More Questions Raised about the Olive Tree Initiative as Hamas Member Aziz Dweik is Re-Arrested

Note: On December 28, 2010 The Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism,  formally asked  the Orange County Jewish Federation, Hillel and the Rose Project. to adopt the Jewish Community of San Francisco’s guidelines for funding. Among other things, the guidelines prohibit funding for any activities that “advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the [BDS] movement, in whole or in part.” On March 21, 2010, we published the Pledge in memory of the Fogal Family.  To date those entities, The OC Jewish Federation, Hillel and the Rose Project have not bothered to respond.

IDF Arrests Hamas Speaker of PA Parliament Who Met UC Irvine Students

by Jerry Gordon     

New English Review       Saturday, 21 January 2012

On Thursday, the IDF arrested the Hamas Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Aziz Dweik near Ramallah.  Dweik had been detained by the IDF in 2006. Dweik had figured prominently in the controversial Olive Tree Initiative at U.C. Irvine, when students had met students had met with Dweik during a visit to the West Bank  in 2009.  Orange County Jewish activist, Dee Sterling of Ha-Emet, the Truth had discovered through a California Public Records search evidenced that a Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC) affiliate, the Rose Project, had funded the Olive Tree Initiative program at U.C. Irvine.

Here is the Jerusalem Post report on Dweik’s arrest, “IDF nabs head of PA parliament” near Ramallah:

IDF soldiers arrested senior Hamas official, Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Authority parliament on suspicion of involvement with terrorist groups on Thursday, the IDF and Hamas said. Hamas said Dweik was taken into custody at a checkpoint near Ramallah and it accused Israel of trying to prevent rival Palestinian factions from completing a unity deal. Dweik was arrested by Israel in 2006 and spent two years in jail.

Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a brief civil war a year later, since when parliament has been inactive. Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction agreed a reconciliation deal last year, but it has yet to be implemented.

We noted the encounter between Dweik, the UC Irvine students and the involvement of the JFOC in a July 2011 NER investigative article, “Does the Olive Tree Initiative Lack Credibility?”

JFOC loses its Credibility- the smoking gun letter. The JFOC’s credibility problem surfaced from a response to a California Public Records Act (PRA) request by local activists from Ha’Emet. That information surfaced a “smoking gun” letter sent by JFOC President Elcott to UCI Chancellor Drake in October, 2009 revealing a meeting between OTI students and Hamas representative Dweik. The JFOC leaders seized upon this letter as evidence that they had brought this to the attention of UCI administrators seeking an investigation. The JFOC leaders never informed the community. Continue reading

In Memory of Rabbi Aba Dunner 1938-2011

18 July 2011

Rabbi Aba Dunner dies at 74

World Jewish Congress

British rabbi Aba Dunner, the longtime executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, has died in London at the age of 74. He was the leading activist for the cause of Orthodox Judaism in Europe and was widely respected across the Jewish world. He had been seriously ill for some months. Born in Königsberg (then Germany, today Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1938, Aba Dunner was the eldest son of the Rosh Beis Din of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in Britain, Rabbi Josef Hirsch Dunner.

The World Jewish Congress said in reaction to Rabbi Dunner passing: “He was one of the leading activists for the cause of Orthodox Judaism over the past decades and was widely respected across the Jewish world. He was at the heart of the building and strengthening Jewish institutions in Europe. Within the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Dunner and the Conference of European Rabbis – which he led for many years – were actively engaged in addressing the concerns of Jews and Jewish communities and in strengthening dialogue with other faith communities. He was a dedicated fighter for achieving peace and freedom for all peoples, irrespective of their origin, religion or ethnic background. He will be sorely missed by all those who had the pleasure to work with him over the years. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife and his family. May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.”

Note: On January 19 2011 Rabbi Dunner sent an email  letter to OC Federation leader Shalom Elcott and copied to the OC Task Force  The letter requested that Elcott ” cancel any support for Olive Tree (Initiative) and to desist from sending anyone to their programmes.” He also suggested that  the  Federation “should carefully monitor what they are doing and take action to counteract their activities.” Apparently, Elcott and local Jewish  community leaders have ignored his counsel.  Rabbi Dunner will be missed. We wish to extend our heartfelt  condolences to Rabbi Dunners Family– OCITF

New English Review: Jewish Federation leader allegedly hits UCI Professor with coiled up flyers after “heated verbal exchange”.

