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Nichole Hungerford

Why Is a Jewish Organization Sending Students to an Anti-Israel Indoctrination Retreat?

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Posted on January 25 2011 2:55 pm

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The psychological war against Israel is silently securing a foothold in the U.S. before our very eyes.  The latest example is a controversial student program known as the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), which has bamboozled many peace-minded individuals, even those in the usually vigilant Jewish community. While masquerading as a “bridge-building” enterprise, the OTI’s history and ongoing activities show it to be closely affiliated with virulently anti-Israel activists, who openly condone violence and are devoted to the delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish State. Controversy has mounted over the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s decision to give funding for Jewish students to participate in OTI programming, which, all reports suggest, it has no intention of discontinuing. This leaves many to worry about the inroads radical front groups have made into the mainstream, and the likelihood that such acceptance will spread.

Formed in 2007, the OTI claims to promote peace and a fair understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by providing a platform where both Israelis and Palestinians can engage in dialogue. It preforms information-sharing and awareness activities, often in the form of panel discussions and speaking events. It also organizes trips for students to visit Israel and disputed territories, one of its major “bridge-building” functions. Yet, many OTI speakers and organizers involved in the Israel trips show that the group’s interest in fairness and balance is extremely disingenuous.

In a December 2010 letter to the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Orange County and the Hillel Foundation, Dr. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the University of California – Santa Cruz provided an assessment of groups and speakers involved in the OTI’s student trips. Of these parties, Dr. Rossman-Benjamin explained, “an overwhelming majority have expressed an overt animus towards the Jewish state.” According to Dr. Rossman-Benjamin, over a third of the speakers representing the Palestinian side promote boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) strategies against Israel, while others call for Israel’s elimination or are allied with violent, anti-Semitic terrorist groups.

The preponderance of BDS supporters involved with the OTI should not be overlooked. Central to BDS campaigns is the assumption that the country being inveighed against, in this case Israel, is so fundamentally oppressive toward marginalized groups, that the ordinary political process is ineffective. This assumption serves to delegitimize the authority of the oppressive state (think disobeying an “unjust” law) and to justify extreme measures taken by the oppressed group. For instance, many of the advocates of BDS strategies against Israel liken the Jewish State to apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany, a completely false imputation that recklessly demonizes the county. One such advocate and OTI speaker is Diana Buttu, a Canadian-Palestinian lawyer and former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 2008, following the outbreak of war in the Gaza Strip (initiated by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel) Buttu claimed in a Fox News interview that Israel used the inauguration of President Barack Obama as an opportunity to “go into the Gaza Strip and kill Palestinians.” When the interviewer, Greg Jarrett, asked Buttu if the terrorist group Hamas shared any culpability in the war’s bloodshed, she responded, “Absolutely not. You are blaming the victim.” She then went on to accuse Israel of “war crimes,” for which it should be prosecuted.

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