In defense of recent criticism for attacking Jewish activists on the University of California, Irvine (UCI) campus, the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC - ed. note: Irvine is in Orange County, California) attempted to vindicate themselves and affirm their "pro-Israel bona fides" in the media. Certainly, many of JFOC's actions, past and present, are indefensible and run contrary to those expected of an organization embracing Israel support as a core mission.
Although JFOC president, Shalom Elcott, has denied the existence of anti-Semitism at UCI and declares "tremendous success in tamping down anti-Israel hostility by implementing proven, effective strategies," there continues to be rampant hostility toward UCI Jewish students with little JFOC intervention.
According to an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report on the campus, "The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has become a center for anti-Semitic activity in recent years. Much of this activity has been organized by the Muslim Student Union (MSU), a vocal student group at UCI, which is responsible for staging large events every spring featuring virulently anti-Semitic speakers."
These events have included an annual "Hate Week," week-long programs that demonize Jews and the Jewish state, as well as invitations to Muslim Brotherhood speakers such as Malik Ali and Siraj Wahhaj. Anti-Israel attacks have even deteriorated to the degree where MSU protesters have been arrested and their on-campus activities suspended following a disturbance during a 2010 speaking engagement by Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren.
Far from being a model campus for "countering anti-Israel activity," as JFOC contends, UCI has been a hotbed of virulent anti-Semitism, most of it going unchecked by JFOC and its subsidiary Hillel. Rather than organizing events to counter the MSU campaign against Israel and Jewish students, they have consistently criticized and thwarted the efforts of committed Zionist students and community advocates, including those who make up the Anteaters for Israel (AFI).
JFOC has demanded, under threat of the withdrawal of funding, that AFI discontinue its association with the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
JFOC has demanded, under threat of the withdrawal of funding, that AFI discontinue its association with the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), has bullied AFI organizers to cancel a speaking engagement for pro-Israel, former Muslim, Nonie Darwish, and has harassed and harangued AFI students for waving Israeli flags at a recent Israel festival as UCI lecturer, Gary Fouse, and AFI president, Sharon Shaoulian, attest. JFOC leadership recently went to the extent of blaming AFI students for "inciting" Muslim students, even though the MSU has an almost 15 year history of disrupting pro-Israel events.
Far from encouraging potent and effective activities to counter the barrage of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and Israel at UCI, the JFOC has added to the problem by sponsoring a highly questionable student travel program and failing to take action against illegal fundraising for anti-Israel activities.
Under the guise of "interfaith outreach" and "fair and balanced dialogue," the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), which began at UCI and received funding from JFOC's Rose Project, sends students to Israel on tours that promote the Arab-Palestinian narrative and demonize and undermine the Jewish state. Itineraries have included meetings with terrorist supporters, including representatives of Muslim Brotherhood organizations, terrorist group operatives and advocates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
On one such trip, UCI students met with thrice-arrested Hamas official, Aziz Dweik. Shocked by this encounter as well as other meetings with terrorist supporters, the ZOA urged the JFOC to "disassociate completely from the OTI,” take action against OTI Director, Daniel Wehrenfennig, for arranging, authorizing and attempting to cover up the meeting with Dweik, and notify the Jewish community that the meeting had taken place. The ZOA accused JFOC of being "guilty of whitewashing problems at UCI" and continuing "to tout the OTI program as a positive and effective response to the anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing at UCI."
In 2009, when George Galloway, the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel founder of "Viva Palestina," an organization that has given millions of dollars to Hamas, was hosted by the UCI MSU and illegally solicited funds on campus, it was the ZOA, not the JFOC, that addressed the matter of illegal fundraising for a designated terrorist group to Attorney General Eric Holder. At no time did the JFOC issue a statement of condemnation, contact law enforcement or call for the resignation of the four UCI faculty members who attended the event.
One thing is clear in the JFOC's recent Jerusalem Post op-ed, "Turning against fellow pro-Israel advocates:” "The Jewish people have already borne the catastrophic consequences of turning against each other." However, far from fighting the problem and joining the efforts of pro-Israel advocates, the Jewish Federation of Orange County appears to have learned nothing from "the lesson of our past" and continues to thwart the efforts of those working valiantly to support Israel and Jewish students at UCI.
Janet Levy, MBA, MSW, is a freelance writer, public speaker and political activist who has contributed to American Thinker, PJ Media, FrontPage Magazine, Israel National News, Family Security Matters and other publications.