OC Jewish Experience

The official blog of Jewish Orange County

Jewish Students Under Attack

Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine are under attack yet again — but this time, it is not by anti-Israel activists — it is by unhappy members of the Orange County Jewish community.

Last week, a small group of Jewish community members circulated an email calling for divestment and boycott of the primary backers of UCI’s Jewish students: Orange County’s Jewish Federation and Hillel. The call for boycott was on the basis of the organizations’ affiliation with the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI).

The Olive Tree Initiative is an organization founded by a number of Muslim, Christian, Arab, and Jewish students. We joined together because we felt that our campus lacked a socially-safe space for civil and constructive dialogue surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our unity came not through common ideology, but rather from a consensus on the indispensable value of understanding different narratives and opinions in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Being raised in an Iranian-Jewish household, I was always taught that inquiry and curiosity were core tenets of Judaism, and the essence of OTI seemed very much aligned with these two Jewish values.

In the early stages of founding the organization, I approached Jewish Federation & Family Services and Orange County Hillel to rally for their support, because I knew how important it was for them to improve the campus climate at UCI. They foresaw the positive impact of an initiative like this, and graciously offered their support.

As a recent alumnus, and as a veteran leader of UCI’s Jewish student community, I feel compelled today, to write in defense of Jewish students, whose voice has been smothered and ignored throughout this controversy, and in defense of Jewish Federation and Hillel, the two most significant organizations who have stood by the students’ side for years, through the tough times and the good, to keep our community alive and thriving.

As the past President of Anteaters for Israel (AFI), UCI’s pro-Israel student organization, I was active in leading the pro-Israel community at UCI for nearly half a decade, perhaps longer than any student leader in the history of UCI.  I attended the University at a unique period of time; I was one of the few individuals who witnessed a once loosely connected group of Jewish students transform into the vibrant community that exists today.

I was the guy on the front lines. Every time an anti-Israel speaker came to campus, I rallied students together, grabbed the markers and poster boards, made signs, and headed out to protest. I was the one on Ring Road, the main quad on campus, debating face to face with those who sought to delegitimize Israel, when no one else would. I was the one who voluntarily spent my Saturday nights planning Israel festivals and speaking engagements with Israel’s Consul General, when all my other friends were out having fun, enjoying their college years as they should be. And I did all of this because I love Israel.

I was also the guy who helped start the Olive Tree Initiative, a student organization which is one of the victims of this unfair slanderous campaign today, by members of our very own community. Why is the group under attack? Because OTI recently chose to invite a Palestinian speaker to campus, whose message certain community members disapprove of.

I co-founded OTI to promote dialogue and understanding about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through experiential learning. Sometimes, this means hearing from people who possess different or even controversial perspectives. In the past, the group has hosted a plethora of other speakers, including Avihu Cohen, an Israeli who lost his father to Palestinian terror, and even controversial figures such as Ron Nachman, the Mayor of Ariel and a leader of the Judea and Samaria settler movement.

I am not one to demand that every person agree or support OTI. But when any member of my community expresses doubt in the organization, I share with them this: OTI has managed to convince members of the Muslim Student Union, a group whose leaders traditionally advocate against any recognition of Israel, to visit Israel, to meet with bereaved Israeli families, government spokesmen, and Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, to experience Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, to speak with Holocaust survivors, and to understand and hear first hand why comparing Gaza to the Holocaust is not only offensive, but also inaccurate. It’s managed to convince my Lebanese friend, a young Druze girl who lost innocent members of her family in the 2006 Lebanon war, and who once was okay with the idea of Israel not existing, that the Jewish people need a state. What more could we ask for? Arab students to sing the HaTikvah?


OTI students with Israeli Minister of Knesset Orit Zuaretz (Kadima)

It goes both ways. The initiative has also helped Jewish students develop a greater understanding of the challenges and hardships faced by the Palestinians, and this carries great value in itself.

OTI is remarkable because it has been the only successful attempt in developing relationships between members of Anteaters for Israel and the Muslim Student Union.

I personally have found the Olive Tree Initiative to be one of the most exceptional educational initiatives available to UCI students today. My experience with OTI is what inspired me to complete my graduate studies in Israel, and to dedicate my life in service to the Jewish people.

