Ben Hartman of the Jerusalem Post reported on the Olive Tree Initiative, the University of California, Irvine program that has drawn interest from pro-Israel student leaders at the University and controversy within the Jewish community. Student leaders was quoted in the article, along with Jewish Federation CEO Shalom Elcott and Rose Project Co-Chair Jeff Margolis.
Hartman correctly categorizes the initiative as a balanced and educational program without any specific ideological bent with this quote from Yerushalmi:
Almost half of the speakers are Zionist or pro-Israel, some are in the middle and are not affiliated with the Palestinian or Israeli side, [working] with non-partisan NGOs or organizations. It’s a very balanced itinerary, and we’ve always been open to hearing from people who have ideas and additional perspectives
Not included in the article is some excellent news about past Rose Project participants and members of the Olive Tree Initiative, who have just been accepted to several long-term Israel programs, including the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and Israel Government Fellows Program, Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), Hasbara Fellowships, MASA and more. We are very proud of our students, and they, like Isaac, are doing a service to the greater Orange County community, the Jewish people, and demonstrate the success of Rose-project supported programs.
FOR Immediate Release:
What: Hasbara Fellowships Israel Activism Training for College Students
When: June 2011
UC Irvine Students Chosen for Elite Israel Advocacy Training with Hasbara Fellowships
Students from UC Irvine are taking initiative this summer to get involved with Israel advocacy on their campuses. 4 student leaders from Irvine have been selected to participate in the elite Hasbara Fellowships activism training program in Israel this summer.
The 4 student leaders -Yekaterina Shutaya, Ryan Jenner, Ari Friedman, and David Gutkin of University of California, Irvine will be joining the Hasbara trip this June.
These outstanding students will be among 700 students, the largest contingency ever, from over 60 college campuses nationwide, that Hasbara will be training in Israel advocacy education this summer.
The Irvine students have all received generous sponsorship from the Rose Project in order to participate in the program.
Hasbara Fellowships was founded in 2001 as a partnership between the Foreign Ministry of Israel and Aish International. Ten years ago it became evident that anti-Israel propaganda on college campuses was a force to be reckoned with. Overt displays of anti-Israel sentiment grew into a burgeoning trend on campuses, and so, there was a need for students to stand up for Israel. Since it’s inception in 2001, over 2,000 students have participated in the Hasbara Fellowships Israel Activism Training Program.
Hasbara takes students on an intensive 2-week program with the goal of educating, training, and motivating students to become pro-Israel activists on their campuses as well as teaching the students to effectively combat wide-ranging anti-Israel propaganda.
Participants will hear from an array of historians, journalists, military personnel, politicians, and academics that will offer perspectives on various topics. Students will have the unique opportunity to go on strategic tours of Sderot, Hebron and Israeli borders of Syria and Lebanon. This year, participants will also meet with multiple Israeli members of Knesset, receive top briefings at the Knesset, Israeli Foreign Ministry, and the Jerusalem Post, and visit high-tech start-up companies to learn about Israel’s advancements in alternative energy.
Students will learn how to communicate effectively for Israel, answer difficult questions, and run successful programming upon returning to campus. Participants will receive support from professional Hasbara staff to help facilitate pro-Israel programs. Hasbara Fellows become highly trained Israel activists leading pro-Israel activities back on campus.
Individual students are available for interviews upon request. Please direct all inquiries to Atara Jacobs, Community & Public Relations Coordinator at AJacobs@HasbaraFellowships.org or 201-951-3288
A new pro-Israel student group, SPME (Students for Peace in the Middle East), is having their second event of the quarter at the UCI. They will be hosting Professor Jonathan Adelman, a renowned scholar in the Middle East, Israel, and Global Economics. The Rose Project of the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County is happy to have provided funding for this new student-led and driven organization and program.
Jewish Federation & Family Services Orange County today published the 2011 Winter Rose Report in a digital format. This 24-page full-color report details the results of what the Rose Council has achieved. This includes:
* 174 program grants and student scholarships.
