Friday, June 29, 2018

Birthright Participants Walk Off Trip to Join Anti-occupation Tour

Dear friends,
please find below a news article from Haaretz discussing the Talgit-Birthright program.  As many of you will be aware of Talgit-Birthright is funded by mulimillionaire hard right Zionist, Sheldon Adelson. The program is NOT apolitical.

It was set up to encourage young American Jews to make Aliyah. All of this is done within the frame work of the Zionist world view. As a result, the program actively downplays Israel's illegal military occupation of Palestine and the human rights abuses and war crimes carried out against Palestinians by the Zionist state.

There has been efforts over the years by young dissident Jewish activists to foster more honest engagement via Birthright in regard to the reality of Israel's military occupation and apartheid regime, including setting up alternative tour programs to allow young Jews who participated in Birthright to visit the Occupied West Bank to see for themselves the reality of Israel's occupation.

The walk out of five participants from a recent Birthright Tour has made the news in Israel mainly because there is an increasing concern within Zionist circles that more and more young Jews are not falling behind the Zionist narrative as they once did.  For more information on this see:

As Israel turns 70, many young American Jews turn away

Young American Jews Increasingly Turning Away From Israel, Jewish Agency Leader Warns

In solidarity,

Five participants left the program in public protest in order to visit Hebron and Bethlehem with Breaking the Silence: 'Israel tour is one-sided' ■ Birthright: We're apolitical and reject promotion of any agenda
Taly Krupkin
Jun 28, 2018 Haaretz

 Illustration, Birthright participantsBirthright

A group of five American Jews visiting Israel as part of the Birthright Israel program left the trip Thursday in protest of the program's treatment of the occupation and joined a tour of Hebron led by anti-occupation army veterans' group Breaking the Silence.

The group split off from the rest of the tour on the eighth day of their trip. One of those who left the group said that Birthright, the organization that brings young Jewish adults on free, 10-day visits to Israel, "is not providing the kind of education that we really need... and is telling a one sided story. This is not fair, and we deserve the truth."

The five young Americans live-streamed the incident on Facebook, where they are seen leaving the bus and arguing with their guide and with fellow participants. They also published a statement on a Twitter account.

Following the incident one of the five people who walked off, Sophie Lasoff, 24, told Haaretz that she wanted to participate in Birthright due to its significant place in the American Jewish community, and that she and her friends did not initially plan to leave the Birthright program.

(for full text of statement, see end of blog article)
“I wanted to give Birthright a chance”, says Lasoff. “We didn’t want to do something like that, but we felt that it was the right thing to do.”
Lasoff told Haaretz that the members of the group did not know each other before the trip to Israel, and did not plan the action beforehand. She explained that they felt disappointed with the program's treatment of the occupation, and therefore contacted Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans organization that collects testimonies from Israeli soldiers about their service in the territories, and coordinated to join their tour of the West Bank.

Another woman who left the tour, Katie Anne, claimed on the live stream that "Birthright gave us a map of Israel that does not denote the West Bank [even though] the director of our Birthright organization admitted that the majority of maps in Israel do include [it]. They keep saying they're apolitical but this is clearly to the right."

Anne added: "We love our Jewish community and that's why it's so hard for us to see Birthright systemically miseducating it. We cannot stand this injustice."

After leaving the Birthright bus, the group visited Hebron and Bethlehem.

This week, IfNotNow, an anti-occupation movement led by young U.S. Jews, launched a new campaign targeting the Birthright program. The campaign, called, #NotJustAFreeTrip, seeks to "pressure Birthright to tell the truth about the Israeli occupation to its 40,000 young Jewish participants". IfNotNow activists have been gathering in airports in the U.S. to engage with participants as they leave on Birthright trips, encouraging them to question the tour guides about the occupation.

Yonah Lieberman, spokesperson for IfNotNow, told Haaretz that members of his group met the group who left for the Birthright trip as they were flying to Israel from JFK airport in New York last week.

In response to the protest, Birthright said that it is "an apolitical project and the leading educational initiative in Israel." The organization added that "since we respect our participants' abilities to form their own opinion, we reject the promotion of any agenda and any attempt at manipulation of provocation by any political side."

In November, Haaretz reported that Birthright's education department instructed its trip providers to stop including meetings with Israeli Arabs on their itineraries.

Birthright mandates that all of its trips include meetings with Israeli soldiers. Haaretz also reported last year that Birthright is promoting a free stay for participants who extend their time in Israel beyond the 10 days offered if they choose to remain at a hostel in Jerusalem’s Old City run by an extremist rabbi aligned with radical factions of the settler movement who encourages those who stay with him to volunteer at illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank.

Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson attending Birthright's 18th anniversary gala in New York, April 15, 2018.Michael Priest Photography
Birthright’s single largest donor today is casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of the Republican Party and of Israel’s right-wing government. Adelson and his associates have long insisted, however, that he does not intervene in any way in Birthright's itineraries.

In April, 150 students protested a Birthright annual gala in New York.

Breaking the Silence has faced severe criticism by the Israeli government, including attempts to silence the group through legislation.

Protesters from Jewish Voice for Peace outside the Birthright gala event in New York, April 15, 2018.Ben Lorber, Jewish Voice for Peace


No comments: