siraj Center Home Page, and it brings you to: Look at the map on Page 3.

7. More about George S. Rishmawi – and the Palestinian [C]enter for Rapprochement in Between People. According to the revised announcement by OTI, now posted on Facebook, heralding the visit to UCI by George S. Rishmawi, he also is a former Board Member of the Palestinian [C]enter for Rapprochement in Between People in Beit Sahour. (Emphases added.)

The Palestinian [C]enter for Rapprochement in Between People (PCR) in Beit Sahour reports its history as follows: In 2000, we mobilized our dialogue group and international friends for actions to reclaim the military base that was located on town land and was a major issue in the community. We successfully held nonviolent protests at the base (even getting inside the base by the hundreds) and this success led to the formation of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). PCR was heavily involved in ISM for five years, during which it had employed around ninety percent of its efforts and finances to support ISM. PCR hosted ISM in its headquarters until 2005 when the headquarters was moved to Ramallah.

8. Gary Fouse Makes an Observation and Asks a Question. Gary Fouse has been teaching ESL at the UCI Extension school for more than a decade, having begun after retiring from the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He is not Jewish. He describes having attended many of the Moslem Student Union (MSU)-sponsored events at UCI during his decade on campus. He describes having listened to many of the speakers and on several occasions confronting them with questions. As a retired law enforcement officer of almost 30 years service, he feels he can recognize hate speech and volatile situations. Consequently, he follows these issues at UCI and blogs regarding them. He observes:
In light of Mr Rishmawi's coming appearance to UC Irvine, a controversy has erupted within the Orange County Jewish community. The central question is this: If this speaker is, in fact, a co-founder of the ISM, why are the Rose Project, the Jewish Federation of Orange County, and perhaps, the University of California supporting even indirectly a venture that exposes Jewish students to elements that are devoted to destroying and/or establishing divestment boycotts of Israel? Those questions are being posed to the above entities as we speak. There may be a legitimate explanation for this, but the associations are troubling to many, and it is fair to ask the questions. On Monday, it will be made clear just what affiliations, if any, this speaker has or has had with the ISM.

I should note here that if certain Jewish students at UCI or anywhere else are against Israel to begin with -and there are those- then they can go meet with whomever they want to as far as I am concerned -as long as they are not meeting with enemies of the US. But what about Jewish students who have a strong Jewish identity and support Israel? Do they know exactly who they will be dealing with on these trips to the Holy Land? Perhaps so. Some of them too may decide it is in their interest to do so and hear the other side, which they can decide for themselves. Ditto for bringing certain speakers to campus. I am not questioning the right of this speaker to appear at UCI. But who is supporting this financially?

(Emphases added.) See that I personally would add, as the father of a Jewish college-age student: Heck, if my son could have a rare opportunity to get away from his college studies and requirements for a period of time to travel to Israel, to experience the Middle East and Israel, I can think of better ways for Jewish philanthropic funds to be expended on my son than by helping subvent his tuition fee to participate with either George N. Rishmawi (described by the OC Jewish Federation as “despicable”) or George S. Rishmawi. Unless, of course, there is yet another George S. Rishmawi who is not a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), active in The Palestinian [C]enter for Rapprochement in Between People in Beit Sahour, involved in the Abraham Path Walks that define the word “Israel” out of the map of “Palestine,” or the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies that sees Israel as an illegal occupation, the Security Wall as an illegal expression of Zionist Apartheid, and that seeks to press Israel on the “refugees.”

Or to put it another way: Has the Jewish Federation of Orange County or OC Hillel ever sponsored UCI college students to attend a similar-length fact-finding inter-cultural visit to the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria (the Jewish West Bank settlements), so that students could fairly gauge for themselves during a comprehensive tour, and living with Jewish families for a week or two up-and-down Judea and Samaria, who those settlers are, hear from those settlers and learn about Jewish roots in the lands of Judea and Samaria?

9. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) – From the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Which leads to the question: What is the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)? In a letter addressed personally to the chief professional officer of the OC Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services, Rabbi Aron Hier, director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote:

I have become aware of an event on November 22, 2010, in which the Olive Tree Initiative will be providing a platform for anti-Israel activist and International Solidarity Movement cofounder George Rishmawi. Further, the Olive Tree Initiative that will be hosting him is funded in part by Jewish philanthropy, through your organization as well as Hillel at UC Irvine.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center urges the Jewish Federation to disassociate itself from an event that invites the leader of a group whose own website states the following:
“Apartheid is not going to be defeated by words alone; occupation, oppression and domination are going to be dismantled the same way they were erected — through people’s action. The Israeli army and apartheid in Palestine can be defeated by strategic, disciplined unarmed resistance, utilizing the effective resources Palestinians can mobilize — including international participation.”
We further urge the Jewish Federation to investigate the Olive Tree Initiative, which has selected a speaker who advocates overthrowing the Jewish State. What kind of group would funnel impressionable Jewish students into this “wolf in sheep’s clothing” program that aids and abets the enemies of Israel in their pernicious mission?

