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Victory for Zionism at University of California Irvine Campus

It’s official. The problematic President of the Orange County Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS), Shalom Elcott, has been ousted by the board – his contract was apparently not renewed. Notwithstanding he remains as a strategic consultant to the Chairman of the JFFS board. This marks an important victory for Campus Zionism on the controversial UC Irvine campus. Thus, ends a nearly decade long intrusion by Elcott working against the Zionist Anteaters for Israel (AFI) campus group.  AFI’s leaders like incumbent Sharon Shaoulian and alum like Reut Cohen and others have borne the brunt of assaults on their  campus activities  and free speech by Elcott with support from  his  appointed Hillel chapter campus director. Elcott’s dossier  was the subject of a June 2015 NER article, “How One Southern California Jewish Federation Undermines Student Zionism at a State University.”

A press release from the Orange County JFFS issued on Wednesday, July 22nd confirmed Elcott’s replacement:

The Board of Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) announced today that it has appointed Dr. Lauren Gavshon, JFFS’ current Director of Clinical Services as interim President and Chief Executive Officer, replacing Shalom Elcott as President and Chief Executive Officer

Elcott, a visionary leader who fundamentally transformed JFFS into the robust and diverse organization it is today, will continue to serve as Strategic Advisor to the Chair of the Board

Dr. Gavshon and her family have been involved in the local Jewish community for over 20 years, and she is well positioned to take on this expanded role,” said Daniel J. Koblin, Chair of the Board.

Our colleague, UCI adjunct faculty member, Gary Fouse on his Fousesquawks  blog wrote:

I know nothing about Dr. Lauren Gavshon, who is the interim CEO. The press release describes her as a bridge-builder. Heaven knows they need one over at the Federation after the Elcott reign.

Here is my question: If Elcott did such a great job, as the Federation is claiming, why the change? Why is there no reason given? Normally, something is said about a “retirement” or so-and-so wanting to spend more time with the family. One can read all kinds of things into this, but I will await further information coming out-as it surely will.

Hopefully, the new CEO will change the culture at the Federation and make it one that will truly represent all the Jewish students at UC Irvine especially the ones that choose to fight for Israel and stand up to anti-Semitism. Hopefully, the new leadership will speak out about anti-Semitism at UCI rather than try to sweep it under the rug. Hopefully, the new leadership will join the community in fighting the problem instead of trying to keep its members away from campus. Hopefully, the new leadership will support those who want to wave the Israeli and American flags in the face of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who disrupt pro-Israel events on campus. Hopefully, the new leadership will cut all ties with the insidious Olive Tree Initiative and denounce it for what it is; a thinly-veiled attempt to sway students toward the Palestinian narrative while masquerading as neutral.

Ms. Gavshon has a lot of work cut out for her as she tries to repair the mess left behind by Elcott.

We were glad to have helped in whatever way I to raise consciousness among Orange County co-coreligionists and Jews around the world about Elcott’s  cultivation of Israel’s enemies on the dime of the Orange County JFFS at the UC Irvine campus. One of Elcott’s  more troubling initiatives at UCIrvine was  diverting funds from a JFFS affiliate, the Rose Project , to fund student  trips sponsored by the left-wing  controlled  Olive Tree Initiative at UCIrvine. That led to an alleged inadvertent meeting in 2009 with Hamas leader on the West Bank, Aziz Duwaik, and Palestinian Legislative Council leader.  It has been almost five years since published an interview with  local Zionist activist and Ha’Emet blogger,  Dee Sterling about the plague of anti-Zionist activities on the Southern California campus.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren  was scheduled to  give a speech at UC Irvine on February 8, 201, when it was disrupted  by campus members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU). That was followed by   the arrest, prosecution and conviction of 11 students, 8 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside for disturbing a public event   The legal action brought by the Orange County District Attorney triggered a one year suspension of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate by the Administration only to be reduced to 10 weeks by the retiring deputy Chancellor at UCI.  In the interim, Students for Justice in Palestine was formed as a placeholder for the suspended MSU.

