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:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 6, 2019
Young American Jews Disrupt President Trump at Republican Jewish Coalition Rally, protesting Trump & Netanyahu’s violent, racist agendas which RJC actively supports
Photos below and more videos being added to this folder.
MEDIA CONTACT: Ben Doernberg, email@example.com, 617-971-8185
Spokespeople are available for media interviews.
Las Vegas: Today, 10 young American Jews disrupted Trump’s speech at the National Jewish Republican Coalition (RJC) Pro-Israel Rally at the Venetian Ballroom in Las Vegas. As soon as Trump began to speak, they stood up and chanted, “Jews are here to say Occupation is a plague. Jews are here to say white nationalism is a plague,” a reference to the 10 plagues remembered in the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover. They then sang the Hebrew song Olam Chesed Yibaneh, “We Will Build This World With Love” as they were removed from the auditorium.
Here is the statement from the IfNotNow members who disrupted Trump’s speech:
“We took action today two weeks before the Jewish holiday of Passover, when Jews are commanded to remember the bitterness of slavery and our own oppression. Trump is a modern-day Pharaoh, and IfNotNow calls on our community to reject the plagues of Occupation and white nationalism.
RJC’s embrace of Trump and Netanyahu goes against the Jewish moral tradition by giving political cover to their racist, violent agendas — which are a threat to people around the world and to the future of the American Jewish community.
Trump and other Republican leaders conflate their unquestioning support of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu with support for American Jews — a view that the RJC promotes as well. However we know the opposite is true: President Trump and the Republican party have incited and emboldened racist and white nationalist violence in this country, which culminated in last year’s massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 of our Jewish elders were killed during Saturday morning prayers by a self-identified white nationalist. Meanwhile, the current Israeli government continues to find common cause with antisemites, racists, and Holocaust revisionists, from Poland and Hungary, to Brazil and the United States, putting Jews around the world at risk from nationalist violence. Just this past week, Netanyahu welcomed the openly racist and homophobic Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who, while in Israel as Netanyahu’s guest, claimed that the Nazis were leftists. The Israeli prime minister, with the RJC and Trump’s support, is actively fostering Holocaust revisionism.
American Jews must act while President Trump and the Republicans use their vocal support for the right-wing Israeli government as cover for fomenting violent hatred — towards Muslims, immigrants, Jews, and other historically marginalized people in the United States. No to Trump, no to occupation, no to antisemitism, and no to white nationalism! Our tradition demands freedom and dignity for all.
We call on our community to reject Trump, Netanyahu, and the RJC, who all promote separation of families, endless occupation, attacks on refugees, and more bloodshed. Violence begets violence; walls and dehumanization will never keep our community safe. The overwhelming majority of American Jews align ourselves instead with those people targeted by Trump and Netanyahu’s racist and violent agenda. Our generation is helping build a flourishing, liberated community based on a vision of safety and security, grounded in solidarity, for all people.
Our generation refuses to allow Trump, Netanyahu, and the RJC to use our people as a cover to justify the daily nightmares of occupation in Israel-Palestine and militarized immigration regime of family separation and internment camps for asylum seekers at the U.S-Mexico border.”
In attendance at the RJC event today was Sheldon Adelson, who owns the Venetian Hotel where the event took place. Adelson is a major donor to both the GOP and the Israeli right, and a force behind the Trump administration’s actions entrenching the Occupation. He also funds numerous organizations in the US that dehumanize Palestinians and incite anti-Arab violence, and has fought to shut down dissent within the American Jewish community. This includes hundreds of millions given to Birthright Israel, an educational institution which IfNotNow members have been asking to make simple changes for over a year, culminating in a massive demonstration at Birthright’s headquarters yesterday, in which 15 Jewish college students were arrested.
This year’s RJC convention also falls near the one-year mark since the start of the Great Return March, a series of protests in Gaza during which Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrators. According to the United Nations, Israeli forces have shot and killed 200 demonstrators, including 41 children, and have injured over 29,187 with impunity. On May 14, 2018, while the Trump, Netanyahu, Adelson, and leaders of American Jewish organizations celebrated the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, an hour’s drive away Israeli forces shot and killed over 60 Palestinian protesters. Trump praised Netanyahu’s violent policies toward protesters, suggesting that U.S. soldiers follow Israel’s example and shoot at asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border—while also promoting the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that George Soros was funding the caravan.
