The Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), the self-described “non-partisan college educational program” operating out of numerous universities, has, since its founding in 2007, received the support of a bevy of rabidly anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish individuals and groups, many with connections to terrorist organizations and their apologists, including Hamas.
One such notable OTI supporter is Palestinian political leader Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), a Palestinian political party founded in 2002 as a purported “democratic third force” between the “corruption” of the Palestinian political umbrella group Fatah and the “extremism” of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Barghouti has not only served as a lecturer for the OTI for many years, but in 2009 his organization, the PNI, was thanked for being an “Institiutional Supporter” of the program. An overview of Barghouti’s background validates why critics of the OTI believe the organization’s purpose is to manufacture anti-Israel advocates, all the while masquerading as a group dedicated to promoting “understanding” between Israelis and Palestinians
Barghouti’s antipathy for Israelis may run in his family, given that his cousin, Marwan Barghouti, led the First and Second Intifadas and is currently serving five life sentences for murder in Israel. While Barghouti has publicly portrayed himself as a promoter of non-violence and an advocate of a two-state solution, he has also shown a disdain for the political process, having once proclaimed that “there’s no use in meetings with Israelis and there is no peace partner in Israel.”
Nevertheless, the reality is that Barghouti has played a leading role in the Fatah-Hamas coalition, a role which includes sidling up to the genocidal terrorists of Hamas and portraying Israel as bastion of apartheid and a perpetrator of crimes against humanity.
For example, Barghouti, who is a leader in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, the economic warfare campaign against Israel, often uses “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” rhetoric in describing Israel.
Barghouti’s most recent effort to delegitimize Israel was as a prime organizer of the Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ) on March 30, an event also supported by Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and the theocratic totalitarians of Iran.
According to event organizers, the GMJ was a protest march in which Arab and foreign activists were to descend upon Jerusalem in an attempt to “confirm that the policies and practices of the racist Zionist state of Israel against Jerusalem and its people are a crime not only against Palestinians but against all humanity.”
Backed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, the GMJ’s advisory body consisted of a rogue’s gallery of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli zealots, including radical professors Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, Code Pink head Medea Benjamin, and Black liberation theologist and Obama pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Organizational backers of the GMJ also included another OTI friend, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a radical anti-Israel organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, which has openly admitted to working with Hamas; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ); Fatah; the PLO; and the Palestinian Authority.
Barghouti himself highlighted the GMJ’s central mission to cast Israel as a swamp of apartheid when prior to the march, he told Iran’s semi-official news agency, Fars, “We know that Israel is capable of terrible violence …Today in Jerusalem you see the Israeli system of segregation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the sharpest possible way.”
It should be noted that Barghouti had expounded on a similar theme recently when he addressed the annual conference meeting of J Street, the self-described “pro Israel” and “pro peace” political action committee, which in reality is an anti-Israel propaganda outlet funded by the likes of radical billionaire George Soros.
Barghouti told the J Street attendees that “Some people might not like the word apartheid…We [Palestinians] actually live in that system…I cannot describe to you the level of [Israeli] violations of human rights.”
However, the fact that the OTI would list Mustafa Barghouti as an “institutional supporter” of the organization should engender little surprise given the wealth of other nefarious speakers involved with the group, as well as its heavy promotion of the demonize of Israel.
To achieve its goal of indoctrinating naive college students, the OTI provides its Christian, Jewish and Muslim student members trips to Israel and surrounding territories and a purportedly “balanced” speakers forum, so that they may experience “dialogue.” In reality, by putting wildly unacceptable views about Israel on par with mainstream views, the program legitimates the rhetoric of professional Israel-bashers like Barghouti, whom the program effectively deems a purveyor of an acceptable alternative point of view.
The GMJ will be followed by an upcoming anti-Israel event organized by Mazin Qumsiyeh, another notorious friend of the OTI. Qumsiyeh, who had organized the failed July 2011 “Flytilla,” an effort to fly several hundred high-profile militant activists into the West Bank in order to provoke a confrontation with the IDF, is reportedly organizing another Flytilla for mid-April.
Student participants in the OTI have even met with members of the terrorist organization Hamas. In 2009, a UC Irvine student trip to Israel sponsored by OTI included a meeting with Aziz Duwaik, a top Hamas leader. Students were instructed to cover up the meeting, and no investigation was conducted by UC Irvine. It should be noted that Aziz Duwaik was later arrested in January 2012 by the IDF on suspicion of terrorist activity.
In addition to meeting with Hamas, OTI students have met with representatives from other groups, including Sabeel, a leader in the anti-Israel church divestment campaign, and the Alternative Information Center (AIC), which has compared Israeli military and political figures to Nazis. Many of these OTI associates were also involved with the GMJ and the flytilla.
Unfortunately, the work of the OTI has been made possible by the financial support of Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation of Orange County, and has enjoyed friendly relations with Hillel, the Jewish student organization. It continues to grow and expand to more universities every year. Thus, their network and alliances are very clear.
The Jewish Federation of Orange County has yet to repudiate its association with this organization and has so far declined to sign the Fogel Pledge, a document meant to ensure federation funding does not go toward any activities that promote BDS or the demonization of Israel. With associates such as Barghouti, Qumsiyeh and Duwaik in their midst, the OTI certainly falls under this rubric.