Does The Olive Tree Initiative Lack Credibility?

Jerry Gordon

New English Review (July 2011)

On May 9th, the President of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, California (JFOC), Shalom Elcott, was loitering on the plaza during the first day of the 2011l anti-Israel Apartheid Awareness Week organized by the Muslim Student Union (MSU)at University of California, Irvine (UCI). He encountered Professor Amihai Glazer. Glazer was one of 60 faculty members who had signed a letter expressing the view that antisemitism did indeed exist on the UCI campus – Islamic antisemitism. The conversation became heated when Elcott suddenly hit Glazer with coiled up flyers after Glazer told him he had “a credibility problem.”

Elcott is the brother of Prof. David Elcott of NYU Wagner College. David Elcott is a former US Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee. He left to become executive director of the J Street ally, the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). His successor at the IPF is MJ Rosenberg an active supporter of J Street’s mantra of “pro- Israel and pro-Peace” seeking immediatedeclaration of a Palestinian State.

One potential problem at UCI was the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI). The OTI was co-founded as a student led group in 2008 that included former Muslim Student Union President, Ali Malik, Isaac Yerushalmi, former head of Anteaters for Israel, and then graduate student, now director of the OTI, Daniel Wehrenfennig. The objective of the OTI program, sponsored by the JFOC Rose Project, was to send Jewish and non-Jewish students to Israel and the West Bank to expose them to a variety of views from Israeli and Palestinian representatives so they might gain an understanding of all sides of the issues.

Jewish student leaders at UCI Hillel, local JFOC officials and Jewish students who have gone on OTI sponsored trips persist in saying that antisemitism doesn’t exist on campus. Continue reading

Has The Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC) ” been dishonest in the disclosure of its funding of the Olive Tree Initiative?”

The Patrons of Anti-Israelism

Posted by  Nichole Hungerford on Jun 23rd, 2011

Frontpage Magazine

Last week, a troubling article appeared in The Jerusalem Post on the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a shady student organization run primarily through the University of California, Irvine that is rapidly spreading. The subject of intense criticism, the OTI has been infiltrated by (among others) activists from the terrorism-supporting International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and has sent students to meet with a leader of Hamas. Even so, what appeared in the Post does little to hold the organization accountable — or its powerful supporters in the Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC).

The OTI has been covered extensively at FrontPage, most recently in an article detailing a 2009 student trip to Israel and the West Bank on which students met with one of the foremost leaders of Hamas, Aziz Duwaik (trips to Israel to meet with “dialogue partners” are a central function of the program). The meeting occurred just months after Duwaik’s release from Israeli custody. Afterward, students were told to coverup the meeting and to essentially deceive officials in order to avoid trouble crossing borders and leaving the country. A spokeswoman from UC Irvine told FrontPage that there was no investigation into the incident that she knew of, nor has there been any evidence of an investigation subsequently. That is to say, neither the university nor the OTI’s funders have shown any interest in understanding the OTI’s dealings with Hamas, and in particular, how it is possible that the OTI arranged this meeting and what internal connections brought it about. (Duwaik, incidentally, was detained again in May by the Israeli Defense Force.)

The fact that there was no investigation is most puzzling, as JFOC sent a letter to Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake ostensibly insisting that an investigation be preformed. Yet with no investigation conducted, the federation continues its support. Continue reading

JPost: “Elcott and Margolis do admit that students meet with speakers who support BDS and the branding of Israel as an apartheid state.”

So, sending students into a dangerous neighborhood and into the arms of those who seek to destroy Israel and the Jewish people  to get their “perspective”is appropriate, so long as they get the other point of view?  And this is what we call  leadership? 

A very balanced itinerary?

06/15/2011 23:20

Is the Olive Tree Initiative, an interfaith program that brings American students here to learn about the Israeli-Arab conflict, offering its participants the appropriate mosaic of views?
Shalom Elcott thinks you may have gotten the wrong idea.

In Israel this past week for Shavuot, the Orange County Jewish Federation president and CEO said that criticism of his group’s support for the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) was misplaced and not based on an honest examination of the program.