# # #
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 dozens of college campuses and major cities across North America, including in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Montreal, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto, and Washington, DC.
You can learn more about IfNotNow at www.ifnotnowmovement.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.
PHOTOS BELOW // VIDEO AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST
More available with the #LastChanceBirthright or #UsOrTheDonors hashtags
Yonah Lieberman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam Lewin, email@example.com
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).
# # #
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
Lara Alqasem’s Detention: Made Possible by the American Jewish Establishment
Part of a broader pattern of American Jewish leaders intimidating opponents of Israeli government policies, one of five key findings outlined in new IfNotNow report.
Find the full report here: bit.ly/BeyondTalkReport
If American Jewish leaders are concerned by Israel’s 15-day anti-democratic detention of Hebrew University student Lara Alqasem, they should look inward.
The Israeli government’s main evidence against Alqasem is the Canary Mission, a McCarthy-esque blacklist of pro-Palestinian activists supported financially by at least two American Jewish Federations.
The Israeli government’s detention of Alqasem was enabled by American Jewish institutions and is just one more example of a broader trend of American Jewish communal leaders intimidating and silencing activists critical of Israel policies, including many young American Jews.
Alqasem, a 22-year-old Palestinian American, was detained despite the fact that she was accepted by the program and had a visa. Yet Israel refused to let her into the country, in large part by using the Canary Mission list — which identified her as a supporter of BDS — as justification. The Forward recently uncovered donations to Canary Mission from the Jewish federations of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“Beyond Talk: 5 Ways the American Jewish Establishment Supports the Occupation,” IfNotNow’s first in-depth study of the topic, outlines the myriad ways the American Jewish establishment supports the Occupation:
IfNotNow’s report outlines five key findings of how the American Jewish Establishment actively supports the Occupation, when they:
- Directly fund organizations that uphold Israel’s military, economic, and political control over Palestinians’ daily lives.
- Lobby American politicians to put unconditional support for the Israeli government and its policies above Palestinian human rights.
- Amplify prominent individuals and organizations responsible for deepening the Occupation.
- Promote a culture within the Jewish community that omits and denies the legitimacy of Palestinian narratives and rights.
- Silence and intimidate those who oppose the policies of the Israeli government, shutting dissent out of the mainstream Jewish community.
“The Jewish Federations blacklist-bankrolling is part of a pattern of support for policies propagated by Israel’s extreme right-wing government, from settlement expansion to persecution of human rights defenders which going back years,” said Ben Wolcott who helped research and wrote the report, “For example, between 2009 and 2013, 50 American 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations gave over $220 million in tax-deductible donations to settlements and even more to other extreme right-wing organizations. And that’s just the money.”
On Sunday, thousands of American Jewish leaders will descend on Tel Aviv for the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly. The theme of this year’s conference is #WeNeedToTalk.
“This is both a moment of reckoning for the Jewish community and an opportunity for change. In a few days, American Jewish leaders from every corner of the country and every organization in the establishment will gather in Israel for the GA,” said Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a Rabbinical School Student and founding member of IfNotNow, “We urge the participants to move beyond talk and make real commitments to how they will stop supporting the Occupation.”
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. The organization was founded in 2014 during the Gaza War as a moral call to the American Jewish community to oppose the war. IfNotNow has over 1,800 members and chapters in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. Learn more about IfNotNow at www.ifnotnowmovement.org.
IFNOTNOW LAUNCHES #NotJustAFreeTrip CAMPAIGN PRESSURING BIRTHRIGHT TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION TO ITS 40,000 YOUNG JEWISH PARTICIPANTS THIS SUMMER
The campaign, being coordinated across the country by members of IfNotNow, is part of a larger effort this summer to ensure that wherever young Jews are engaging with Israel — at summer camps or on Birthright trips — they are learning about the true realities of the Occupation.
Yonah Lieberman // firstname.lastname@example.org // (716) 537-6238
USA — Today, IfNotNow launched NotJustAFreeTrip.com, announcing that it will be urging Taglit-Birthright to tell the truth about the Israeli Occupation to the tens of thousands of young American Jews that will participate in its programming this summer. With the recent Israeli violence on Palestinian protesters in Gaza and Trump’s reckless embassy move, organizers felt moved to transform the way young Jews are educated about Israel this summer.
