Friday, July 05, 2013

An Olive Tree That Needs Pruning

The Olive Tree Initiative project has been a source of controversy.   

Arabs don't like it and Jews don't like it.  

Neither do others.

I once appeared before the group several years ago and almost brought a Muslim student to tears when I proved to her that no one in the civilized world between 1915 - 1922 recognized any rights of a political nature for Arabs in Palestine, which they unanimously considered the homeland of the Jews based on the historical connection between the country and the Jewish people,

Arabs, in fact, weren't even named as such but were always referred to in the official decisions and documents as "non-Jews".  She couldn't believe me.

Now, it seems, a very detailed critique on the program is out, somewhere.

Some highlights I selected:

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...some facilitators intervene in students’ affairs, erasing the barriers between a partisan speaker and an impartial facilitator. The ideological shift I observed across participants was overwhelmingly in one direction (anti-Israel)...students [upon finishing the trip] consider themselves experts in the conflict and feel empowered to become opinion leaders on their campuses, despite the fact that their knowledge of the conflict may be limited and one-sided.
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Questioning moral commitments to one’s community and challenging one’s political views are all part of a vibrant dialogue that everyone should partake in. If some Jewish students develop negative views of Israel and the American Jewish community through an open and honest inquiry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would be unfortunate for the Jewish community but wouldn’t necessarily warrant a condemnation of the program. However, OTI doesn’t make Jewish students uncomfortable by these open, honest means. Instead, its ideologically skewed nature doesn’t pose sincere questions – it demands Jewish students admit their community’s guilt, accept responsibility for fixing the problem, and bear the burden of judgment. This is a fundamental flaw in the program.

-   -   -

...there are several ideas and themes that occurred repeatedly without the trip without adequately including opposing viewpoints, for which there is often a wealth of scholarship:
•    Palestinians have a long history of secular, pluralistic self-rule before Ottoman occupation and, later, Zionist colonization of the Land of Israel. Today, Palestinian resistance has been an overwhelmingly peaceful, secular national movement motivated by human rights on the principle of equality with Israeli Jews.
•    ...Israel is, on balance, an aggressor in the region.
•    Support for Israel is probably not in the US’ strategic interests...
•    Hamas['s] recent moderation mean[s] that it should not be FTO-listed...
•    The IDF’s actions and bylaws scarcely differentiate it from Hamas...and the nature of the occupation significantly factor into the rise of Palestinian terrorism.
•    Israel is a land-hungry country and its society is driven by paranoia.
•    Israel has no interest in pursuing a just peace with the Palestinians. Israel is the primary or only actor capable of creating peace.
•    Gaza is effectively occupied and living conditions there constitute a near-humanitarian crisis, putting ‘blood on Israel’s hands.’
-   -   -

...BDS was always portrayed as a necessary step towards ending the occupation. Often citing the speakers’ comments, students would later describe BDS as a logical response to occupation, as it addresses the students’ popular concept of the occupation being “profitable” for Israel...Doubts about Zionism and the legitimacy of the concept of a Jewish democratic state extended much further with some meetings, with multiple speakers laughing off the idea of Jewish peoplehood.

-   -   -

...meeting with multiple extreme right-wing Israeli organizations, one of which may be described as fascist, exemplifies the tendency for the itinerary to delegitimize Israelis as irrational and out of touch with reality, or otherwise extreme. For example, a representative of the Jewish settlement in Hebron was among the less extreme Israeli right-wing individuals we met. Students went from confusion to disgust with these figures...[while they] met with the far-right, [there was] little opportunity to get to know the vast majority of Israeli people and civil society in the center, skewing the group’s impressions.

...On the left, the group met with peace activists and prominent Israelis whose work in progressive politics was largely revered by the student and faculty participants. However, these meetings tended to drive home the message that the Israeli political machine was stuck with an intransigent, ultra-right wing coalition that had no interests in peace....They could not even entertain the ideas of the Israeli center because, by the time of these meetings, the group’s views had moved so far to one side...Meeting center-right groups and individuals, even those taking a pragmatic and non-ideological approach to substantive issues, was pointless, as many students dismissed them from the get-go. Back in California, several OTI participants brushed aside a meeting with the center-right watchdog group NGO Monitor, dismissing it as another cog in the so-called “Israeli denial complex.”

There is much more.

I used to laugh at the claim that Jews came to their college confrontations with Leftists and Arabs with the knowledge and ability to discuss matters intelligently with the mental capacity of a ... 13 year old due to their Jewish education stopping, in the best of cases at their Bar Mitzva. 

It's no laughing matter.

Is someone doing something about this?


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