* 363 student opportunities in Israel education, leadership and advocacy programs.
* 16 campus and community bridge building programs
* 160 additional Tagalit-Birthright Israel participants from OC Universities and colleges.
In addition, the report also provides a venue for two Orange County leaders to share their viewpoints. Kevin O’Grady, the regional director of Orange County/Long Beach Anti-Defamation League and Jordan Fruchtman, the executive director of Hillel Foundation of Orange County, also weigh in with full-page stories related to “free speech issues on campus campuses.” Additional viewpoints within the report are provided by Elliott Mathias, founder and executive director of Hasbara Fellowships as well as Beth Krom, an Irvine City Council Member.
Shalom Elcott, the President and CEO of Jewish Federation & Family Services Orange County, also sent out a letter to the community, informing them of the publication.
Here is what the letter said:
I am pleased to present you with the Winter 2011 digital edition of the Rose Report. Jewish Federation & Family Services launched the Rose Project in 2008 as a community initiative to combat anti-Israel rhetoric on our local university campuses, and to educate and empower our students to become advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.
We are often asked to explain our work in this area and what has been accomplished, and I believe this report will provide you with a clear picture of theprogress made on the ground .
This 24-page report provides an overview of the Rose Project’s strategic objectives and our results to date . Additionally, the report includes a comprehensive timeline and several articles from our partners in the community and on campus.
Our early success, as a locally-coordinated effort, has implications for communities across the country, wherever anti-Israel activity has emerged or grown, on campus or in the community. We will always stand up to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and any effort to harm Israel, including the reprehensible BDS (Boycott/Divestment/ Sanction) movement. At the same time, we will always stand up for civil discourse as we foster greater awareness, and allow for difficult conversations to take place in an environment of mutual respect. By working collectively with many key partners in the local and national conversation, we will continue to inspire and empower the next generation of Jewish leadership.
We are most grateful to the investors and leadership of the Rose Project, to the board of directors of Jewish Federation & Family Services, and to our colleagues at Hillel, ADL and AJC. All of these individuals have immersed themselves in countless challenges in our community, investing tremendous time and talent. We all owe them a heartfelt ‘Todah Rabah’ for improving the quality of Jewish student life on our Orange County campuses, and in our community!
The Rose Project of Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County, will continue to make decisions regarding support of university student-related initiatives such as the Olive Tree Initiative as The Rose leadership council deems appropriate. In addition to gaining direct input from student leaders and executive leaders of Jewish Orange County campus organizations, programming decisions also include respectful consideration of constructive input from members of the Orange County and broader worldwide Jewish community. We believe it is ineffective to engage in public debate via mass e-mailings as experience shows that these only serve to confuse or divide our community. We will post perspectives on important topics on the OC Jewish Experience blog.
At present, we believe that building an effective student/community initiative to combat both the BDS movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel is more important than other topics. That and continuing to help build a vibrant Jewish life on the OC college campuses is where our efforts will be focused.
Dear Friends of Hillel:
Yesterday I received a disturbing email from Ms. Dee Sterling, accusing Hillel of, among other things, supporting George N. Rishmawi, an anti-Israel speaker involved with the International Solidarity Movement. This assertion is untrue. Emails like this are irresponsible and reprehensible. While Ms. Sterling’s allegations are not deserving of a response, I do, however, feel it is important to at least set the record straight, especially because Ms. Sterling uses her untrue assertions as a basis to request that the Jewish community withdraw their support of Hillel and Jewish Federation and Family Services.
First, please be advised that, contrary to Ms. Sterling’s assertions, Hillel does not support George N. Rishmawi or ISM, the organization with which he is affiliated. As a matter of principle, the values of ISM are in direct conflict with Hillel’s values and Hillel’s stance on Israel. Second, as a factual matter, Ms. Sterlings assertion that George N. Rishmawi was invited to speak at UCI on November 22, 2010, is untrue, as the person that has been invited by the Olive Tree Initiative to speak at UCI on November 22, 2010, is a different George Rishmawi, whose full name is George S. Rishmawi, who is the director of Siraj Center and whom we have been told is no longer involved with ISM. Although this second point is not important, as compared to the first point above, it demonstrates the confusion that Ms. Sterling is disseminating to third parties.
