A dozen or so years ago I was thrilled to find myself as a professional in the service of the first Jewish Federation in North America to provide a funding grant for a program in Israel that included both Jewish and Arab children. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the decision of the Jewish Federation of San Francisco to offer financial assistance to a Jerusalem based pre-school program that accepted both, Jewish and Palestinian children touched a nerve in a few people.
I myself fielded a phone call from a local Holocaust survivor who to this day still writes and pays to have anti-Arab diatribes published in Jewish newspapers across the U.S.: “Why is the Federation giving my money to the enemy of the Jewish people?” he demanded. “We’re not giving money to any enemy of the Jewish people. We’re helping to fund a pre-school program that includes both Jewish and non-Jewish children” I responded. The fact that Jewish-money was being earmarked to provide any kind of service to Arab children left my caller and other angry Jewish tribalists unconvinced of what many of us viewed as a well intended effort to build benign peace bridges between communities.
Since then, the government of Israel has itself welcomed and encouraged other Jewish Federations and philanthropists to help with funding similar programs that create opportunities for Israeli and Palestinian children to get to know one another. One such program is the “Harvard College Israel Trek” which is co-sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston and Harvard Hillel.
The Trek, as it is called, is planned and lead by a number of Jewish students, 4 of whom this year are former members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as well as other knowledgeable campus Jewish student leaders. The leadership group are adept at giving Israel’s side of the story in the P.R. wars and actively work to counter the efforts of other students and academics on campus who promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Jewish State.
The purpose of the Trek is to inform and enlighten 50 non-Jewish Harvard students: What does Israel mean to the Jewish people? What has it accomplished in just 66 years? Trek participants are afforded an opportunity to meet with Israelis in all walks of life. The trip is carefully planned to present both, the best of Israel as well as the many challenges confronting this multi-cultural society that is flourishing in a corner of the world that is hostile to its very existence and remains estranged from appreciating how a democracy functions.
In addition to meeting with members of the Knesset in Jerusalem, Trek students recently met with officials of the Palestinian Authority at the Mukataa, the P.A. government offices in Ramallah. While at the Mukatta the Trek group took a few moments to visit the grave of Yasser Arafat where a group photo was taken. The visit to Arafat’s grave was neither planned or intended to honor the memory of the founder of the Palestinian Authority, it was as matter-of-fact sight-seeing event suggested by the P.A. officials they were meeting with.
As is apt to happen with sensational pictures and carefully edited stories, the picture of the Trek participants at Arafat’s grave went viral on social media without any information about the nature and purpose of the Trek program other than the fact that it was co-sponsored by the CJF of Boston and Harvard Hillel.
“WHAT? JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS ARE PAYING FOR STUDENTS TO PAY HOMAGE TO A MAN WHO DEVOTED HIS LIFE TO KILLING JEWS?”