Friday, January 6, 2012
More Questions Surrounding Olive Tree Initiative: Who is the Centre for New Diplomacy?
*This posting is long and contains many links. To anyone interested in the Olive Tree Initiative at UC-Irvine and other UC campuses, it is well worth the read. The information contained comes from open sources.
The more one delves into who is involved with the UC-Irvine-based Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), the more interesting and questionable associations one finds.In this case, we need to examine a Swedish-based NGO that is involved in the Israel-Palestine issue and its American head, Shannon Shibata.
Shibata has been involved in the UC-Irvine OTI program apparently since it began in 2007. She has traveled with the OTI student groups to Israel and the West Bank as a guide. She has also appeared at OTI-related events at UCI. She also participated in the 2011 trip, which recently concluded. The OTI program for their event at UCI a few months ago contained a thank you to Shibata and the staff of the Center for New Diplomacy for their work in conducting tour guides for the students.
Here is how Daniel Wehrenpfennig, the head of the Olive Tree Initiative describes the relationship between OTI and the Centre for New Diplomacy:
"Partnerships with local community organizations like the Jewish Federation of Orange County, Hillel or CARE are important for the reputation and community support of OTI. As well as as partnerships with key synagogues, churches and mosques which are active in the local interfaith work.
In the region our partnership with the Center For New Diplomacy (CFND) is a key component. CFND is a Swedish registered non-profit / non-governmental organization (with offices in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan) which brings international groups to Israel/Palestine, and the surrounding region (mostly policy-makers and investors) to receive non-biased information and resources regarding the conflict through active field experience. Despite their concentration on international policy-makers and investors, the CFND has partnered with OTI and helps us with coordination speakers and travel in the region. They share our belief in the long-term effect of educating the future leaders about the situation on the ground (for more information please visit (http://www.cfnd.eu/)."
First of all, we need to understand something about the Centre for New Diplomacy. As stated, it is a Swedish NGO. If you go to their website, they appear to be pretty innocuous. It shows no favoritism to either the Israeli or Palestinian side. They just seem to want to bring about peace and love all around. On their website is a list of their governing board members.
Now let's click onto the "About" and click "Governance".
This leads us to their board of directors.
Yann Borgstedt Switzerland
Niklas Wykman Sweden
Gustaf Stenlund Sweden
Joakim Wohlfeil Sweden
Désirée Pethrus Engström MP Sweden
Mehmet Kaplan, MP Sweden
Magdalena Streijffert MP Sweden
Mr. Reine Karlsson CPA Sweden
Let's take a look at who these people are and if possible, see where they stand on the Middle East/Israeli issue.
Borgstedt is a Swiss entrepreneur who has founded organizations like Women Change Makers and Smiling Children, both designed to empower women in places like Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel and Morocco. He is also involved with an organization called Videre est Credere, which means "Seeing is believing". This is a program by which video cameras have been given to Palestinians on the West Bank to film and document Israeli human rights abuses. Click the below link and see other articles listed in the lower left-hand corner.
Wykman is a young Swedish politician who was a member of the Moderata Ungdom Forbundit (Swedish Moderate Youth Union). He outraged the left in Sweden when he defended the Israeli storming of the Mavi Marmara on his Facebook page and called it "a victory for all of Gaza". He later backed off from his statements and described himself as being disappointed as a friend of Israel in the actions that led to loss of life.
Stenlund was spokesman for the Swedish Moderate Youth Union at the time of Wykman's statements. He was also quoted on the issue. The below article in Aftonbladet (in Swedish) describes Wykman's statements, his clarification and a statement by Stenlund.
– Det är ett förtydligande av vad vi tycker, vi tyckte inte att 140 tecken gjorde oss rättvisa, säger hans pressekreterare Gustaf Stenlund. ("That is a clarification of what we think, we didn't think that 140 signs gave us justice, says their press secretary Gustaf Stenlund.")
– Vi kände att vi ville utveckla våra åsikter, vi ville inte ha fler missförstånd. Niklas kände att det inte kom fram i de intervjuer han gjorde. ("We felt that we wanted to demonstrate our opinions. We don't want to have a lot of misunderstandings. Niklas felt that is not what came from the interviews he did.")
Har han blivit ombedd att göra ett förtydligande? ("Was he told to make a clarification?")
– Nej, han kände att det inte kommit ut som han trodde att skulle uppfattas, så han ville göra ett förtydligande, säger Gustaf Stenlund. ("No. He felt it didn't come out they way he thought it would be understood, so he wanted to make a clarification, says Gustaf Svenlund.")
Below is a statement made by the Moderate Youth Union with Wykman and Stenlund's names below: It is entitled, "Solidariry with the people of Gaza".