Sharon Shaoulian

Sharon Shaoulin, President of Anteaters for Israel, UC Irvine

We produced a number of articles on the NER and our blog The Iconoclast about the misguided  helmsman of the JFFS of Orange County.  There was our joint effort with Debra Glazer developing A Pledge Against the Self-Destruction of American Jews to be signed off Jewish Federations against participation in anti-Zionist programs of  groups like J Street and Jewish Voices for Peace and unfortunately all too many fellow traveling Jewish Federations. Prescient, given the spike in Antisemitism in the EU, the Global BDS movement  and the great divide among fellow American Jews about Obama and controversial pact with Islamic Republic of Iran.

Besides Sterling, Fouse and Glazer there were others among the UCI faculty and local Orange County community activists exposing Elcott endeavoring to defeat campus Zionism. In the end with his ouster, perhaps a new day will dawn  for both Orange County JFFS and at UC Irvine.  Sharon Shaoulian, current President  and alum like Reut Cohen of Anteaters For Israel can quiet satisfaction that at least this nightmare is over.  They stood up to Elcott’s  bullying tactics, which we and others exposed, possibily resulting in the JFFS board  decision  this week to terminate his contract. Elcott’s ouster should be a warning to his minions at UCI Hillel and leftist allies of the anti-Semitic Muslim Student Union, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Olive Tree Initiative at UCI. Hopefully  Shalom’s brother David  Elcott at NYU’s Wagner College might arrange a permanent position for  him  with J Street. Professor Elcott is a member of the J Street Advisory board.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Jewish Federation of Orange County undermines Student Zionism at UC-Irvine

Over the past several years we have chronicled anti-Israel hate mongering by campus  Muslim  Student groups and  violation of opposing  views  of pro-Israel  speakers   and events  at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).  In a series of New English Review articles, interviews and Iconoclast blog posts we revealed the heckler’s veto of former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren in February 8, 2010 by an organized disruption of his speech by campus members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU). That was followed by   the arrest, prosecution and conviction of 11 students, 8 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside for disturbing a public event   The legal action brought by the Orange County District Attorney triggered a one year suspension of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate by the Administration only to be reduced to 10 weeks by the retiring deputy Chancellor at UCI.  In the interim, Students for Justice in Palestine was formed as a placeholder for the suspended MSU.  We also  unraveled  the story  behind  the Jewish Federation of Orange County (JFOC)  affiliate, the Rose Project, funding  the Olive Tree Initiative that brought  students to Israel and the West Bank  in 2009 for an alleged  chance encounters with a Hamas leader, Aziz Duwaik,  former Speaker of the Palestine Legislative Council.  See our NER article:”Does the Olive Tree Initiative have Credibility?”   We questioned  both the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Orange County and the UCI Administration dissembling over this incident.

UCI has a small Jewish student body versus a much larger Muslim one.  For most of the 32 weeks on the UCI campus, things are relatively quiet. However, during Anti Zionism Week (AZW) and Israel Festival, iFEST, sponsored by Anteaters for Israel (AFI)   the decibel levels and protests hate towards Israel rises to a veritable crescendo.  The AZW events organized by the MSU have typically involved anti-Israel speakers, and in the past some like Malik Ali with anti-Semitic statements, holding forth at noon events at the flagpole.  Despite this, JFOC President Shalom Elcott has suggested in the past, there is no anti-Semitism at  UCI.  Last year , an assault by  MSU protesters  disrupted  iFEST with calls for campus police assistance that resulted in a woman student being upbraided by  a JFOC  board member.  This year  AFI President Sharon Shaoulian organized  a three day event  from April 22 to 24th without JFOC funding, but with sponsors including  the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), StandWithUs, CAMERA on Campus, the Israel on Campus Coalition, and Hasbara.  Hillel, with is affiliated with JFOC, provided funding for Shabbat.

What happened during  iFEST  on April 23, 2015 revealed why JFOC   and Hillel have  undermined Jewish student  Zionism at UCI.  This year it was triggered  by an ambush of MSU and Students for Justice in Palestine (JSP)  pouring out  of the Campus Cultural Center  to attack  the Jewish student Zionist group , Anteaters for Israel’s (AFI)  during  their  iFEST Yom Ha’atzmaut  celebration of Israel’s Independence.   The iFEST attendees in opposition to the MSU/SJP protesters created space between the opposing groups  with massed Israeli and American flags  and Israeli dances. A Frontpage Magazine article  by Arnold Ahlert “Pro-Israel Student Group Meets Opposition from Jewish Leadership” revealed what happened when JFOC President Shalom Elcott and aide Lisa Armony, Hillel  Executive, intervened:

Witness Gary Fouse, adjunct UCI lecturer, reported that Lisa Armony, Director of the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Hillel Executive, was among those attempting to move the flag wavers back. One witness reported that they were “approached and told that it was wrong for anyone holding a flag to be standing facing the MSU/anti-Israel faction.” The witness was told that waving the flags was “antagonizing.” One of the flag wavers, who did not wish to be named, said that students who “seemed to be pressured by someone else” approached him and other flag carriers “and told us that we should not march with the flags since it ‘makes us look bad.’” It was further suggested to him that they move down the street and away from the area.

This witness also saw the far more troubling exchange between a man subsequently identified as Shalom Elcott, JFOC president and CEO, and AFI president Sharon Shaoulian. Elcott was seen “getting in the face of” Shaoulian, a third-year student, and screaming at her. As the witness explained, “I did not hear what this man said, but I saw Sharon break into tears,” he recalled.

Shaoulian confirmed that Elcott “advanced on me in a threatening fashion and began screaming at me and berating me” and was “looking down at me two inches away from my face.” He “blamed me..for ‘inciting’ the MSU/SJP to come out to protest,” though the anti-Israel protest happens every year. Elcott allegedly called Shaoulian “derogatory names, a ‘liar’ and a ‘disgrace.’”

Watch these YouTube videos of the UCI  iFEST encounter on the FouseSqwak blog:

Video One

Video Two

Video Three

Here is an excerpt from our NER interview with Shaoulian about the encounter with Elcott  at the UCI iFEST Yom Ha’atzmaut clash with MSU and JSP:

Jerry Gordon:

You had a recent exchange with the head of the Orange  County Jewish Federation.  I wonder if you could talk about that and the context in which that exchange occurred?

Sharon Shaoulian:  Yes, it happened on April the 23rd, which was a big festival day for AFI during iFEST.  Because the Federation, threatened AFI through another student, not to associate with the Zionist Organization of America, my board and I decided that it would be prudent not to ask for a Rose Project Grant and stand more independently on our own.

[…]

We were walking towards Shalom Elcott so he heard me pretty much the entire time, and that’s when he started advancing on me.  I’m five feet tall, and so he got very close to my face, just centimeters away from my face, peering down, screaming at me in front of everybody.  He called me a liar repeatedly, “You’re a liar.  You’re a liar.  They’re not going to come rush through the event.  You’re inciting all of these people.”  He told me that I was a disgrace, that the protesters were here because of me, that I caused all of this uproar, and that I should be ashamed of myself.

When he paused, while berating me, I told him, “You know, sir, what you are talking about?  They [meaning MSU protesters] are here every single year.  They’re not here because of me.  They’re here because we’re trying to be pro-Israel on this campus and they won’t stand for that.”

Elcott continued to yell and to make a scene. I flat out told him, “You, sir, you and Rose Project, you didn’t give us any funding for this event.  You expressly told your son, Jordan, not to be a part of iFEST.  So, with all due respect, why are you even here?  You know, if you didn’t want to have a stake in this event, why are you even here at our event?”

He didn’t say anything.  He obviously had nothing to say. That’s when I told him. “You know what?  You should be ashamed that you’re screaming at me, that you’re yelling at me.” He started recording me. While this was going on, community members were defending me and trying to get him to back away from me.  I think a lot of people were nervous about his proximity to me and the level that he was screaming at me.  Eventually we were pulled apart.  So that’s when Lisa Armony  caught what he did and tried to defend the action to my own parents.

