Olive Tree Initiative Absent From 'Ethics Statement' Israel Trip Ban

"OTI is changing discourse on campuses by equipping students with a vehicle to advance anti-Israel views under the guise of academic exploration"

As TruthRevolt has reported, Jewish students and Israel trips are under attack on the campus of UCLA. Jewish student Avinoam Baral was the victim of a vicious editorial from the Muslim newsmagazine on campus, Al-Talib​, which called for Baral to disassociate from the pro-Israel program Hasbara Fellowships. Baral is in the running for Internal Vice President and the paper alleges that Baral's connection to a trip that "actively (contributes) to violence against Muslims" is unacceptable.

UCLA's The Daily Bruin reported Tuesday that many student government candidates had signed an "ethics statement" which prohibits them from traveling to Israel with AIPAC, the ADL or Hasbara Fellowships. The proposal was drafted by student members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the Armenian Students’ Association and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

The full text of the statement, which ran in The Daily Bruin, is printed below:

We, as UCLA students from various backgrounds and perspectives, ask that elected officials refrain from taking free or sponsored trips with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League or Hasbara Fellowships.

As many students have experienced this year, AIPAC and ADL have political agendas that marginalize multiple communities on campus. Recently, student government trips to the AIPAC Policy Conference have come under scrutiny because of the organization’s ties to anti-Armenian groups and public figures. Both AIPAC and the ADL (as well as its current president) have histories of Islamophobia. AIPAC has sponsored Islamophobic speakers at its conferences and has also consistently pushed for war with Iran, even while the Barack Obama administration has sought a diplomatic route. AIPAC also marginalizes the Afrikan and Palestinian communities, as the organization has consistently endorsed and protected actions that have violated human rights and international law.

Hasbara Fellowships is housed under Aish International, an organization that has helped disseminate Islamophobic materials on campuses and around the country. These materials portray the Muslim community as threats, have incited violence against Muslims and serve to marginalize Muslim students on campus.

We further ask that Undergraduate Students Association Council members do not accept free or sponsored trips that marginalize communities on the UCLA campus. This includes any outside non-student organization that promotes discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, physical ability, mental ability, marital status, financial status or social status or which engages in any form of systematic prejudiced oppression. The University of California Student Association and United States Student Association conferences are deemed acceptable as these conferences deal directly with student issues and do not marginalize any community.

Please sign as a candidate in the upcoming USAC elections assuring the campus that you will decline these trips while in elected office:

Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed
Winnie Galbadores
Francesca Rebosura 
Manjot Singh
Irmary Garcia 
Janay Williams
Devin Tré Murphy
Erineo Garcia 
Alexander Joseph Maximilian Mercier
Conrad Contreras
Miriam Rodriguez
Harwind Lasher
Angel Garfio
Jazz Kiang
Teri Nguyen 
Gabriel Gutierrez 
Der Xiong

Carlos Quintanilla, Savannah Badalich, Greg Kalfayan, Kevin Patterson and Sachin Medhekar declined to sign because of issues with specific language in the document but claim they will not be attending such conferences if elected in the upcoming year.

Absent from the "ethics statement" was any mention of the anti-Israel trip the Olive Tree Initiative. According to a report from the AMCHA Initiative, there is even a case of a UCLA student traveling to the Middle East and returning with anti-Israel sentiment. According to the report, "The basic premise of OTI is that experiential learning through “living the conflict” provides students with a unique mix of tangibles and intangibles to best understand the Arab/Israeli conflict.  Whereas each campus brings speakers and events, the central event for all campuses is an extensive trip focused on Israel and the West Bank, which purports to be without ideological bias and to give students a fact-based “360 degree learning experience.”

The report also alleges that "The overarching themes of the trip, painting Israel as an illicit state and precluding judgment against its Arab neighbors, are woven together and reinforced by a skewed itinerary as well as activist facilitators who show no deference to OTI’s rules for academic dialogue.  The ideological shift observed across participants has been overwhelmingly in a direction against Israel.  

The report documents former UCLA student Corey Feinstein, who participated in the trip during his time as an undergraduate and returned to campus with an anti-Israel agenda:

Corey Feinstein is a former UCLA OTI student. Today, he works fulltime (at) OTI’s headquarters at UC Irvine. As an undergrad, Corey suggested that he was in the pro-Israel camp, but was not very informed nor part of the activist community. Recently, speaking to a group of students in California, he admitted that his first experience in Aida refugee camp (perhaps the 2007 trip) left him feeling that his sympathies for the Palestinians were misplaced because  the camp’s conditions were much better than his expectations. Since going through his undergraduate OTI experience, he may have moved more to the center of the spectrum, but I suspect he is somewhat sympathetic to the Israeli point of view, though his conduct as a facilitator on the trip was such that his viewpoint was not obvious. Corey often doesn’t give his opinions on debates, saying that he can’t decide what his view is – instead saying that his passion for OTI is to spread his own uncertainty and interest in learning to students whose opinions are otherwise set firmly. 

According to the website Ha-Emet, Feinstein and others on the Olive Tree Initiative trip met with Fatah leader Husam Zomlot and George Rishmawi. The group also posed for a photograph in front of a poster of Palestinian martyrs. The English translation of the poster reads "Martyred Leaders: The Central Committee to the Fatah Movement." 

Zomlot infamously declared that the Palestinians are "in a continuous intifada" and that "resistance, including armed resistance, is a right" in 2012.  In 2013, Zomlot  called for "full recognition of the Nakba" during the J Street conference. Echoing Zomlot's mention of intifada and terror, J Street U students were photographed wearing "resistance is not terrorism" t-shirts in early 2013. The Washington Free Beacon noted that, "Palestinian terrorists and their western supporters, now including members of J Street U, employ the phrase in the hope of counteracting the commonly held belief that murdering Israeli men, women, and children in suicide bombings and shootings constitutes terrorism."

According to the AMCHA Initiative's report on the Olive Tree Initiative, "the other threat OTI poses to the Jewish community is that it may discourage and demoralize pro-Israel students, perhaps even making them question their Jewish identity" and "OTI is changing discourse on campuses by equipping students with a vehicle to advance anti-Israel views under the guise of academic exploration."

One OTI participant wrote "The Hamas charter is not okay, however the resistance is 100% appropriate in my opinion" while another urged, "don't be a bystander to a terrorist state carrying out terrorist actions, come out and support the struggle against Israel."

The Olive Tree Initiative at UCLA website contends that "the goal of the trip is not to change the allegiances of students from different religious and cultural backgrounds, but to educate and prepare to find innovative ways to address the conflict on campus, and perhaps someday, in the region itself."

UPDATE: This article was updated to reflect that the AMCHA Initiative has publicly released its report on the Olive Tree Initiative.