I look forward to hearing from you about this serious matter.

Rabbi Aron Hier
Campus Outreach
cc: Rabbi Marvin Hier Rabbi Abraham Cooper Rabbi Meyer May

(Emphases added.)
10. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) – From the Anti-Defamation League. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), co-founded by George S. Rishmawi, further has been described in a significant Anti-Defamation League (ADL) backgrounder: In pertinent part, ADL has reported:

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. . . . ISM’s regimen involves recruiting and coordinating Western volunteers going to Palestinian areas for orientation meetings with Palestinian organizers and to discuss upcoming protests and actions. Once there, these volunteers engage in such tactics as obstructing the activities of the Israeli Army. . . . Since 2001, hundreds of ISM volunteers have placed themselves in front of Israeli Army vehicles, removed concrete boundaries from roads, confronted Israeli troops, and in some cases, stayed in the homes of suicide bombers.

ISM volunteers often publicize their actions and experiences in the Palestinian areas by preparing statements, articles and diaries and distributing them via the Internet among a variety of anti-Israel groups. Upon return to their home countries, ISM volunteers often describe their experiences in articles and during lectures at high schools, churches, libraries and college and university campuses. Many . . . are organized as part of the ISM-co-sponsored Wheels of Justice bus tour.

During their speaking engagements, ISM volunteers have presented a biased, distinctly anti-Israel view of the Middle East, equating Israel with both apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany. For example, during the fourth annual Palestine Solidarity Movement conference at Duke University, Rann Bar-On, a Duke student, ISM member, and one of the conference organizers, compared the treatment of Palestinians by Israel to “Algiers under the French or Poland under the Nazis. There is always violence under occupation.” The ISM’s Brian Avery criticized the U.S. media for a “campaign of misinformation
by Zionist-leaning news editors.”

Numerous ISM volunteers have been arrested, deported and denied entry into Israel. In response, some ISM volunteers have deceptively sought to enter Israel by changing their name in an effort to circumvent their ban from entering Israel.

Ties to Violent Groups

Although ISM claims to be a non-violent group, some of its volunteers recognize violence as a legitimate means of achieving Palestinian goals. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned that ISM activity “at times” is “under the auspices of Palestinian terrorist organizations.” For example:
§ Several ISM members met with Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, on August 24, 2008. Haniyeh held the meeting to welcome participants of the Free Gaza Movement, an ISM-affiliated campaign that sailed two boats into Gaza port a day earlier in an effort to bring international attention to what its organizers have called the "increasing stranglehold of Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine."
§ Richard David Hupper, a Pennsylvania man who was sentenced in August 2008 to three and a half years in prison for donating $20,000 to Hamas, allegedly contributed to the terrorist organization while volunteering with ISM in the Gaza Strip in 2004. He was eventually kicked out of Israel for working with ISM, according to court documents. Hupper pleaded guilty to providing material support and resources to terrorists in May.
§ In June 2007, Hisham Jam Joun, an ISM trainer in Israel, said in a letter posted on ISM’s Web page: “Even if part of the population supports military resistance to the conflict, it is only because we see the violence and injustice of a military occupation on a daily basis.”
§ Two British suicide bombers met with ISM members before blowing up a popular bar in Tel Aviv near the U.S. embassy in April 2003. ISM claimed that the only contact it had with the suicide bombers “was a brief social encounter” at an ISM apartment in Rafah. However, five days before the Tel Aviv bombing, the bombers attended a memorial service in Rafah for ISM volunteer Rachel Corrie, an American college student crushed to death in 2003 while trying to block demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza by an Israeli army bulldozer (the Israeli Army’s investigation of the Corrie death concluded that the soldiers operating the bulldozer had no intention of harming her).
§ In March 2003, Israeli troops raided ISM’s West Bank offices in Jenin and captured a suspected member of the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad. The Israeli army identified Shadi Suqiyeh, who was hiding in the ISM office, as a senior member of Islamic Jihad who had planned a number of foiled attacks on Israelis. A statement released by ISM soon after the incident explained that Suqiyeh was brought into the apartment by an ISM volunteer "concerned about his welfare" because "under Israeli military curfew, Palestinians spotted in the streets are shot on sight."
§ More ties to hard-line Palestinian groups were revealed three months later, when ISM issued a press release inviting volunteers to “join the ISM, the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces and the Apartheid Wall Defense Committee…to block construction of the apartheid wall” during the Freedom Summer 2003 campaign. The Palestinian National and Islamic Forces is a group made up of members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the hard-edged wing of Arafat's Fatah organization.
§ In an article in the Palestinian Chronicle in 2002, ISM co-founders Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf wrote: “We accept that Palestinians have a right to resist with arms, as they are an occupied people upon whom force and violence is being used.” Palestinian resistance, they say, “must take on a variety of characteristics - both nonviolent and violent.”
(Emphases added.)


