Olive Tree Initiative Sticks it to Israel

Gary Fouse

As my readers know, I have written many critical articles about the UC-Irvine-based Olive Tree Initiative. This year, another OTI trip was conducted to Israel and the West Bank. Last night, there was a welcome home event held at UC-Irvine for the students to report on the latest trip. I went to the event to listen and to learn. Since it was their event, I had no intention of being the skunk at the garden party especially since it was centered around the students, Jewish, Muslim and other who went on the trip and were presenting their views and experiences. I went as one who is critical of the OTI. I left even more cemented in my views. This was another diatribe against Israel disguised as a striving for peace.

After introductory speeches by OTI founder Daniel Wehrenfennig and UCI Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham, there were a series of presentations by pairs of participating students. There was also an introductory video. When I saw the Al Jazeera logo on the screen, I should have been able to predict the content. This was not going to be fair and even-handed no matter how they might try and present it as such.

What followed the video was an historical recount by a Muslim and Jewish student of the series of meetings and agreements that had fueled an expectation of a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that never panned out. There were images of Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, Yassir Arafat, Yizhak Rabin, and other leaders who had entered into negotiations. There were few if any words of praise for Israel, but there were plenty of criticisms.

There were images of Jordan's King Hussein and his son, the current king, representing a nation that has no proud history of how it has treated Palestinians living in its territory. (Remember Black September?)

We were told how the OTI trip had started with a stop in Washington where the students and organizers were briefed by Dennis Ross, the chief US negotiator between the Israelis and Palestinians. That is how far this venture has succeeded in gaining official support.

There was a scripted debate between two student-participants who argued the point about whether the UN should grant nationhood-recognition to Palestine or whether that should be accomplished by negotiation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. (That was the strongest support of Israel I heard last night.)

The principle theme last night was a message of peace, reconciliation and the hope that Israelis and Palestinians would live in peace. A wonderful ideal, indeed. Yet, there was another theme that cropped up from time to time. Israeli intransigence and Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. One student speaker introduced an account from an Arab of Israeli citizenship who stated that while he was glad to have Israeli citizenship, he was not proud of his nationality. There were a couple of negative references to Bibi Netanyahu and his followers who "were not interested in peace." There was a reference to the First Intifada, which was "peaceful".

About two-thirds of the way into the program, there was an emergency alert and we were instructed to leave the room and go to the nearest exit. Was it a bomb threat? A fire? We proceeded outside and waited for about 20 minutes. A fire truck passed by. Finally, we were informed that it was a false alarm and people proceeded back inside. I and three like-minded friends decided we had heard enough. We left.

This was not a balanced presentation. I have come to my final decision on the Olive Tree Initiative.

I offer this for consideration. One of the contacts of OTI, which was described is an group called Parents' Circle Family Forum. This is a group founded by one Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Israeli whose son was shot and killed by Palestinians while serving with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The group consists of families of Palestinians and Israelis who have died in the conflict including families of suicide bombers and their victims. We learned how they have come together and exchanged accounts of their grief and desire for peace. On the surface, it sounds wonderful. What could be better than reconciliation and a desire for peace between those who have lost family members on both sides? Indeed, this group has been recognized by meany international bodies including the EU.

When you look deeper, it gets murky. Mr Frankenthal also blames his nation's policies for the death of his son. Below is an article he wrote in the Guardian:


So just what is the principle guiding the Parents' Circle? Below is an article written by Lee Kaplan in Frontpage Magazine. It concerns two of their activists who have spoken in the US:


Here is what was not discussed last night (at least before we left in disgust):

There was no mention of Palestinian terrorism other than oblique references to the suicide bombings in connection with the Parents Circle Family Forum.

There was no reference to the Itimar Massacre of the Fogel family.

There was no reference to the issue of Jew hatred among the Palestinian population, the Hamas charter that quotes the hadith of hate, whereupon on the Day of Judgement, the Jews will hide behind trees, which will call out to the Muslims to "kill, the Jew hiding behind me". Indeed, the word Hamas was barely mentioned.

Here is the key, which all of us need to understand. There are now hundreds of organizations out there all over the world that proclaim that they are dedicated to bringing peace to the Middle East. They talk about reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews and the desire that they will learn to live in peace. Yet, the overwhelming majority of these so-called peace organizations are solidly on the Palestinian side of the issue. They believe that Israel is an occupying power and that the Palestinians are victims-no matter how many terrorist acts against innocent civilians the Palestinian terrorists of Hizbollah and Hamas commit. They believe that Israel is a human-rights violator. In fact, many of them believe that Israel has no legitimacy as a sovereign state. Israel must eventually cease to exist. They may or may not state it, but that is what they want.

