NEW YORK – A 2009 letter obtained from the University of California- Irvine and addressed to the university’s chancellor from Jewish Federations of Orange County divulges that students on a university-sponsored trip to the Middle East met with a “notable Hamas figure,” Aziz Duwaik, in an “unapproved” meeting in September 2009.
The trip was run by the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a student-led initiative which “aims to promote dialogue and discussion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict,” according to its website. The group’s funding is derived at least in part from Jewish federations.
“This educational student-led initiative is modeled after empiricism [sic] – gaining knowledge through experience,” their website reads.
“Students travel to the region and learn about the conflict from a personal perspective, independent of the media.”
UC-Irvine graduate students and faculty were in reportedly charge of making arrangements for the trip.
UC-Irvine students were allegedly told by OTI officials not tell anyone
about their meeting with Duwaik, “in order to avoid being detained upon
entering Israel from the West Bank or being held at the airport before
leaving the country,” as well as “to avoid confrontation with anyone who
would have disagreed with this meeting had they known about it in
“We expect that many in our Jewish community – in [Orange County],
nationally and around the world – will be astonished and furious that a
Jewish organization would sponsor any program that directly exposed
students to the leader of a recognized terrorist organization,” the
letter reads, demanding a full investigation into the planning and
execution of the Duwaik meeting as well as the secrecy surrounding it.
The University of California system faces federal anti-Semitism
complaints at its Santa Cruz and Berkeley campuses. The Olive Tree
Initiative was initially intended to address similar problems at Irvine,
where charges are currently being pursued against 11 members of the
university’s Muslim Students Association for disrupting a speaking
engagement by Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.