Here is a rough translation by Google:
"As committed to peace and freedom for all people, it has now happened in Gaza and Israel, tragic and deeply regrettable. When people lose their lives, the world is always a worse place. What has happened on the boats must be investigated and those responsible must face the consequences of such an investigation.
In recent days the Ship to Gaza, described as a charity trip. A more honest description is that it is a political act. We as always been critical of Ship to Gaza can now only say that, unfortunately, they succeeded in achieving its goals: conflict.
The people of Gaza are suffering tremendously over Hamas repression. Also in Israel leads the political situation in Gaza for concern for their own safety. All people, across the Middle East, should live in peace and freedom. It takes more of reconciliation and forgiveness, and less of the conflict.
Anyone who wants to help the people of Gaza should do so through well-established humanitarian and relief organizations.
The road to peace is through mutual progress in which both parties feel they can trust and safety. A strong Hamas is not such a leap."
For more information:
Gustaf Stenlund 073-6828152 gustaf.stenlund @ moderat.se
Wohlfeil is a policy officer of Diakonia, a major Swedish Christian NGO that is strongly anti-Israel. In addition, Diakonia is an ally of Sabeel, an anti-Israel, Christian, liberation theology NGO located in Jerusalem.
The first two links below show the connection between the two organizations. The third lists Wohlfehl as one of the officers.
And while we are on the topic of Sabeel, it seems that Ms Shibata participated in one of their events in May 2006 leading a delegation called the Presbyterian Mission to Israel
Here is Wohlfeil on video discussing Israel:
Désirée Pethrus Engström
Engstrom is a Christian Democrat member of the Swedish Parliament. She has traveled to the Middle East on two occasions with Diakonia. In December 2007, She described Israel's policy as "completely untenable".
Kaplan is a member of the Swedish Parliament from the Green Party. He is of Turkish descent. Kaplan was a participant in the 2010 flotilla (Sweden, Israel and the Jews).
Below is a copy of a letter she wrote to the Swedish foreign minister in 2006, which expresses her views on Israel. It is entitled "Freeze trade with Israel now". The letter condemns Israel over the 2006 fighting in Israel.
Below is Google' rough translation:
August 7, 2006 13:30
Open letter to Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson, Freezer (SIC) trade with Israel now!
"New Life are harvested every day of the war in the Middle East. It has been more than three weeks since Israel launched attacks on southern Lebanon and now the war has killed more than 800 civilians and injured 3,000 worldwide. More than 800 000 people in Lebanon are currently on the run for fear of Israeli bombs will hit home . This indefensible relentless military offensive Israel launched in response to the Hezbollah raided an Israeli army killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two soldiers who were on Lebanese territory. The Lebanese government has distanced itself from Hezbollah attacks and condemned the act. Israel has responded with the invasion and destruction of Lebanese infrastructure of over $ 2 billion. The human suffering caused by war is impossible to quantify. All this know the Foreign Minister. In Palestine, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Israel retaliated by kidnapping a large number of Palestine's newly elected parliament. This is precisely when an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, recognizing the state of Israel was at hand. "Middle East's only democracy" thus effectively prevented the Middle East's second democracy of the establishment. All this also know the Foreign Minister. The world has a responsibility to stop the killing in Lebanon and Gaza. Israeli actions are contrary to international law. The solution to the conflict will not by itself. It will obviously not be driven forward by the UN, U.S. or EU. On the contrary. The international community's failure to indicate that it is hoped that Israel eventually themselves bored with his show of force and to settle for several thousand dead and hundreds displaced. The world's strategy is to wait out the state of Israel - the Israelis set completely one-sided agenda when the war will be considered over. Prior to that which is now under way is not enough to be "appalled" or "horrified". The action is all that counts. When political and diplomatic means is not enough is economic sanctions weapon in peacemaking. You can not reach agreement within the EU to impose sanctions, Sweden has a responsibility for peace. Freeze immediately trade with Israel and boycott Israeli goods as long as bombing raids continue to fall! We Socialists students request of Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson to take a clear stand against Israel's actions and without delay what action he will take to force Israel to the negotiating table. We in the Socialist Student Association would like to meet with Jan Eliasson, as soon as possible to discuss these issues. This, nothing less, we expect now the Swedish foreign minister."
Magdalena Streijffert Chairman Social Democratic Students Association Kajsa Pornainen International Manager, Social Democratic Students Association Sevgi Bardakci Board, Sapere Aude (Södertörn Socialist Student League)
To date, not much information is available on the Internet about Mr Karlsson other than he is a businessman in Sweden.
In addition to the above individuals, there is another figure involved with the Centre for New Diplomacy, one that those involved in the Olive Tree Initiative will instantly recognize.
George S. Rishmawi-also co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and a tour guide for Olive Tree Initiative delegations to the West Bank. Below he is pictured as a OTI tour guide on a bus (OTI Facebook page).