That is the desire of the International Solidarity Movement, founded by Palestinian activists and now international in scope. They declare that they are for peace, but they have links to Hamas. Their mission is to work toward the dissolution of Israel by deligitimization of her in the eyes of the world. They are tied into the world-wide movement of Boycot, Divest and Sanctions, which is active in the US and Europe-especially on university campuses.

The International Solidarity Movement has also wrapped its tentacles around the Olive Tree Initiative. How else does one explain the involvement of George S Rishmawi, a co-founder and his cousin George N Rishmawi?

There are also links between the ISM and the Parents Circle Family Forum. They are all birds of a feather flying together. You will find their names both linked on various sites dedicated to "peace in the Middle East." For example, let's look at the Holy Land Task Force:


Note the following links:

Friends of Sabeel
The Electric Intifada
Stop the Wall
Breaking the Silence
Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
If Americans Knew
Israel Committee Against House Demolitions
Website of Norman Finkelstein
Boycott Israel
Muzzle Watch-From Jewish Voice for Peace
Global BDS Moveme
International Solidarity Movement
Parents Circle

Get the message?

Below is the link for the Michigan Peace Team:


Recommended resources:

US Campaign to end the Israeli occupation
Jewish Voice for Peace
International Solidarity Movement
Parents Circle

Now let's go to the webpages of the Parents Circle itself:


"Yehuda Shaul, "Breaking the Silence"

Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada.

Until today, Yehuda Shaul and" Breaking the Silence" interviewed hundreds of soldiers who served in the territories, and they continue to interview soldiers daily. The organization also has lectures and tours to Hebron. The testimonies are published with minimal editing and with complete confidentiality, in order to protect the soldiers and to encourage them to speak."

Ayed Ahmad Morar –

"Ayed, a father of six from the village Budrus near Ramallah, is an enthusiastic supporter of nonviolence resistance in Palestine. Ayed Ahmad Morar established the first popular committee against the wall in 2003 and led over 60 non violent demonstrations together with the residents of Budrus. Ayed Ahmad Morar advises on non-violence in Palestine and is a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian movement for non violence."

Also note on the right margin the list of activities and events in which they include a Mavi Marmara event and a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht. Below is the Wikipedia entry for Mr De Gucht.


Get the message?

The Parents Circle Family Forum is one of the planned activities of the Olive Tree Initiative. They were also on the 2010 itinerary. They are a pro-Palestinian organization that believes Israel is an occupying power. Their program was part of last night's presentation.

Here is a salient point: For those of you old enough to remember the Cold War with the Soviet Union, you may recall that a major part of the Soviets' propaganda revolved around the international peace movement, which argued that only the US was a war-like, imperialistic country that should dissarm. The USSR stood for peace. Never mind their invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

That tired old tactic is at work again when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is the aggressor and peace means that Israel must make all the concessions, give up land and ultimately give up its very existence. That is the tactic, and many of the old Soviet-sympathizers of the Cold War in the West are using the same tactics today to destroy Israel.

And today, I firmly believe this is what is happening with the Olive Tree Initiative. It is all in the name of peace. Young students are being manipulated by older, experienced left-wing activists in and out of academia along with some misguided life-long peace activists (who do more harm than good) and led to believe that they can help bring peace to the Middle East. It is an illusion. In this spirit, dozens of college students are being led over to the Middle East. There they meet with a few Israeli officials and many Palestinian activists, combined with selected Israeli peace activists who are hostile to their own country.

What transpired last night (in the time I was there) was a pathetic travesty when it came to being even-handed in this complex issue. We heard a lot of pompous talk about the need for young people to have the courage to open their minds to both sides. Yet, it was not a balanced event. That's because this is not a balanced venture.

This is part and parcel of the International Solidarity Movement's effort to bring about the dissolution of Israel by convincing the international community that Israel is a racist, occupying state that has no legitimacy.My anger is not toward the students. Most genuinely believe they are advancing peace. My anger is to the adults who are manipulating them.

Shame on the University of California system for advancing this cynical and fraudulent program.

Shame on the UCI Department of Social Sciences and the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies for spearheading this program.

And more than that, shame on the Jewish Federation of Orange County and their suspicious financial operation called the Rose Project for supporting the anti-Israel indoctrination of Jewish students with their funding. It is beyond disgrace.

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