“We could all agree that we don’t love all the speakers, but we have to work with American Jews to develop a greater understanding about how important that diversity of opinions in Israel is. Our job is to work with OTI and open the door to the best possible teachers and people who know the facts on the ground and make sure they’re engaged on the trip,” he said. Continue reading

In an Apparent Contradiction, Is UC Irvine Now Calling OTI Meeting with Hamas leader a “Misstep”?

As reported earlier, in an article in the OC Register, UC Irvine official Cathy Lawhon was quoted as saying ” meeting with people of many different points of view is consistent with (Olive Tree’s) mission.” “Their stated mission is to hear varying points of view, and to take people of varying points of view over there,” Lawhon said. “It’s not a homogenous  group at all.” Lawhon went on to say  “more trips to the Mideast have taken place since 2009, but that she is unaware if additional meetings with Duwaik or other Hamas officials were held.”

This statement was apparently ignored and contradicted in a different  UC Irvine official  response letter  to The Zionist Organization of America .  According to that officials letter : ” The meetings should not have happened. This was discussed specifically and at length with the Olive Tree Initiative leadership and board after their return to the United States in the fall of 2009 in an effort to avoid similar missteps in the future.”  Missteps? Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. State department and it’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews.

Here is  the ZOA’s  response

Conference of European Rabbis Expression of Concern Over the Olive Tree Initiative

The following Letter of concern from Rabbi Abba Dunner, Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis, was copied to the OCITF  and is being forwarded with Rabbi Dunner’s permission:

From: Aba Dunner
Sent: 19 January 2011 12:30
To: ‘’
Subject: Olive Tree
Attention Mr Shalom Elcott: 

Dear Mr Elcott,

We are the Conference of European Rabbis, the umbrella organisation of all European Chief Rabbis and Rabbis and their communities in Europe.
We understand that your Federation is sponsoring students from California to participate in programmes organised by the Olive Tree organisation. Surely this can’t be right. This organisation is clearly an anti Israel body that has a definite agenda which is to delegitimize Israel.
For a Jewish organisation to sponsor Jewish students to participate in such programmes is quite wrong.  As we all know, students can so easily be influenced to adopt ideas and dogmas especially when they are at odds with the ideas of their peers. This new trend, which is to expose youth to all that is available is valid up to a point. But not when it endangers the continuity of the Jewish people.
It would be sad if these youngsters returned to California and joined anti Israel protests, marches and organisations, just because your Federation felt that this exposure was important for their education.
We ask you in all sincerity to cancel any support for Olive Tree and to desist from sending anyone to their programmes. Rather, your Federation should carefully monitor what they are doing and take action to counteract their activities.
Rabbi Aba Dunner
Executive Director
Conference of European Rabbis

UCLA Students Letter Expresses Deep Concern about the Olive Tree Initiative

The OCITF is posting  the attached letter with the permission of the author:
 Dear Mr. Shalom Elcott,
  I have recently been made aware of the OTI. As a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, I am concerned about the OTI and its goals. Below is a letter expressing my concerns (I have also attached it to this email). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Naya Lekht
To Shalom Elcott, President and CEO of the
Orange County Jewish Federation:
            My name is Naya Lekht. I am a PhD candidate in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recently, I have been made aware of the OTI (The Olive Tree Initiative) of UC Irvine. I am extremely concerned about this program, as I strongly believe that it is doing much harm to both Jewish students on campus and the image of Israel in the public arena.
            I am particularly troubled by several tenets and goals of the OTI. First and foremost, in times when Israel is demonized and unjustly singled out for perennial rebuke in the world, it is morally wrong to bring speakers who further implicate and vilify Israel. Part of the OTI goals is to better acquaint students with various ideas and narratives about the conflict in the Middle East. By drawing an equal sign between those voices who support Israel and those who wish to destroy Israel the OTI is, in effect, legitimizing a narrative that argues for the extermination of the State of Israel. Continue reading

UC Irvine take note: OC Federation CEO to “intensely monitor” the situation.

Jewish leaders want U.C. Irvine to react powerfully

February 18, 2010

by ben harris , jta

The chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Orange County has put U.C. Irvine on notice — he’ll be watching what’s happening there.

Eleven students were arrested Feb. 8 for disrupting a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

In the wake of that event, federation head Shalom Elcott said the Jewish community will “intensely monitor” the response of the university. Continue reading