UPDATE #1, April 24 at 10pm EST:
Early this afternoon, the Jewish students at UChicago concluded their sit-in on Hillel’s lawn, confident that their message had been delivered as powerfully as possible.
Later in the evening, Jewish students from Northeastern held a Seder in the Streets outside their Hillel, after they were told by Hillel’s Executive Director that IfNotNow is not welcome to host any events at Hillel (screenshot here). Since Hillel refused to let them in, and refuses to cut ties with Birthright, the students took matters into their own hands and celebrated Passover in front of Hillel instead.
On Passover, Jewish Students Across the Country Stage First Ever Sit-Ins of Hillels, demanding that Hillel ends its partnership with Birthright
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 24, 2019
CONTACT: Yonah Lieberman, firstname.lastname@example.org
USA — In yet another example of the growing generational divide in the American Jewish community on Israel, students on two separate campuses, UChicago and the University of Minnesota, marched on their Hillels yesterday afternoon and demanded that they officially end its partnership with Birthright Israel. Both UChicago and UMN Hillel partners with Birthright to run a free trip to Israel every summer for students on their campus.
The protest is happening on the fourth of Passover — the Jewish holiday remembering the exodus from Egypt when many Jews recommit themselves to fighting for freedom for all people — and just weeks after Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister, after promising to annex the West Bank.
At UMN, the Executive Director showed up in the middle of the night with police and forced the Jewish students out after threatening to arrest them. At UChicago, the Jewish students set up two tents outside Hillel and continued the sit-in overnight, where they remain.
“Hillel claims to serve Jewish students, but they continue to run trips with Birthright despite growing protests of its one-sided programming from young Jews and Birthright’s own actions silencing dissent,” said Madi Norman, a Junior at UChicago, “In Passover’s spirit of liberation, we had four questions of our own to pose to Hillel about their relationship with Birthright, such as why does it partner with an organization that violates so many of the Jewish values it seeks to uphold and instill?”
The sit-ins are the culmination of months of campaigning by the students to get Birthright to make simple changes to its curriculum to stop hiding Israel’s Occupation, which most recently resulted in Birthright choosing to arrest 15 Jewish students at their headquarters in New York.
When the UChicago students arrived at Hillel’s building, they announced that they would sit outside on the lawn and stay there for as long as necessary to adequately deliver their message. The UMN students entered their Hillel and some began sharing stories about going on Birthright and experiencing a dishonest, one-sided agenda on the trip. As the students entered Hillel’s building, the group sang traditional Jewish songs about liberation and held banners reading “Hillel: Cut Ties with Birthright” and “The Jewish Future Demands Palestinian Freedom”.
Students are calling on Hillel to stop running trips to Israel through Birthright because it’s programming intentionally hides Israel’s military occupation over millions of Palestinians. They claim that the same politicians and funders leading Israel’s dramatic shift to the right are behind Birthright, pointing to the fact that Birthright receives the majority of its funding from the Israeli government as well as right-wing donors like Sheldon Adelson, a major patron of both Trump and Netanyahu.
“Birthright positions itself as a rite of passage for young Jews, but it seeks to tie our Jewish identities to unquestioning support for Israeli policies,” said Daniel Epstein, a grad student at UChicago, “Every summer, tens of thousands of my peers participate in the program’s 10-day, all-expenses-paid tours of Israel, which promotes a right-wing narrative about the country that denies the reality of the Palestinian life under Israeli military Occupation. Being Jewish in America does not have to be this way — we are breaking up with Birthright and building a new Jewish future.”
This action is one of a number of campus protests this spring in coordination with IfNotNow. Following the April 5th protest at the Birthright Headquarters in New York, where 15 students were arrested, college groups across the US have launched their own protests, aimed at campus Hillels. For the past year, participants have been challenging the trip’s supposedly apolitical nature and pushing for the truth about the region, with 13 Birthrighters walking off three separate trips last summer. In response, Birthright has changed its code of conduct to prevent anti-occupation Jews from speaking about their views on Birthright, and over the winter kicked off three participants for asking questions about the occupation.
IfNotNow is a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and gain 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, Washington, DC, and more than a dozen college campuses.
Photos from UMN:
Photos from UChicago: