As to the claim of “balance” frequently touted by OTI supporters and repeated in The Jerusalem Post without scrutiny, a simple look at an OTI itinerary shows that this is not the case. Itineraries show a preponderance of extreme anti-Israelism (including an over-representation of BDS supporters) and Palestinian-exclusive narrative. UC Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who analyzed the 2010 itinerary, asserted that an “overwhelming majority [of speakers] have expressed an overt animus towards” Israel, which she objected to in a letter to Elcott in 2010. In 2009, students were in the Israel region almost five days before they encountered a pro-Israel speaker even remotely comparable to the level of anti-Israel indoctrination they received. Students’ initial impressions of Israeli-Palestinian relations were shaped by: the two Rishmawis; Mazin Qumsiyeh; Zoughbi Zoughbi, an anti-occupation activist and BDS supporter; a Palestinian whose son was killed by the IDF; a Bethlehem resident “affected by the wall,” and a tour of a refugee camp.
The JFOC has also been dishonest in the disclosure of its funding of the OTI. The federation has publicly denied that it provides significant funding to the program. In December of 2010, Jeff Margolis, co-chair of the federation’s Rose Project (through which the federation says it funds the OTI), told Pajamas Media that the project provides “nominal” funding of the OTI, and Margolis told the Post that the federation was “only one of a number of sponsors.” But in fact, the federation letter to Chancellor Drake regarding the Hamas meeting identifies the federation as the “largest funder” of the OTI and further describes the federation as being central to the program’s development. Moreover, documents recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the Rose Project has given tens of thousands of dollars to the OTI in the last several years. Notably, in the Post article, neither Elcott nor Margolis denied that Jewish communal funds have been used to fund the program, as Post editor Caroline Glick alluded to in a recent column. The use of communal philanthropic funds has been a major bone of contention for opponents of the OTI, and is a characterization that the federation has objected to. In all reality, however, the issue of communal fund use is largely moot, as any support whatsoever for the program is objectionable.
The purpose of the OTI is clear for anyone with eyes to see: by taking the most anti-Israel of the anti-Israel fringe and putting it on par and in such considerable proportion to mainstream views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the OTI seeks to render virulent anti-Israelism mainstream by association. And contrary to what the OTI claims, where these insidious views are provided a legitimate platform, the public discourse drastically degenerates and naked anti-Semitism thrives. The campus at UC Irvine, home to Israeli Apartheid Week, provides an overwhelmingly hospitable environment for these anti-Israel views, and has been identified as a center of anti-Semitic activity by the Anti-Defamation League. It is not coincidental that the university put itself on the map last year when students associated with the school’s Muslim Student Union attempted to shout-down a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, defaming him and his country with outlandish accusations of genocide. On May 31, the Chabad House at UC Irivine, home to the rabbi and his wife, was vandalized, its front window smashed. The perpetrators remain unknown; the environment that enabled them is not.
[A pledge to prevent Jewish federation funding of BDS-related activity has been developed in response to the Olive Tree Initiative. To view the pledge, click here.]
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