This is good news. Under pressure from Jewish dissidents, two American Jewish social justice organizations have added a Palestine day to a trip they are leading to Israel next month. One giant step for the Jewish community, one small step for mankind.
They are going to Hebron, where they are guaranteed to see apartheid before their eyes. Josh Nathan-Kazis in the Forward:
Bending to protests, two Jewish anti-poverty groups will include a visit to the West Bank and meetings with anti-occupation activists to an upcoming service trip to Israel.
Avodah and American Jewish World Service reworked plans for the controversial trip after coming under fire from participants and from program alumni, all of whom vigorously opposed what they called a lack of engagement with the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“There was a lot of debate and discussion, and I think that’s healthy and good,” said Avodah’s executive director, Marilyn Sneiderman. “We’ve heard lots of different ideas, and I think we’ve come up with an absolutely wonderful itinerary that works for everybody.”
When a joint Avodah-AJWS alumni group first announced the trip last November, some Avodah participants and alumni circulated a petition criticizing the trip for not visiting the Occupied Territories and addressing the Israeli occupation. In protest, one Avodah staff member quit…
And today that dissident community announced the news in this manner:
Months after the announcement of a service-learning trip to Israel, three Jewish organizations responded to a letter from community members of Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, to revise the itinerary. Avodah leadership worked with the American Jewish World Services (AJWS) and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to include an entire day spent in the West Bank, as well as group engagement with the politics behind Palestinian poverty. The group will spend part of Friday, March 16 learning about inequality between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem with Ir Amim. On Saturday the 17th, Telos Group will lead the trip through Palestinian communities living under occupation, including a B’Tselem tour of Hebron, a visit to Tent of Nations near Nahlin, and a visit to Bethlehem with the Holy Land Trust. Because the JDC does not work with the above organizations, the revision required negotiation between the three organizations involved.
This outcome does not meet all the demands listed in an October letter signed by Avodah participants, alumni, and supporters, nor does it several underlying problems with the trip. Most of the trip will take place inside Israel proper, which will still disappoint Avodah community members who support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement in solidarity with Palestinians. Furthermore, the trip is labeled as one to “Israel” (as opposed to Israel and Palestine), making Palestinians less visible in the trip’s publicity. Some letter signers call on Avodah to rebrand the trip as one to Israel/Palestine.
Yet, as Avodah corps member Lev Hirschhorn explained, “the revised trip marks a significant improvement over the original itinerary, and acknowledges the occupation of Palestine as a social justice and poverty issue. And we can count on groups like Ir Amim, B’tselem, Holy Land Trust, and Tent of Nations to provide an anti-oppression analysis that the JDC alone does not.”
Corps member Liza Behrendt added, “It is meaningful that Avodah’s leadership listened to our concerns, and acknowledged young Jews’ desire for honest community engagement with issues of Israel, Palestine, and the occupation.” Signers of the letter intend to continue working with Avodah staff to encourage dialogue surrounding the trip and its political implications.
“Together, we can preserve Avodah as a community where diverse Jewish political identities are counted and respected,” said Avodah corps member Elise Goldin in a message to the letter’s signers. “These itinerary changes would not have been possible without our collective action. We do have power in our own Jewish community, and we can wield that power to create a more just world.”