More Concerns Raised About the Olive Tree Initiative

The following letter to Jewish Community Leaders  is copied to the OC Task Force and a number of Jewish Organization by Tammi-Rossman Benjamin, a Jewish educator and faculty member at UC Santa Cruz.  Ms. Rossman-Benjamin’s letter outlines very serious concerns about  the Olive Tree Initiative, the speakers involved and the nature of the organized trips .  Careful consideration should be given to the allegations outlined in this letter.

Dear Mr. Elcott and Mr. Fruchtman:

I am a faculty member at UCSC and a Jewish educator, who has been working with many organizations and members of the community to combat anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on my own and other UC campuses, including at UC Irvine.

Last week I received the letters which you sent on behalf of the Orange County Federation and Hillel, which shamefully attacked a member of your Jewish community for expressing deep concern about the overtly anti-Israel nature of a Federation-funded and Hillel-promoted program, the Olive Tree Initiative.  I am writing to you to affirm that I and a great many others share that community member’s concerns.

Here’s why:

As you know, the OTI sends students for a two-week trip to Israel and the disputed territories.  During that time students meet with over 50 individuals and groups, an approximately equal number of Israelis and Palestinians, with some international and Jordanian speakers. Overall, there is a clear anti-Israel pro-Palestinian tilt to the OTI.

Of the Palestinian speakers and groups who addressed the students on the most recent OTI trip (Sept. 2010), the overwhelming majority have expressed an overt animus towards the Jewish state, including by advocating for its elimination or for measures to harm her, or by allying with terrorist groups that perpetrate violence against Jews.  Over one-third of the Palestinian speakers have advocated boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.  Moreover, at least two of the Israeli speakers represent organizations which engage in relentless Israel bashing, and several other speakers on the Israeli side have been harshly critical of Israeli government policy.  In addition, two of the four supposedly neutral international organizations, whose representatives made presentations to the OTI students, are well-known for their virulently anti-Israel bias.

The following is an alphabetized list of the 15 most egregiously anti-Israel speakers and organizations from the 2010 OTI trip, with links to their anti-Israel statements and activities:

Ayed Al Azzeh (representative of the Al-Rowwad Center)
  • The Al-Rowwad Center is a signatory of the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.
  • The Al-Rowwad Center is closely allied with organizations that engage in anti-Semitic activity and seek to harm the Jewish state, including: Badil, Al-Awda, and the Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund.

Sam Bahour (Palestinian entrepreneur and businessman)
  • He is a signatory to the recent California Divestment from Israel Initiative, which calls on the State of California to force two public employee pension funds (with total investment portfolios of $300 billion) to divest from companies that support Israeli settlement or supply military supplies or services to Israel.
  • This year he published an article expressing support for BDS, in which he wrote that “the tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions are much more powerful non-violent methods than negotiating in vain with a government bent on ethnic cleansing.”

Breaking the Silence (BtS) (an Israeli NGO). According to the NGO Monitor:
  • BtS actively promotes “war crimes” charges against Israel.
  • BtS conducts tours to Hebron and South Hebron Hills and are criticized by Israeli police officials for “antagoniz[ing]…settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them.”
  • BtS members were on the “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” boat which recently tried to violate Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Bill Van Esvald (Analyst for Human Rights Watch)

John Ging (Director of UNRWA in Gaza)
  • He has promoted political warfare targeting Israel, including by supporting the “Free Gaza flotillas” and the demonization of Israel.
  • According to NGO Monitor, “UNRWA schools and other facilities are often used to teach hatred and encourage incitement; the evidence demonstrates that UNWRA staff allowed terror related activities in its camps.”

Ir Amim (an Israeli NGO)

  • NGO Monitor accuses Ir Amim of relentless Israel bashing, promoting the Palestinian narrative, and blaming Israel for the failure of the peace process.
  • Yehudit Elkana, the chair of Ir Amim’s board of directors, signed a 2002 petition demanding “that governments end military assistance to Israel, suspend economic ties, and support the prosecution of war criminals, and urge other states to do so.”

Qadoura Mousa  (Governor of Jenin)
  • He supports BDS and recently said that “boycott is an important measure of the will and the patience of the Palestinian people…It must succeed.  We have to show the Israelis that they cannot continue to occupy our land illegally without consequences.”


Prof. Mazim Qumsiyeh (Bethlehem University)


Munib Masri (a member of the Palestine Legislative Council and former Jordanian Cabinet Minister)
  • In a 2009 interview, he lionized Yassir Arafat and whitewashed Hamas leader Khaled Mashal.

George N. Rishmawi (co-founder, The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), current director of Palestinian Center for Rapprochement)

  • In a 2008 document which he authored in the name of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement (PCR), Rishmawi called on activists to “initiate boycotts, divestments and sanctions at all levels and including asking leaders to expel the Israeli ambassadors (an ambassador of an apartheid and rogue state).”
  • The PCR is under the aegis of the ISM, an organization that, according to a Jewish Federations of North America webpage,  has links to terrorist organizations, openly advocates the destruction of Israel, and sends activists and unsuspecting volunteers (often university students like Rachel Corrie) into life-threatening situations in order to protect known terrorists. In addition, the ISM is a leader in the global BDS movement and has been a signatory or supporter of many BDS campaigns, including on UC campuses.

