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April 5, 2019
Birthright Arrests 15 Jewish Students from Around the Country after more than 200 Jewish students and other young Jews blocked the doors to Birthright Headquarters for 2 hours
Young American Jews have been campaigning to get Birthright to change for over a year, and blocked the doors to make one final demand that Birthright confront the crisis of Israel’s occupation and choose freedom and dignity over their donors’ propaganda.
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New York: This morning, Birthright arrested 15 Jewish students as around 200 of young American Jews gathered outside of Birthright Headquarters, blocking both 3rd avenue and the doors to the office building for about two hours during rush hour. This protest followed a year-long campaign in which IfNotNow has asked Birthright to make simple changes so its participants get educated about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Since Birthright has refused to make any changes or even engage with IfNotNow, today the movement gave Birthright one last chance, blocking the doors until staff would come downstairs. According to the protesters, Birthright’s choice to arrest the students rather than engage is a reflection of how they regularly prioritize their donors’ pro-Occupation agenda, and alienate an entire generation of American Jews.
“Today was Birthright’s last chance to choose the progressive values of our generation over the interests of its right-wing donors, like Sheldon Adelson and the Netanyahu government,” said Zu Weinger, a Freshman from the University of Michigan who traveled to New York for the demonstration and was one of 15 students arrested, “Over the past year we’ve asked Birthright to make simple changes like adding the Green Line marking the Palestinian territories to the maps they give participants. But Birthright has refused to engage with us. Today we went to their headquarters, demanding they hear our stories and engage with us in the streets — but they arrested us, once again choosing their donors over us.”
Founded in 1999, Birthright’s main funders are the Israeli government, which has grown increasingly right-wing over the past decade, Sheldon Adelson, who is one of the biggest funders of President Trump, and Michael Steinhart, who was recently exposed as a sexual predator. Birthright was founded to bring young Jews from the diaspora to Israel on free ten-day trips. Each year, upwards of 40,000 people go to Israel on their trips. Despite Birthright’s claims to be apolitical, their repeated failure to engage with the occupation and their silencing of dissent on their trips reveals their political agenda.
Since June of last year, millennial American Jews have transformed the previous consensus that Birthright is “just a free trip.” Last summer, when Birthright refused to answer participant questions about Palestinians and the Occupation, over a dozen walked off of their trips in protest. This winter, Birthright escalated efforts to quell dissent by changing their code of conduct and kicking off trip participants for asking questions. This winter, participants on Birthright trips were kicked off and made to buy their own plane tickets home for simply asking questions about the Occupation and Palestinians.
“Going to Israel in 2019 and not learning about the Occupation and is like going to the Jim Crow South and not learning about segregation,” said Alyssa Rubin, 24-year, who went on Birthright in 2013 and traveled from Boston for the demonstration, “If we do nothing, another generation of American Jews will be denied the truth, another generation of Palestinians will be denied their basic human rights, and another generation of Israelis will be sent to oppress another people in the name of safety. I refuse to accept that future.”
This protest was being organized by IfNotNow, a movement of young Jews working to end the American Jewish community’s support for the Occupation, who has also protested against Trump, AIPAC, and other American Jewish institutions that support the Israeli Occupation. This demonstration comes after a year’s worth of requests from IfNotNow that Birthright confront the crisis of the Occupation on its trips. College students have delivered letters, dropped banners, called and texted Birthright and have not received any signal that the programming will change this summer.
“Birthright refused to change today, and chooses to be responsible for another generation’s ignorance about the Occupation and Palestinians,” said Emanuelle Sippy, a 15-year-old who traveled from Kentucky to attend the protest. “When Birthright asks us to check our progressive values at the gate, they disconnect us from our tradition of justice and tikkun olam.”
IfNotNow members ended the protest by telling people that “Birthright made their choice today, and now our generation gets to make ours.” They will be holding an open call on Wednesday, April 10th to announce their next step (RSVP for that call here).
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IfNotNow is a movement led by young Jews to transform the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians. IfNotNow has chapters in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto, and Washington, DC.
Photo Credit / Gili Getz