Participants quit Birthright trip to go on Breaking the Silence tour
Five young Jewish-American women stage walkout on free Birthright trip of Israel, saying Birthright 'erased the effects of the occupation or spun things in a way that we felt were extremely biased'; instead, they joined Breaking the Silence for a tour of Hebron.
The five broadcast their departure live on Facebook. This is the first time Birthright participants walk out on the program.
The five young women, who are affiliated with the extreme-left Jewish American organization IfNotNow, said they each separately joined the tour with Taglit-Birthright, an organization that brings thousands of Jewish youth from all over the world to Israel on free trips, trying to "engage deeply and honestly" with the tour guide and other participants.
"We came with questions about what's happening in the occupied territories and wanted to engage with new perspectives," the five wrote in a joint statement. "But what became clear over the course of ten days was that Birthright did not want to truthfully engage with our questions. It's clear that young Jews who have critical questions about Israel are not welcome on Birthright."
On Thursday, the trip's last day, the young women announced they decided to leave the group to go on a trip with Breaking the Silence "to learn about the occupation from the perspective of Palestinians and IDF soldiers."
The group's Israeli tour guide, Golan, was upset by the walkout, and told the young women they had to sign a waiver as Birthright requires participants to remain with the group for the entire duration of the trip.
"You came here with a clear agenda from the beginning. You did not come to learn about Israel, you came to learn about Palestine," the tour guide told them. "You don't have an open mind. You have a clear agenda against Israel."
Other members of the group were enraged by the five's decision, accusing them of intentionally causing provocation.
When the group arrived for a tour of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, Breaking the Silence activists, including spokesman Dean Issacharoff, were waiting for the five young women.
"I think you did something incredibly brave. You refused to cooperate with the silence that is protecting the violent and immoral military regime that we're enforcing on millions of Palestinians," Issacharoff told them. "It's amazing. I'm sure you guys are the first. It's just indicative of the growing gap between your values and the occupation's values. And the fact that you're not willing to compromise on your Jewish values is amazing."
On their Facebook page, IfNotNow praised the five women: "Wow. These Birthright participants just walked off their trip and onto a Breaking the Silence tour to Hebron. They are refusing to continue to engage in a biased Israel education that omits and obscures the Occupation, and are going to see and wrestle with the truth themselves. This is an inspiring, courageous, and brave act of resistance to the Occupation. This is why IfNotNow launched its #NotJustAFreeTrip campaign this week, because we can no longer allow a free trip that hides the truth about the Occupation be synonymous with being a young Jewish person in America."
Sophie Lasoff, 24, one of the young women who walked out on the trip, said she and the other four "have been really disappointed on a number of occasions about the way that Birthright has completely erased the effects of the occupation or avoided our questions, or spun things in a way that we felt were extremely biased."
"We came all the way across the world in order to see what they keep telling us is our homeland. And to me, grappling with what a homeland means to me, means grappling with it in all of its complexity, and they haven't allowed us to do that," she added.
Taglit: We reject manipulation attempts or provocations
Amit Deri, founder and CEO of Reservists on Duty, said in response: “In recent months, we have been following with concern the attempt made by radical organizations in Israel and in the US to turn young Jews against Israel. Today, for the first time, we saw that infiltration and intentional disruption of a consensus organization (Taglit), aimed at bringing Jews around the world closer together, has become a legitimate tool.
“Reservists on Duty will keep monitoring and exposing these phenomena and working to brings US Jews closer to Israel, focusing on the young generation,” Deri added. “Breaking the Silence are continuing their attempt to harm the delicate fabric between the Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel. I find it amazing that Issacharoff, who was deemed a liar by the State Attorney’s Office, is leading this move and keeps spreading false propaganda to these young people.”
The Taglit organization offered the following comment: “Taglit, an apolitical project and the leading educational initiative in the world, has connected some 650,000 young Jews to Israel and to the Jewish people so far. As we respect the participants’ ability to form their own opinions, we reject the advancement of any agenda, manipulation attempts or provocations—from any political side.”
Issacharoff offered the following comment: “While the right-wing government is crushing Israel’s connection to the Diaspora Jewry, we are building new bridges based on values of equality and democracy. Anyone who thinks of demanding that millions of liberal Jews blindly support the occupation policy will wake up in panic when an entire generation of young Jews, who are unprepared to give up their values to cooperation with the concealment of the occupation in programs like Taglit, slam the door.
“We gladly accepted the participants’ initiative and we invite anyone coming to Israel to join us on a tour of the places in which we served in the territories to discover the reality of the occupation.”