I will be demanding from Ms. Sterling an apology and a retraction of her email. If you are unfortunate enough to receive this email from Ms. Sterling or other persons, I hope you will give it the attention to which it is entitled (i.e., none). Also, I am hopeful that you will not allow the basis assertions of Ms. Sterling to affect your ongoing support of Hillel, Jewish Federation and Family Services and the Jewish students.
Please find below a response from student leaders at UC Irvine, co-signed by nearly 100 students.
Hillel Foundation of Orange County
Dear Orange County Jewish Community, Friends, Parents and Affiliates,
There is currently an email being circulated that is asking the community to stop supporting Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County and OC Hillel. This is regarding the Olive Tree Initiative’s decision to host a Palestinian speaker, Mr. George S. Rishmawi, at UC Irvine on November 22., 2010 Let us be clear that the Jewish Federation and Hillel is, in no way, sponsoring or funding Mr. Rishmawi’s visit to UCI. The Jewish students of the UCI community feel this email, written by Dee Sterling, is not in the best interest of the students on this campus. Her call to remove funding sources from the only Jewish and pro-Israel groups on campus is unfair, unjust, and unwise.
The funding behind the Jewish Federation of Orange County and OC Hillel comes from private donors, individuals such as yourself, that feel the need to have an educated, supported, and thriving Jewish community at UC Irvine. We find it disconcerting that people who claim to represent Jewish interests in the community would ask donors to remove or reduce funding which could result in the elimination of the following programs:
Anteaters for Israel: The biggest pro-Israel group at UC Irvine, which is funded in part by OC Hillel and the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation.
Hillel at UC Irvine: The community of Jewish students at UC Irvine, which has weekly Shabbats and Open Houses that foster a sense of Jewish community at UC Irvine, with hundreds of students in attendance.
MPME at UC Irvine: A pragmatic and anti-BDS organization, that works to show
Arab and Islamic injustice in the world and supports Israel through political means.
American-Israel Alliance: A coalition of AIPAC-trained pro-Israel advocating students that approach student leadership to support pro-Israel agendas on and off campus, and pro-actively prevent BDS movements on campus through personal relationships.
Furthermore, Olive Tree Initiative is a diverse group of students, many of whom are proudly pro-Israel and anti-BDS, and who comes from a variety of backgrounds and connections to Judaism and the Middle East. We respect their choice of the to attend possibly controversial events with speakers from both sides of the conflict in an effort to raise discussion, awareness, and education on the campus.
Such statements as the one made by Dee Sterling are entirely inappropriate, intolerable, hurtful and create a divide amongst the Jewish students and student groups, community, faculty, parents, and friends. At this critical time, we all must band together to fight anti-Israel propaganda and anti-Semitism; rather than send emails out to community without context, without connections to campus, and without the approval of any undergraduate student or organization at UC Irvine. This is completely and entirely unacceptable and the student community will not tolerate it.
There was absolutely no attempt to contact any Jewish student leader or any of the Jewish student organizations at UC Irvine before making this statement, which affects all of us—all of the Jewish students—with such magnitude. We, the students—the Jewish students at UC Irvine—as well as the community and faculty who support us, are open for discussion on any topic at any time, and strongly condemn this email from Dee Sterling.
The following students which are the most involved with Jewish life on campus are against Dee Sterling’s call to boycott UC Irvine Jewish Life, and to sanction the community organizations that are helping us the most. Any divestment from the Jewish Federation of Orange County, Hillel of Orange County – arguably the only two active communities that directly aid and work with the students—would be a travesty.
For more information, please visit https://ocjewishexperience.wordpress.com.
There has been some confusion over which George Rishmawi is coming to speak at UCI on Monday. The following letter, just issued by Shalom Elcott at the Jewish Federation & Family Services, appears to clear up the confusion. This was just sent out by the Federation to the Orange County Jewish Community.