By using international ISM volunteers, who return to their home countries after a stint with the group and describe their experiences in articles and at lectures, local Palestinian activists have generated
international attention to their cause.

ISM received its first substantial media coverage in spring 2002, when volunteers slipped into Yasir Arafat’s compound, bypassing the Israeli military that surrounded it. ISM members executed their second major action that year when they entered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during a
military standoff between Israeli and Palestinian forces.

ISM volunteers have since taken part in various actions, including the annual Freedom Summer campaign. Volunteers have resisted the building of the Israeli security fence designed to deter terrorists by establishing a protective barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Referring to it as the “Apartheid Wall,” volunteers have tried to block construction of the security fence in some areas while attempting to tear certain sections down in others.

In the U.S., experienced ISM members recruit volunteers through various other pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel groups and through the ISM’s Web site. The ISM Web site previously included an “Information Pack,” which provided basic information on getting involved in the anti-Israel cause and offered suggestions, including tips on speaking with the press. In one section, it suggests that “when possible say ETHNIC CLEANSING” when referring to “the expulsion of Palestinians from historic Palestine in 1948 as well as the current situation.”

The packet also urged volunteers to “say RESISTANCE or RESISTANCE TO INJUSTICE [when] VIOLENCE is mentioned,” and to “emphasize STATE TERRORISM [when] TERRORISM is mentioned.”

11. Conclusion. In sum, the George S. Rishmawi who is coming to UCI under the aegis of the Olive Tree Institute, an agency funded in whatever part by the Rose Project of the Orange County Jewish Federation, and an accepted adjunct to UCI Hillel’s vision for encouraging UCI Jewish students better to understand the perspective of those opposed to Israel as an occupier, in whole or in part, of Palestine, is neither the same person as George N. Rishmawi nor as any of the other George S. Rishmawis who assuredly may be found in the world. Nevertheless, he is a skilled, experienced, and gifted tactician in the war against Israel, and his particular area of media-savvy expertise, even during Intifada time, is in presenting the more palatable side of the war to remove a Jewish state of Israel from the map.

In the free marketplace of ideas, we can welcome any and all George Rishmawis to UCI to ply their subtle propaganda. They should be permitted to speak free of the fascist repression that the MSU utilized to silence the Honorable Michael Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, and Prof. Daniel Pipes before him. And Jewish students at UCI who are curious to hear this George Rishmawi should enjoy themselves. Nevertheless – all the more so, now that the Jewish Federation of Orange County has merged with Orange County Jewish Family Services – it is highly objectionable that meaningful Jewish community philanthropy has been diverted towards the Olive Tree Initiative in the past, and that such funding diversions have not been foresworn for the future, so that Jewish funds can better be targeted to address the kinds of real family needs that deeply challenge the Orange County Jewish community and its families in this time of great recession. Every dollar from the Jewish Federation of Orange County towards an Olive Tree Initiative matter represents a dollar less for the real needs of a Jewish community whose children could benefit from so much more Jewish education and whose families include many in dire straits.

It is absolutely unacceptable that a lady who is so passionately devoted to the cause of Israel – a cause we all share even in the face of few, if any, George Rishamwis standing alongside Orange County Jews in our deep uncompromising love for Israel – should now be the target of a concerted vilification campaign to humiliate her by name, target her for obloquy, in the effort to shut her up and to cast her as a pariah in the community of Jewish public participants. And while she and several others may have mixed up their “N”s and “S”s, it is a shame that the Orange County Jewish Federation and the Orange County Hillel lacked the elegance and dignity to mind their Ps and Qs.

I hereby am putting on public notice those who may be planning to finish off this lady’s reputation by humiliating and character-assassinating her that I will stand by this lady. I endorse the letter of Rabbi Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, let it be clear that the burden of proof devolves onto the Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services of Orange County, the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation, and Orange County Hillel to justify to the Jewish community of Irvine and throughout our County its continued engagement with and endorsement of an agency that perhaps is acceptable for deeply studied dilettantes but that is not a proper investment of Jewish community resources for the education of UCI Jewish students who, having done Birthright, next need a deeper Israel experience to better understand why the bond between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is immutable, even as the City of United Jerusalem is the only eternal capital of Israel – period.

Respectfully submitted,

Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rav, Young Israel of Orange County5319 University Drive ( # 122 )Irvine, CA 92612 (949) 300-8899 (Rabbi's Office) 

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"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act" George Orwell