So to summarize my impression of the Centre for New Diplomacy's governors, I would conclude that only one, Wykman, is definitely sympathetic to Israel, two (Stenlund and Karlsson) are as yet undetemined (to me), while the rest are obviously opposed to Israel. This, according to the OTI pamphlet distributed at their UCI event this week, is the organization that was taking the students around on the 2011 trip.
That takes us back to Shannon Shibata. She seems to have an interesting and somewhat contradictory background. Here is an article on her by the Jewish Daily Forward, a Jewish publication. In this article, Shibata exhibits an involvement against anti-Semitism.
Here is a bio for her as having founded the Centre for New Leadership: (Source: Jewish Federations.org)
(There is some confusion here on the name of Shibata's organization. It is possible that the name was changed from "Leadership" to "Diplomacy".)
"Shannon Shibata recently launched a new initiative called the Centre for New Leadership, which focuses on the crisis of leadership within the State of Israel and how to strengthen the next generation to overcome key problems faced by Israeli society. After experiencing life during the intifada while studying in Jerusalem, Ms. Shibata was moved to action: she began to meet with victims in need, whose agony she would chronicle. Since then she has spoken to government ministers, members of parliament, members of congress, senators, the New York City Council, Rudolph Giuliani and numerous corporate heads and business people to educate the world about the effects of terrorism. Ms. Shibata also served as director of Israeli and European operations for the Advocacy Organization StandWithUs, where she trained students, leaders, policy makers and organizations concerning the situation in Israel."
What is highly interesting is that Stand With Us is clearly a pro-Israel organization. How does Ms Shibata's involvement with SWU square with the obvious anti-Israel tilt of the Centre for New Diplomacy? Keep in mind, Ms Shibata is an active participant in the Olive Tree Initiative. The question one might ask is which side is she on-or is she completely neutral?
As stated, Shibata is no stranger to UC-Irvine. Not only has she accompanied OTI trips to the Middle East as a guide, she has appeared at OTI events at UCI as well as the below event:
Here is an October 2009 article in UCI's campus paper, New University, in which Shibata is described as director of Stand With Us and is quoted on the Olive Tree Initiative. ( * The New University article apparently contains two errors. Shibata was never THE director of SWU, rather she was the director of SWU's Israel office until January 2008.)
“OTI continues to challenge the establishment and those leading in world politics to a new way of crossing boundaries, putting data into context for a new, more powerful framing process that allows us to be more responsible and realistic in our strategies,” Shannon Shibata, director of SWU (StandWithUS) said."
Shibata has, in the past, been listed as a member of the UCI Center for Citizen Peace Building, headed by Paula Garb, and which oversees the Olive Tree Initiative.
By way of summary, I should note that the fact that any of the individuals mentioned in this article may or may not be critical or supportive of Israel is not the point. Well-intentioned people who want peace can be critical of Israel, and that is their right. The point is this: Is the Olive Tree Initiative something other than advertised- an effort to expose students to both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or is it something else-an effort to influence students more to the Palestinian point of view through stealth? More specifically, what is the role of Shannon Shibata in the OTI? She is the founder of an organization (Centre for New Diplomacy) whose governors are overwhelmingly opponents of Israel-not to mention George S. Rishmawi, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, an anti-Israel activist, who is one of the hosts, guides or whatever you want to call it for the OTI, as well as a recent speaker at an OTI event at UCI and who just happens to be an official of Shibata's Center for New Diplomacy, which just happens to have a working relationship with OTI as demonstrated in the above-linked document by Mr Wehrenpfennig.
The question might also be asked about the so-called Presbyterian Mission to Israel and their reported visit to Sabeel in May 2006-led by Ms. Shibata. Was this group another of the web of Presbyterian anti-Zionist organizations?
It should also be asked what Shibata's relationship is with the UCI Center for Citizen Peacebuilding in the Dept. of Social Sciences-which oversees the Olive Tree Initiative.
In addition, it should be asked in the face of the above organization (CfND), how is it that Shibata was an official with Stand With Us? She no longer is involved with SWU. What were the circumstances that led to her leaving SWU? These are just questions. I do not know the answers.
If, as it appears, the Centre for New Diplomacy is so weighted toward the anti-Israel side, are they a proper partner with the OTI, which purports to be even-handed? If Shibata is, in fact, not neutral on this issue, is she a proper choice to act as tour guide for OTI in the Middle East? As stated before, all people-including Shibata- have a right to their views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but is not a little transparency as to their overall agenda reasonable since they are leading and guiding students in that volatile region?
Finally, given all of the above, does the Olive Tree Initiative really merit funding from Jewish community organizations if they are supporters of the state of Israel?