Olive Tree: Seriously broken

In the past few days, new and disturbing information has come to light about the activities of The Olive Tree Initiative at the University of California Irvine.  Touted by the University as evidence of a climate of tolerance and understanding at UCI, the Initiative has previously been exposed as a mere "fig leaf" intended to obfuscate the true tolerance that abounds on that campus - tolerance for antisemitism, intimidation and bigotry toward Jewish students.

Now, in a letter recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, it emerges that the Olive Tree Project arranged for students on a UCI sponsored trip to Israel in 2009 to meet in secret with a leader of Hamas and then instructed the students to lie about it.  As Front Page reports:

letter that can be viewed at www.ha-Emet.com records officials from the Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC) expressing distress to the chancellor of UCI, Michael Drake, over student participation in an unauthorized meeting with a prominent Hamas figure, Aziz Duwaik, in September of 2009. Students were participants in the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a part of the university's Difficult Dialogues II program, which conducts trips to Israel and the West Bank for students to learn about the conflict in that region. Notably, OTI programing, associations, and student membership often overlap with other student organizations such as Hillel. Among other reasons, the released letter states that OTI participants were instructed not to tell anyone about the meeting to "avoid being detained...reentering Israel from the West Bank or being held at the airport before leaving the country" -- this should give a clear idea about how serious such a meeting would be to Israeli and US officials. The JFOC's letter requested that the university conduct an investigation into the incident and that disciplinary action be taken.
The severity of this breach of trust really cannot be overstated.  This meeting was not part of the planned agenda.  Neither the authorities in Israel nor the parents of the students nor the Jewish Federation of Orange County (which helps to sponsor such OTI trips through its Rose Project) were apprised of or consented to such a meeting.  Hamas has in the past resorted to the kidnapping of American journalists as well as Israeli soldiers.  Questions of legality, morality and plain common sense aside, such a meeting could have ended in disaster.

Eighteen months have passed since the JFOC's letter requesting an investigation and disciplinary action, but none has been forthcoming.  On Friday, the Zionist Organization of America forwarded letters (disseminated by email, so far not available online) to the Chancellor of UCI and to the CEO of the OC Federation and the co-chairs of the Rose Project demanding that action be taken.  To date, the response of the administration has been defensive and absurd ("Cathy Lawhon, spokeswoman for UCI, said meeting with people of many different points of view is consistent with (Olive Tree's) mission.' ").  Hopefully, increasing pressure in the coming days will produce a more appropriate, if belated, response.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn B. published on April 3, 2011 12:24 PM.

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