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For Immediate Release

Contact

Yonah Lieberman press@ifnotnowmovement.org, 202-277-6602

Sam Lewin, press@ifnotnowmovement.org, 609-468-2425

Press Release

Hundreds of Jewish College Students and Other Young Jews Blocking the Doors to Birthright Headquarters as well as 3rd Avenue; Over 20 Willing to Risk Arrest

Young American Jews, blocking doors to Birthright Headquarters, demand that Birthright confront the crisis of Israel’s occupation and choose freedom and dignity over their donors’ propaganda.
NEW YORK, NY -

This morning, hundreds of young American Jews are gathering outside of Birthright Headquarters, blocking both 3rd avenue and the doors to the Birthright office building. This protest follows a year-long campaign in which IfNotNow has asked Birthright to educate its participants about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Today, they are giving Birthright one last chance to change its programming ahead of trips this summer and confront the crisis of Israel’s Occupation. According to the protesters, Birthright, the largest Jewish educational institution in the country, is prioritizing their donors’ pro-Occupation agenda and alienating an entire generation of American Jews.

“Today is 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 Darmstadt, a Freshman from the University of Michigan who traveled to New York for the demonstration and is risking arrest. “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. Now we’re at their headquarters, demanding they hear our stories, engage with us in the streets, and choose us over their donors.”

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 President Trump’s biggest funders; 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. But 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 is 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 Occupation. This demonstration comes after a year’s worth of requests 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 indication that Birthright will change its programming this summer.

“If Birthright refuses to change today, they will be choosing 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.”

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