To be honest, I am embarrassed that members of the Jewish community would speak so negatively about an organization which encourages dialogue and conversation between Jewish and Muslim students. Rightfully so, these community members, along with most of us, are unhappy with many of the actions and speakers hosted by UCI’s Muslim Student Union. Yet they speak negatively about the efforts of Jewish students to befriend and engage Muslim students in an attempt to create change, and they are demanding that funding be cut off from the rest of Jewish students who are not even remotely involved in this situation. Does this sound rational to you?

For those in the community who initiated or support this boycott, I plea to you: take some time to speak to the Jewish student leaders at UCI. Ask them questions. See what they think about this boycott. If you are unable to ask the students these questions…then ask yourself a question: Do you truly have the students interests at heart?

A call to boycott and divest from the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Hillel would greatly impair Jewish student life on the campus, and is entirely contrary to the community’s needs.

The Jewish Federation and Hillel of Orange County are the organizations that continue to help the students create and grow the thriving community they enjoy today. Despite the demands of a small number of community members, and perhaps at times even some national groups, these two organizations have always stood by the side of students. They have been there for UCI’s Jewish community through the good times and the bad. I hope our Jewish students can continue to count on you for your support.

The writer has asked to remain anonymous.

This post is also listed at http://israelforliberals.com/uci-jewish-students-under-attack/

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November 23, 2010 - Posted by | Jewish Federation Orange County, UC Irvine, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. read before you strike out, we have yours and our children’s interests at heart. You are a tool being used. It is sad but true. Beware of the Wolf in Sheeps clothing. No one wants to take away funding for your education. But supporting activities that are ambiguous, such as the Olive Tree Initiative is counter-productive to Hillel agenda. Read my blogpost, posted about 2 minutes ago.

    Comment by deborah Lurya | November 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. Deborah, thank you for belittling every single Jewish student at UCI. You are right, they are all tools, being manipulated and used by the Jewish Federation and Hillel, for their secret master plan to turn the world against Israel.

    Last time I checked, UC Irvine was not a nursery school. It is one of the top ranked higher education institutions in the country. We are talking about young adults here, not baby’s. Instead of overlooking every single thing said in this post, maybe you should take a second and think about it…Consider the fact that this student has probably been on campus, and experienced it in a way very different than you. His work has been recognized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry for Godsake. Maybe this denotes his opinion actually counts for something?

    Just because we are older, it does not mean we always know what’s best for them. Listen to the students for once.

    Comment by Concerned Community Member | November 23, 2010 | Reply

  3. Deborah, Hillel has NEVER provided a single penny of funding to OTI. Get your facts straight before you slander an organization.

    I went to your blog, Jewtudes, and found countless other inaccuracies. You need to do your research before taking such taking such an adamant position on something that affects the students. Maybe you should stop writing and start reading for once.

    Comment by Stop the insanity | November 24, 2010 | Reply

    • How $$$$ have you been paid

      Comment by deborah lurya | March 20, 2012 | Reply

    • I never said that, I said that the money comes from the Rose Foundation and is distributed by the OC Federation. As for Hillel, the leaders, being you and Matan Lurie, forged a relationship with the MSU to create the OTI. Hillel directed students to the org, I know this because Dee Sterling and her investigations, and other professors at UCI and UC Santa Cruz, credible sources wouldnt you say. Also I happen to know a few of the jewish children who went on that trip to Ramallah, where they met with Hamas figures and George Rishawami- so please, lets not try and confuse facts, or distort the truth. One of the students came back singing about the Palestinians having the land from the Jordan river to the sea, remember????Jewish donations, tzedakah money was used f or the purpose of flying Jewish and Muslim kids to Israel withthe soul purpose of meeting with with PA and Hamas figures. ENd of story. I know the facts, and Dee Sterling has printed it up on her website Emmet, which is on the link below. Also today, another UCI student friend of mine has told me that the Hillel functions are more social mixers, beer and all, for both groups. Even on Shabbas. He is taking notes and will report it all soon enough See Emmet site for all the facts at . http://www.ha-emet.com/rabbi_dov_fischer_ocjl.html Shalom

      Comment by deborah lurya | June 5, 2012 | Reply

  4. How much have they paid you to say this

    Comment by deborah lurya | March 20, 2012 | Reply


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