Olive Tree Initiatives “nefarious”connections?

The ‘Flytilla’: Brought to You by Friends of the Olive Tree Initiative   

Posted by  Nichole Hungerford on Jul 11th, 2011

Evidence continues to mount over the nefarious nature of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a controversial student program that originated at the University of California, Irvine and is rapidly spreading to other campuses. Radical anti-Israel activists with long-standing involvement in the program have been identified as lead organizers of what has been dubbed the “flytilla,” a recent stunt aimed at putting the Israel delegitimization campaign back in the headlines. Sending young college students to meet with such Israel-hating extremists — including a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas — is what the OTI’s powerful patrons consider “holistic” education.

Of the numerous parties involved in the “flytilla,” more technically known as the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, two of them are associated with the OTI. The campaign’s purported objective was to inundate the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv with foreign activists ultimately destined for a week-long agitation event in Palestinian territory. The spectacle was also intended to coincide with the unsuccessful effort to sail a multi-national flotilla to the Gaza Strip. However, Israel refused entry to hundreds of known flytilla activists, achieving cooperation from airport personnel in other countries, who disallowed identified activists from boarding flights to Israel. Regardless, a deluge of activists were able to travel to Tel Aviv, some of whom were permitted entry into Israel upon arrival, although many were detained or sent back.

One of the key campaign organizers was the radical anti-Israel activist Mazin Qumsiyeh. Qumsiyeh, a PhD who previously taught at Yale, has served for the past three years as a speaker for the OTI. He travels the globe giving presentations against Israel, and commonly accusesthe country’s government of being a Nazi regime, which previously collaborated with the Third Reich and killed twice as many Palestinians as are estimated to have died in the Holocaust. Nonetheless, he is a highly-esteemed figure among OTI participants.

Qumsiyeh’s involvement is perhaps best chronicled by the numerous mass emails he has sent out to his followers regarding the Welcome to Palestine campaign. For instance, on June 12, in reference to Welcome to Palestine, Qumsiyeh assured his acolytes in the “Palestinian American Congress” that he was “back in Palestine and busily working with dozens of volunteers (but we need more) on the July and other actions to challenge the system of [Israeli] apartheid.” Illustrative of his typical dementia, Qumsiyeh also told followers that a young Jewish American was “attacked by apartheid state mercenaries” for speaking out, presumably against Israel.  Qumsiyeh, it should be pointed out, works tirelessly to popularize the defamatory notion that Israel, the only non-apartheid, democratic country in the Middle East, is an “apartheid state.”

In a July 7th email, while again extolling the Welcome to Palestine campaign, Qumsiyeh promised that afterward, “We will plan bigger and more dramatic events in the months to come.” And in response to Israel’s largely successful attempt to thwart Welcome to Palestine, Qumsiyeh told followers that “Israeli policies towards anything or anyone relating to ‘Palestinians’” are “dictatorial, racist, and criminal and not complying with basic elements of democracy or human rights.” He also accused Israel of attempting to “isolate and imprison Palestinians.”

These diatribes are typical of Mazin Qumsiyeh. He is not neutral, nor does he pretend to be. He is a man working night and day to bring about an end to Israel through a worldwide public relations program to paint Israel as a racist, militant, and colonialist state. That mission is clearly being fulfilled through his work with the OTI. For example, in a 2009 OTI program booklet titled “Expressions/Impressions,” one student recorded the valuable message he learned from Qumsiyeh (emphasis added):

Rhetoric, [Qumsiyeh] explains, is key to framing the conflict, and regardless of the truth behind the terms, what matters is how we invoke a response and convey our message.

What is meant by “rhetoric,” of course, is maliciously contrived, thoroughly invented demonizing propaganda, the truth behind which this particular student observer was not interested in ascertaining. Instead, the student wrote, he learned to “respect that rhetoric” and that “emotions and suffering becomes more important than fact[.]”

To date, three groups of students from UCI (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other) have traveled to Israel and the West Bank to meet with both sides of the conflict. However, evidence has shown over the course of the last three years that this venture is heavily weighted with radical anti-Israelism and Palestinian whitewashing. This includes extensive, ongoing involvement with two co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), another group that participated in Welcome to Palestine and which also happens to endorse Palestinian terrorism. These two particular co-founders, George S. Rishmawi and George N. Rishmawi, have served as OTI speakers and guides for at least the last three years. According to one OTI participant’s account, George S. Rishmawi, promotes violence.

The ISM was also the signatory of a Welcome to Palestine appeal for participation published on one of the campaign’s affiliated sites. The statement itself scarcely conceals its contempt for Israel’s right to exist. It asserts that Israeli “colonial authorities are implementing their racist apartheid policies throughout historic palestine” and that “ethnic cleansing and killing/injuring civilians are just some of the many violations of basic human rights.” The statement then declared that the campaign’s purpose was to challenge the Israeli “siege of the whole of palestine.”

Perhaps the most egregious misstep made by the OTI occurred in September 2009, when students met with Aziz Duwaik, one of the most prominent leaders of Hamas, just months after he was released from Israeli custody. The OTI also attempted to coverup the meeting, which it did successfully until it was exposedin early 2011.