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 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 you have received or may receive that email, I wanted to share some 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 against Israel or Jews being said. 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.
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.
*** 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 the baby out 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 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.
I would be kicking myself if I did not let you know about a symposium taking place at UC Irvine today. It is called, Teaching the Holocaust.
This free one day seminar begins at 10:30 a.m. this morning and lasts until 6:30 p.m. It is co-sponsored by the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation Orange County and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C. If you would like to appear, the events are taking place on the UCI campus, Humanities Gateway 1030
According to a poster, I found, here is the lineup of speakers scheduled to appear:
10:30 – 11:15 a.m.
Lynne Fallwell, University of Texas Tech — “But You’re Not Jewish?!” Exploring the dynamics of Embodiment and Assumption in Teaching the Holocaust
11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Ruth Kluger, UC Irvine — Teaching Holocaust Literature: The Place of Fiction and Poetry
2:00 – 2:45 p.m.
Deborah Hertz, UC San Diego — Letter Go of Hitler? Politics and Pedagogy in Holocaust Education
2:45 – 3:30 p.m.
Michael Bazyler, Chapman University — Teaching the Holocaust in Law School
3:30 – 4:15 p.m.
Kai Evers, UC Irvine — Spectacular Catastrophe: Teaching the Holocaust at UCI
4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Harold Marcuse, UC Santa Barbara — Lessons of the Holocaust in Germany: Past, Present and Future
A group calling itself, “Stand With the 11′ issued a press release yesterday, and “questioned the Zionist influence on the disciplinary decisions of UC Irvine.” The group is clearly trying to rally people around its cause based on the fact that leaders from Jewish Federation Orange County recently traveled to the Bay Area to address concerns on the UC Irvine campus. While you can read their press release below, keep in mind the following points:
1) The Jewish Federation mobilized its leaders to address concerns at UC Irvine. It’s called making your voice heard in a respectful and impactful method.
2) The Federation could have held the meeting, quietly, behind closed doors and stated its case and cause. And yet, it did so in a transparent fashion so that people should know that the Jewish community in Orange County will not stand for the organized and aggressive tactics used by the Muslim Student Union to prevent free speech. The city of Irvine and UCI pride itself on diversity and Jews will continue to come to the campus to learn. Deal with it.
3) The Federation also prides itself in its commitment to build bridges and it will continue with efforts such as the Rose Project.
The Rose Project was developed by Jewish Federation Orange County to address the challenging issues at UC Irvine and on other university campuses in Orange County. The purpose of The Rose Project is to ensure that students on Orange County university campuses and community leaders are informed about issues of Jewish life and Israel, that they are deeplyeducated on the facts and the myths, and that they are fully engaged in positive advocacy for Israel and in dealing with challenges that emerge. The Rose Project also seeks to facilitate respectful dialogue and shared learning amongst different constituents on campus and in the community. I wrote it in blue to emphasize that the Jewish Community has worked hard to build bridges with other groups.
Please, someone show me where the Muslim groups have made any effort like this at UC Irvine or in our community to build a bridge, to encourage discussions and improve the dialogue. Someone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
It should be noted the rambling release calls the Jewish Federation Orange County a “Vigilante Organization” one that has “exacerbated the tensions and threatened the constitutional protections of the students there.”
Here is their press release as mentioned above. It has been highlighted in green.
From: Stand with the Eleven (Email Address withheld)
Date: March 10, 2010 3:26:14 AM EST
Subject: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Supporters of the Irvine 11 Question Zionist Influence on Disciplinary Decisions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MEDIA: CONTACT Email Blocked for this blog
Supporters of the Irvine 11 Question Zionist Influence on Disciplinary Decisions
(IRVINE, CA, 3/9/10) – Irvine 11 supporters are increasingly concerned that outside interest groups have had a disproportionate influence on the pending disciplinary charges against the eleven students that spoke out against Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. In a recent meeting between UC President Mark Yudof and the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, Shalom Elcott; the co-chairs of the Jewish Federation’s Rose Project, Jeff Margolis and Jim Weiss; and Gerald Solomon, Executive Director of the Samueli Foundation, President Yudof assured the organizational leaders that the students would be prosecuted and the Muslim Student Union would be “disciplined.” According to Shalom Elcott, the “Jewish Federation of Orange County is working intensely with multiple channels of leadership on local, national and international level . . . to be sure the ongoing [disciplinary] process proceeds quickly.”
Such external pressures by vigilante organizations have had a long history at UCI and have exacerbated the tensions and threatened the constitutional protections of the students there. Only a few weeks ago, the Zionist Organization of America called for an academic and financial boycott of UCI until the MSU is punished.
The public statements by the University threatening the suspension or dismissal of the eleven students points to both selective enforcement of policies and a disproportionate punishment. It begs the question – why are these students facing such harsh charges? These students neither threatened violence nor prevented Michael Oren from finishing his speech. Rather, their actions are part of the American legacy of political engagement and social justice activism. At a commencement speech at the University of Notre-Dame, President Obama responded to ten anti-abortionist protestors by stating, “Let me just say this though. Some people got organized to do that. That’s part of the American tradition we are proud of.”Comparatively, UCI’s draconian response to these student protestors is unprecedented and clearly tied to the external pressures and political biases of the UC leadership. As President Yudof admitted in the past, “As you can imagine, it is difficult for me to separate my public role as President of a state university from my private life as a Jewish man who is active in Jewish causes and a strong defender of Israel.”
With passing time, it has become clear that the same forces that have aggressively sought to silence criticism of Israel across our nation are once again pressuring the UC leadership to criminalize and disproportionately sanction the protests of the “Irvine 11”. These efforts are part of a greater agenda to stifle critique of Israel. Last year, UC Santa Barbara tenured professor William Robinson was threatened with termination for sending an email critical of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. It was later revealed that Abraham Foxman, the Director of the Anti-Defamation League, met privately with the Chancellor at UCSB to encourage Robinson’s termination. Former professor Norman Finkelstein, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, was similarly denied tenure from DePaul University due to his strong criticism of Israel. As have many other respected professors, scholars, and students been scared into silence from legitimately criticizing Israel’s illegal and inhumane policies.
See: Muzzle Watch
We call for an immediate investigation into the communications and agreements between UC leadership, including President Mark Yudof, and external Zionist organizations that threaten the academic futures of the “Irvine 11” and derail the academic freedom of all UC students.
Jewish Federation Orange County President and CEO Shalom Elcott was joined by Gerald Solomon (Executive Director of the Samueli Foundation) and Jeff Margolis and Dr. Jim Weiss (co-chairs of the Jewish Federation’s Rose Project) during a visit to the University of California Headquarters in Oakland, CA on Wednesday.
The group spoke at length with UC President Mark Yudof regarding the ongoing concerns and challenges at all UC campuses and in particular, UC Irvine visa-vis the Muslim Student Union’s (MSU) on-campus activities, which mostly recently includes the organized disruption of Ambassador Michael Oren’s visit on February 8, 2010.
Yudof expressed the following points to the visiting foursome:
* He is very supportive of Jewish Federation Orange County’s efforts in investing in opportunities to support positive dialogue on the campus. He also commented that the Federation, through its Rose Project, is doing a commendable job to provide positive programs that support Jewish students.
* He was outraged that several students attempted to prevent Ambassador Oren’s right to free speech.
* These students should be prosecuted for violating the student code of conduct and breaking the law.
* He agreed that, pending an investigation with full due process, the Muslim Student Union (MSU) should be disciplined for their violations of campus codes of conduct.
Said Elcott after the meeting: “Jewish Federation Orange County is working intensely with multiple channels of leadership on a local, national and international level who have a stake in the current challenges at UC Irvine. We want to be sure the ongoing process proceeds quickly so that justice will be served.”