George S. Rishmawi (co-founder, The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), co-ordinator/co-founder Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies  

and a tour guide and primary contact of the OTI in the West Bank



  • He is on staff at the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement (PCR), an organization run by his cousin George N. Rishmawi, which is under the aegis of the ISM (see above).
  • The Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies, which “provides alternative tours for tourists that make them more aware of the situation in Palestine,” is owned by the PCR and is the main project of the PCR’s Travel Department.  (See above for more information on the links between the PCR and the ISM).

  • In a 2004 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he (or his cousin George N. Rishmawi, see above) said that the ISM’s main purpose is to increase awareness of Palestinian suffering through the involvement of foreign activists who pay their own way to the West Bank, adding that “if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”
  • In 2005 he wrote, “I believe the right of return is the most important issue because it helps finishing [sic] Zionist Israel.”





Ibrahim Sarsur (most senior Arab politician in the Knesset, party leader of the United Arab List)

  • At a 2007 conference, he called on Muslims and Arabs to “liberate Jerusalem.”

Raja Shehadeh (Founder, Al Haq)
  • Al Haq is a Palestinian NGO which is a leader in NGO lawfare against Israel and the BDS movement.

Dr. Husam Zomlot (Deputy, Central Committee Fatah, PLO representative to the UK 2003 – 2008)
  • He was a Palestinian delegate to a 2007 international conference entitled “End Israeli Occupation — Freedom for Palestine: Building a New Anti-Apartheid Movement,” organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, a major promoter of assaults on the Jewish state through lawfare and BDS.
  • In August 2010, he spoke at a conference in Cambridge Massachusetts exploring “Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza in the aftermath of the massacre of peace activists taking part in the Free Gaza flotilla.” Zomlot said the Free Gaza flotilla was “the most effective way of confronting Israel,” and he lauded the work of the International Solidarity Movement.

Zoughbi Zoughbi (Founder and Director of the Wi’am Center)
  • He wrote an article in which he called for boycotting anything produced in the Israeli settlements and divesting from any business or activity that prolongs and strengthens the occupation, “as well as to impose sanctions on Israel to succumb to the international agreements.”
  • The Wi’am Center is a signatory of the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Students who go on such a trip and hear such speakers cannot help but return to their UC campuses with negative feelings about the Jewish state.  For example, one non-Jewish UCSC student, who participated in the 2010 OTI trip, wrote this in her blog after touring a Palestinian refugee camp: “I will never understand how Israel offers Jews from the diaspora a right of return from 4,000 years ago, and denies Palestinians the right of return from 60 years ago.  The math feels racist.”  I believe the OTI will exacerbate the already serious problems that Jewish students face on UC campuses.


In addition, as a Jewish educator who cares deeply about fostering Jewish identity, I was very upset to see the lack of sensitivity to Jewish faith and tradition shown on the recent OTI trip.  After arriving in Israel late Friday afternoon September 3rd, students were taken directly to the Old City for Shabbat dinner.  However immediately after that, at 9pm on Shabbat evening, they traveled to Bethlehem, stayed in a hotel there, and spent all of Shabbat day touring Bethlehem and Ramallah.  Even worse, on the following Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Jewish students spent the two days of Rosh Hashana and Shabbat evening and morning in Jordan, touring the country and meeting with speakers, oblivious to the holiness of these days.  Instead of festive Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat meals, Jewish students participated in dinners associated with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.   And ironically, although the schedule indicates that Muslim students were given the opportunity to attend prayer services during their time in Jordan, no similar opportunities were extended to Jewish students during Rosh Hashana and Shabbat.

Jewish organizations, including many of those copied on this letter, spend millions of dollars and countless man-hours each year combating the rampant anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism found on college campuses today. It is unconscionable for Jewish communal resources to be used for the support of such a program. I urge you to reconsider your funding and promotion of the Olive Tree Initiative.


Furthermore, I strongly recommend that you look at the excellent funding guidelines recently adopted by the Jewish Community Federations of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties.  These guidelines ensure that grantees do not endorse or promote anti-Semitism, or advocate or endorse “undermining the legitimacy of Israel…through participation in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in whole or in part.”  Were you to adopt such a policy, I  believe it would go a long way towards increasing confidence in your organizations within the Jewish community you serve.

I and the thousands of community members who will read this email look forward to your reply.


Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

CC: Organizations that have expressed concern about anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on UC campuses:

Americans for a Safe Israel
American Freedom Alliance
American Jewish Committee
Anti-Defamation League
Chabad Student Centers on UC Campuses
Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors
David Project
Hasbara Fellows
Hillels on UC campuses
International Hillel
Israel on Campus Coalition
Israel Peace Initiative
Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco the Peninsula, Marina and Sonoma Counties
Jewish Community Relations Council
Jewish Federation of the East Bay
Jewish National Fund
Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA)
National Council of Young Israel
Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism
Orthodox Union
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Stand With Us
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
USD/Hagshama World Zionist Organization
Zionist Organization of America

One Response

  1. Thank you for taking the time to provide this information.

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