With the #NotJustAFreeTrip campaign, young Jews are challenging the outdated perception that Birthright is nothing more than an apolitical trip for Jews to connect with their Jewish identity. The campaign is led by alumni of Birthright who found the education on their own trips dishonest and were shocked to learn about the denial of freedom and dignity to Palestinians when they came home and did their own research.
“More important than what I was shown and taught in Israel is what I didn’t see or learn: the reality of the Israeli Occupation and the uncensored narratives of Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip,” said Alyssa Rubin, a 23 year-old from Boston who went on Birthright in 2013. “It was a painful experience to force me to learn about the brutality of Israeli military rule over Palestinians in books and movies back home when I know how physically close I was to seeing it for myself on my trip. Why is Birthright so afraid of what their participants will find on the other side of the wall?”
According to public records, the vast majority of Birthright’s financial support comes from billionaire right-wing philanthropists. Sheldon Adelson, who has contributed more than $200 million to Birthright since 2009, has also used his wealth to financially endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Adelson made the largest single donation in history to an incoming president when he gave the Trump inaugural committee $5 million. The money from Adelson and other politically minded donors like him has funded over 600,000 people to go on Birthright since it began in 1999. That Birthright shares donors with Trump is further proof that both are invested in the perpetuation of the 51-year-old occupation and the continued denial of freedom and dignity to Palestinians and Israelis.
The IfNotNow campaign will engage and mobilize this summer’s Birthright participants, potential Birthright participants, and Birthright alumni in a variety of ways to show the costs of a right-wing-funded Jewish education that deliberately hides the truth from its participants. IfNotNow members will continue to gather at airports for “Birthright Send-offs”, like they did last week at JFK, meeting participants to share information about the Occupation and questions they can ask their tour guides. They also plan to engage Birthright alumni in sharing testimonies of experiences they had on their trips that reveal its political motivations, like sending participants unknowingly into settlements and leaving out the voices of Palestinians living under Occupation.
“It has never been acceptable for Birthright to leave out honest education about Israeli military rule over another people or to not share Palestinian narratives with young Jews looking to understand this place, but the recent violence reminds us the urgency to tell the truth about the Occupation,” said Jeremy Oziel, 26 from Oakland, who staffed a Birthright trip in 2016. “I’ve seen first hand how this free trip comes with high costs, and we refuse to be fed a political agenda any longer.”
In the past several years, IfNotNow, a movement led by young American Jews to end the American Jewish community’s support for the Occupation, has been growing both in membership and public influence, spanning across 14 cities and a dozen college campuses. After mobilizing 1,000 young Jews to protest outside of AIPAC’s annual conference last spring, this year they organized historic resistance to Israeli violence on Palestinian protesters and launched the #YouNeverToldMe Campaign to ensure that Israel education programs at summer camps, day schools, and youth groups talk about the Occupation.
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. The organization was founded in 2014 during the Gaza War as a moral call to the American Jewish community to oppose the war. IfNotNow has over 1,700 members and chapters in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. Learn more about IfNotNow at www.ifnotnowmovement.org and learn more about their #NotJustAFreeTrip Campaign at www.notjustafreetrip.com.
Please direct all press inquiries to info(at)ifnot.net and include "Press Inquiry" in the subject line.
Selected Press Clips
Time to break the silence: An open letter to American Jews
Edo Konrad, +972 Mag, 1/14/2016
#IfNotNow Seder Protests JFNA Support for Endless Occupation
Gili Getz, Jew School, 4/10/2015
As U.S. Jews, we need to figure out what leverage we have in ending the occupation'
+972 Mag, 10/25/2014
I tried to deliver a message to Malcolm Hoenlein and got arrested
Josh Leifer, Times of Israel, 9/1/2014
If Not Now, When: A Personal Political Reflection
Becky Havivi, Jew School, 8/14/2014
Young Jews Protest Israel's Offensive In Gaza, Call For End To 'Gratuitous Killing'
Sam Lachman, Huffington Post, 8/5/2014
Not in my name: A call to American Jewish organizations during Operation Protective Edge
Sarah Brammer Shlay, Twin Cities Daily Planet, 8/3/2014
‘If not now, when?’ — Jewish-American peace activists organize to oppose war on Gaza
Miriam Elba, Waging Nonviolence, 7/31/2014
9 Young Jews Arrested at NYC anti-Israel Protest
Anna Hiatt, Jerusalem Post, 7/30/2014
Jewish Group Delivers Mourner's Kaddish for Gaza Victims
Antonia Blumberg, Huffington Post, 7/26/2014