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.
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 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/
This morning, the President of UC Irvine Hillel, Matan Lurey, sent out the following letter to the Orange County Jewish Community. I have attached it for you to reads:
Lurey was referencing the the letter posted to this blog last week.
Many in our community have waited a long time for UC Irvine officials to take action against the ongoing actions by the Muslim Student Union. Some thought it would never happen. Today’s blog is will certainly get your attention.
Jewish Federation Orange County announced this morning it has learned the results of UC Irvine’s judicial process. UCI has suspended the Muslim Student Union (MSU) for one year and placed it on disciplinary probation for an additional year. That’s not all. The MSU is also required to collectively complete 50 hours of community service. As a result, it will not be allowed to conduct organized campus events until at least the fall of 2011.
Here is what Shalom Elcott, the President of the Jewish Federation Orange County had to say about the decision.
“We commend the University for its judicious decision in support of free speech and civil discourse. The University’s disciplinary action regarding the MSU establishes an important and appropriate precedent and sends a powerful message to other universities across the nation.”
According to a UCI campus document, suspension means that the recognition of the MSU organization has been revoked. Gone. Done. Additionally the document states that no current executive officer listed on the Dean of Students registration application form will be allowed to act as an “authorized signer” for any other student organization at UC Irvine during the suspension. The effective dates pertaining to the suspension are from September 1, 2010 to August 31, 2011.
How did this come to pass. Let’s go back to events that happened earlier this year.
On February 8, 2010, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren visited the Orange County, California, campus for a planned visit and speech to UCI students and community members. During the 90-minute event, Oren was repeatedly interrupted by members of the Muslim Student Union, 11 of whom were arrested. The investigation into this incident revealed the Muslim Student Union’s well-documented and premeditated plan to prevent Oren from delivering his presentation.
The results of the campus judicial reviews regarding the 11 individual students arrested at the Oren event will not be released by the University. Privacy laws protect the student notifications, so we cannot know the outcome at this time. Unless the students step up and make or challenge the announcement themselves, we may never know how the university has punished them.
Jewish students at UCI, whose campus experience is largely a positive one, have been the target of the Muslim Student Union’s anti-Israeli campaigns and anti-Semitic slurs for years. The MSU, while publicly denying its student programming as being anti-Semitic, brought fringe speakers to the campus just last month. One speaker, Malik Ali, said during a campus speech just steps from the UC Irvine administration building, “Ya’ll (Jews) are the new Nazi’s.” Ali also confirmed his public support for terrorist organizations Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
“While some in the community called for a public boycott of UC Irvine and have condemned the administration, we have always believed in working constructively through the appropriate channels with campus and community leaders. While we would have liked for the administration to have come to this conclusion more quickly, we are pleased that after due process, the MSU has finally been sanctioned. ”
Along with the Jewish Federation, there have been many organizations involved in this battle. They include the Anti Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and Hillel.
By involvement, this includes ongoing meetings with campus faculty and staff, meetings with UC Regents, University of California President Mark G. Yudof as well as ongoing discussions with members of Congress. Additionally, the Federation has held continuous meetings with students and key community leaders.
I was able to personally speak with leaders in community and here what they had to say about this decision.
“When a group spews hate and calls for violence they must be stopped. A public university ought to be a place for civil discourse and vigorous debate, but not a place for vitriol and incitement. I applaud the Chancellor and the University for taking action. Standing up against hate is always right.”
Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot
“These results serve as a reminder that the 1st Amendment is a non-negotiable American value. The MSU must understand that they do not have the authority to control what students can and cannot hear on campus. My family left the Middle East to come to America and realize their dream of freedom and equality, but the same forces that oppressed us there have followed us here. I am proud to see that American universities will not tolerate these attempts to silence or censor the voices of minorities.
I hope this landmark decision will lead to a new beginning between moderate Jewish and Muslim students; one of mutual respect, cooperation, and appreciation for one another.”
Isaac Yerushalmi, UC Irvine Alumnus, Class 2010
“The UCI administration has taken seriously, the on-campus actions of the MSU and their serial disregard for University policies and civil discourse. UCI is an outstanding academic and research University and the talented Jewish students on campus benefit most when members of the broader Jewish community support enhanced educational, leadership and social programming.”
Jeff Margolis Co-chair, Jewish Federation Orange County’s Rose Council.
“UCI’s administration has done the right thing and is to be commended. We can all have faith in the American system because the results show how well it works. The Orange County Jewish Community will continue to bring positive education, programming and discussion to the UCI campus.”
James Weiss, Co-chair, Jewish Federation Orange County’s Rose Council.
“Having heard first-hand of the intimidation prevalent on the UCI Campus and how Jewish students felt the need to hide their religious affiliation, I am happy and relieved to hear of the strong and just action taken by the UCI Administration. Using the banner of “free speech” to browbeat and delegitimize those who feel differently is a perversion of that noble concept and should certainly not be tolerated at our academies of higher learning.”
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine
Jewish Federation Orange County will continue working closely with university leadership to encourage bridge-building programs between Muslim and Jewish students and students of other faiths. Toward this objective, Jewish Federation established the Rose Project in 2008, which provides funding for positive Jewish programming and support to the Jewish students of Orange County college campuses. Student leaders of Anteaters for Israel, Hillel: Jewish Student Union, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority take advantage of many leadership development and Israel education opportunities funded by the Rose Project throughout the academic year. Other endeavors of The Rose Project include the development of a high-level special guest lecture series and bridge-building programs with the Muslim and Christian communities of Orange County.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neyanyahu today defended his country’s need for security.
The television address, which I linked below, should be seen and heard by everyone.
Netanyahu said, in part: “Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea. I would go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem.”
He added later in the speech:
“For this and for many ever reasons, we have the right to inspect cargo heading into Gaza.”
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
Over the weekend, I received a copy of a statement headed by UC President Mark G. Yudof, the Chancellors of the ten UC campuses, and the Chair and Vice Chair of the Universitywide Academic Senate. I thought it was interesting something you should know about. Here is what it said:
February 26, 2010
As leaders of the University of California, we are deeply disturbed by recent events at a few of our campuses. We condemn all acts of racism, intolerance and incivility. Regardless of how such offenses are rationalized, or what free speech rights they purport to express, the acts we have witnessed are unacceptable. The actions of these individuals reflect neither our principles nor our values, nor the sentiments of the University of California community. We will not allow the actions of a few to speak for this University. We denounce them.
Each of our campuses is committed to promoting and defending a learning environment that values and supports each student, faculty and staff member in an atmosphere that is open, civil, fair, caring and respectful. These values are enshrined in the “Principles of Community” each campus adheres to and that clearly outline our expectations for behavior on our campuses. We expect that all members of our university community, including our visitors, will be respectful of differing views, opinions, experiences, and background.
When violations occur, it is incumbent on us, as leaders and as stewards of free speech on our campuses,
to push back. We have a responsibility to speak out against activities that promote intolerance or undermine civil dialogue. As always, the remedy for bad speech is good speech. For that reason, we call on all members of the UC community – students, faculty and staff – to affirm and defend the values of the University of California. We are speaking out and ask that you do the same whenever, wherever and however you confront behavior that violates the principles and values of this University.
The Following people signed the document:
Mark G. Yudof, President, University of California
Daneil Simmons, Vice Chair, UC Academic Senate
Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor, UC Berkeley
Linda P.B. Katehi, Chancellor, UC Davis
Michael V. Drake, M.D., Chancellor, UC Irvine
Gene Block, Chancellor, UC Los Angeles
Steve Kang, Chancellor, UC Merced
Timothy P. White, Chancellor, UC Riverside
Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, UC San Diego
Susan Desmond-Hellmann, Chancellor, UC San Francisco
Henry T. Yang, Chancellor, UC Santa Barbara
George Blumenthal, Chancellor, UC Santa Cruz