Nevertheless, the OTI remains sponsored by UC Irvine and, indeed, is a favored project of University of California President Mark Yudof.  Most shockingly, the program’s self-professed “largest funder” is the Orange County Jewish Federation (OCJF), which has provided the OTI with tens of thousands of dollars through its Rose Project. In the face of enormous criticism, the OCJF refuses to withdraw support for the OTI. This has prompted a community response under the aegis of Ha’Emet (“the truth”) to urge other Jewish federations to pledge to disassociate from all delegitimization activity, including BDS, or the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

With another trip being organized for September into this increasingly volatile region, who knows what the next OTI delegation will encounter. It is doubly concerning that the very individuals involved in the OTI are responsible for fomenting this volatility through their hate campaigns. As for those recalcitrantly sponsoring the OTI, it is high time they examine where their sentiments lie. The OTI is accomplishing nothing more than enabling and giving credibility to the Mazin Qumsiyehs of the world.

Gary Fouse, an adjunct teacher at UC-Irvine Ext. and retiree from the Drug Enforcement Administration, contributed to this report.


3 Responses

  1. I like this post, not only does it try to portray the Olive Tree Initiative as a ‘nefarious’ and otherwise dangerous organization, but it quotes something from my article in OTI’s Expressions/Impressions journal.

    First of all, your quote is taken out of context, not in the way that requries me scrambling to find my words and take back things I said, but rather out of context in the way that it purposefully omits the following sentance/paragraph (that essentially agrees with you) in order to portray OTI as something to oppose.

    For example, you quote “Rhetoric, [Qumsiyeh] explains, is key to framing the conflict, and regardless of the truth behind the terms, what matters is how we invoke a response and convey our message.”

    In fact, if you take one good look at Israel delegitmizers you will notice their unbelievable talent at contorting “facts” and “realities” and turning them into “half-truths” or outright lies. I am equally pissed that students and professors alike, on UCI’s campus and abroad, feel the need to use terms like “apartheid” and “genocide” so loosely that it quicky deminishes its true definition. It makes me angry that people can be so close-minded that they have to rely on inflamatory rhetoric and outright falsehoods in order to make a point/argument.

    With that in mind, how could you honestly portray my quote in a negative light, and place it so far out of context? “The student wrote” that student being me, “to ‘respect that rhetoric’ and that ’emotions and suffering becomes more important than fact[.]’” Is this not the case with Qumsiyeh? That he takes the perception of his peers and the international community to be more important than fact, so as to portray the situation so far away from reality that people forget/lose sight of the realities on the ground?

    Its hilarious that you do not recognize that we agree here, so let me provide you (and other readers here) the full quote so that they may decide for themselves how much we both detest this “percetion > fact” equation that I learned to recognize.

    “emotions and suffering, becomes more important than fact; it is, perhaps, the most human element in this conflict—the war of words.

    This is a problem because each side believes they know the truth, and takes unprecedented steps towards disseminating such truths. Additionally each side perceives themselves in the right, and expects international solidarity against the “other”. The conflict has evolved into an international industry, a media enterprise whose sole concern is to gain popular support at the expense of civilians. Each side has engineered a campaign so clever, so manipulative and self-destructive that its intention to sway the international community ends up cultivating deep resentment and entrenched hatred.”

    Perhaps this quote is more relvant today than it was about 2 years ago…

    Sincerely, the author of the article quoted above,
    Oren Klein
    OTI2 & 3

  2. Oren,


    Now that you are no longer a UCI student and have entered the adult world, let me respond to your comment as an adult.

    First of all, the references to you and Qumsiyeh’s quote were not contributed by me to Ms Hungerford’s article. I suggest you direct your objections to her at the Frontpage site. My contributions are readily available on my own version posted on fousesquawk.

    To date, we have identified four individuals involved with OTI that are involved to one extent or another with the recent flytilla. They are: Qumsiyeh (first and foremost), both George Rishmawis and Sam Bahour. I believe it is fair to say you know them all. I say unequivocally that these individuals are using young people like you. You are giving them credibility and thus enabling them in their mission to bring down Israel as a Jewish state and supplant it with Palestine-from the river to the sea. They are nothing but a PR arm of the ISM, Hamas, Hizballah and others. The only difference is that they use the words, peace and non-violence to sway gullible young people to their cause. They have been quite successful.

    It comes down to this, Oren. You claim to be a supporter of Israel, yet in your response you draw a moral equivalence between both sides. I reject that moral equivalence. You want dialogue. They want to bring an end to the state of Israel. Eventually, you have to realize that Israel is fighting for its survival while so many American Jews play this game with the ISM and people like Qumsiyeh. Eventually, you need to choose sides.

    We have come to the conclusion that the OTI is a sham when it claims to be balanced and exposing students fairly to both sides. There are simply too many people involved in OTI in many forms who talk out of both sides of their mouths, people who claim to support Israel or be neutral, but really support the Palestinians. How strange is it that there are students-Jewish students no less- who are involved both with OTI and the SJP-not only on the UCI campus, but other UC campuses as well?

    You are in the real world now, Oren. You need to decide which side you support. I suggest you read up on your Third Reich history (an area in which I happen to be an expert). Europe in the 1930s is a history lesson applicable for us today- especially American Jews. Why? It’s happening again.

  3. […] Posts Olive Tree Initiatives "nefarious"connections?Richard Falk posts "vicious" anti-Semitic image on his blog. Claims ignorance of its repugnant […]

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