On May 5, 2015, Carolyn Glick commented about the altercation at AFI’s UCI iFEST in a Jerusalem Post (JP) column, “Siding with the Victims of Aggression”:

Last month, the heads of the Jewish Federation in Orange County reportedly interfered with student celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut at University of California at Irvine on behalf of Muslim anti-Israel protesters who sought to ruin the festivities. According to a report of the events at the online FrontpageMagazine, the pro-Israel students separated participants in their event from Muslim student protesters by placing a line of students waving Israeli and American flags between them.

The move was angrily opposed by Federation Director Lisa Armony and Federation President Shalom Elcott. They reportedly insisted that the Israeli flags be taken down because they were “antagonizing” the anti-Israel protesters.

The accusation against JFOC of the FPM expose and Glick’s JP column comment led to the  response by Armony in the JP blog post, “Turning against fellow pro-Israel advocates“ of May 14th:

The accusation that we interfered with a Yom Ha’atzmaut [Independence Day] celebration at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on behalf of anti-Israel protesters is based solely on a recent piece from the online FrontpageMagazine. The blogger relied primarily on unnamed sources and unsubstantiated assertions to paint a misleading picture of the festival, JFFS, and Elcott’s and my activities.

We reject the claims in the article that we told people to stop waving Israeli flags at anti-Israel protesters, claiming that we accept anti-Jewish discrimination on campus and “stand with the (anti-Israel) aggressor against the (Jewish) victim.”

FrontpageMagazine on May 15, 2015 published an editorial castigating Shalom Elcott and Armony for obfuscating what occurred at AFI witnessed by others, “An Attack on Front Page from the Jewish Federation of Orange County.”  That was crystallized by the May 4th FPM article suggesting  that their interference  at the IFEST event and shameful attack  on AFI President Shaoulian  were  an affront to decency  and unwarranted.   FPM considers JFOC’s defense of its actions calumnious.  The FPM editorial concluded:

Without a doubt the JFOC has much to answer for. The JFOC can be assured Frontpage will continue our no-holds-barred coverage of its brazen attacks on Jewish students and pro-Israel activists without apology.

The JFOC  alleged defense  reminds this writer of  J Street’s Orwellian meme of “Pro-Peace, Pro Israel”.  But this is nothing new for Elcott and JFOC. This is just the latest example of their nefarious activities on the UCI campus.

Elcott’s interference with Jewish student Zionist activities on the UCI campus amounts to bullying:  denial of free speech rights of Shaoulian and fellow AFI members. It amounts to a heckler’s veto equivalent to what occurred in 2010 during former Israeli US Ambassador Oren’s speech at UCI when MSU members shut down his talk.  The Elcott and Armony actions at iFEST and subsequent  slander of both Glick and FPM   does not  serve the interests of the Jewish student community at UCI.  Ms. Armony’s Jerusalem Post blog post upbraiding Glick and FPM  was emblematic of  what Dr. Johnson once said about patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel.  Witness JFOC claiming the mantle of a ‘responsible’ adult leadership on all pro-Israel activities at UCI implying less than adult behavior by Zionist AFI. That is truly topsy turvy  chutzpah.  The screaming attack by Elcott against Shaoulian  demeaning her  is not ‘adult behavior’. It is indicative of manifestly  deep rooted animus  against critics of his leadership at  JFOC especially   concerned  Jewish community  supporters  of the Jewish Student Zionism  of AFI.  The JFOC attacks against a colleague, Nonie Darwish, preventing her from speaking at an AFI-sponsored event in 2014, accusing her of being an “Islamophobe  are indicative of an  out of control  leadership at JFOC.   It is past time for responsible directors of JFOC to review Elcott’s unacceptable behavior.  Perhaps this most recent episode during IFEST at UCI may result in a search for new more effective leadership at JFOC.

More will be revealed about JFOC’s behavior in this latest episode in our interview with Ms. Shaoulian to be published in the June edition of the NER.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.