Media Analysis

Three young Jews are kicked off ‘Birthright’ trip for asking questions about separation wall in Palestine

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Three young Jews were reportedly kicked off their free trip to Israel sponsored by the pro-Israel Birthright program today because they asked questions about the separation wall Israel has erected on occupied Palestinian territory.

A video of the young people as they leave the trip has been posted by one of them on her Facebook page. Shira Leah reports that she and two others were kicked off Birthright, “because when we drove past the border separation wall between Israel and the West Bank (which our tour guide had ignored all 4 times we drove past it), we tried to ask questions about it and didn’t accept his answer that the entire conflict is caused by crazy violent Palestinians.”

In the accompanying video, young people are heard to discuss signing a waiver to end their trip with a Birthright official in a tense conversation.

That official says to a young man: “I was more than willing to have a conversation with you… Then you came at me with the nineteen-year-old’s feeling this way and that way…. The program is designed and going to stay as is. With you being allowed to ask questions.”

Birthright guide explains to three participants that they are getting kicked off trip. From Facebook video, screenshot.

The young man says he only asked two questions and he is being kicked off for who he is.

The only reason i knew we drove past the ‘separation wall’ is because people pointed it out to me on Google maps… I asked two questions and that’s it… [Evidently] my views in my head are incompatible with the trip. Because I am progressive and because I don’t like Netanyahu and Trump and border walls. Because I have those thoughts in my head, I can’t be here?…. What rule did I break?… This has been really stressful and honestly slightly traumatic to be screamed at and kicked off… I asked two questions, and I said I was disappointed in the way–

The official then says: “The reason we can’t have you here is because of the agenda of an outside program that we believe you are affiliated with.”

That’s a reference to the young Jewish group IfNotNow’s efforts to disrupt Birthright trips. At that link, IfNotNow posts the latest Birthright agreement, which limits the free speech of participants.

Shira Leah says on her Facebook page: “I am devastated by Trump’s policies of family separation, detention of children, and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border because it goes against all of the values I was taught growing up n my Jewish community, where my mom was the Rabbi. It is unfathomable that I would be asked to stay silent when we see the same thing happening in Israel. Clearly this is a bribe, not a gift. #NoSuchThingAsAFreeTrip #NotJustAFreeTrip”

Birthright has come under great pressure from IfNotNow since last summer when nearly a dozen young Jews walked off Birthright trips, and IfNotNow encouraged more to do so, and the organization, funded by Democrat Haim Saban and Republican Sheldon Adelson among others, pushed back.

Nonetheless, reports are that participation in the free trip for Jews under 26 has fallen off this winter.

Here is Ben Doernberg’s report from Twitter about getting kicked off:

Today has been absolutely surreal. I woke up at 7am on a @birthrightisrael trip… and by 3pm I was standing on a street corner next to the Tel Aviv stock exchange with my luggage, trying to process getting kicked off the trip.

Basically, throughout the entire trip it was pretty standard right-wing propaganda. *Literally* every single time an Arab or Palestinian was mentioned in a story, it was to talk about someone who was a crazy terrorist murderer who likes killing Jews for fun. Every. Single. Time.

Eventually, Emily (who’s an immigration rights organizer) got fed up when they drove us past the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank *for the 4th time* without acknowledging that it existed, and she asked if the wall we were passing was the West Bank separation wall.

He said yes, and launched into a monologue about Palestinian suicide bombers and put 100% of the blame on them. Emily and I asked him about the lack of nuance and whether we’d be getting any perspectives from any Palestinians, or people who advocate for Palestinian rights.

He said “I don’t know of any program or person who could do that”, which is obviously absurd. It was getting very tense, and then he noticed that the conversation was being recorded and he went from 0 to 100, got in her face, and things escalated dramatically.

This is in the context of a trip where people were openly filming all the time, including 15 seconds before this particular conversation started, with no issues at all. Anyway, at that point other people on the bus intervened and calmed things down.

At our next stop a bunch of Birthright trip staff members pulled Emily, Shira and I out of the group and told us that we had to leave the trip immediately, for unspecified reasons.

The woman in charge told us that they had rebooked our flights home for today, and we had 2 choices: either we could get in a car with them and drive straight to the airport to leave the country, or they would cancel our flights home. Either way, we couldn’t stay on the trip.

The wildest part was, they had no explanation for why we were being kicked off. They said we violated the trip rules and regulations, but refused to say which rule or regulation we had violated by asking questions on the bus about things we could see out the window.

What they did say, repeatedly and explicitly, was that our desire to hear multiple viewpoints and perspectives was incompatible with the trip, and as a result we were done with the trip because it wasn’t possible for it “to meet our needs.”

I can’t think of anything less Jewish than to kick someone off for asking questions, for wanting to hear a multiple perspectives, for caring about the freedom of everyone who lives in Israel/Palestine.

Demanding that young Jews keep their values quiet in exchange for plane tickets is not a gift, it’s a bribe. People like Sheldon Adelson, the largest donor to both @birthrightIsrael and Trump, want to buy off our generation with plane tickets. No thanks.

Batya Ungar-Sargon of the Forward writes:

A new clause in the contract participants sign includes a ban on “any attempt to.. hijack a discussion or create an unwarranted provocation violate Taglit-Birthright’s founding principles.” Who the hell would want to go on such a trip? smdh

Thanks to Scott Roth. 

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Well I disagree with them that all walls are bad, but at least they’re consistent. The most loathsome creatures are those who say Israel’s wall is moral but Trump’s isn’t.

If anyone doesn’t like what they are getting for nothing they can always extend their visit and make whatever arrangements they like. The Birthright program is meant to be for those who come with open eyes and minds, not for people who are stooges of IfNotNow.
Can you imagine somebody who is an employee of an organisation demanding the right to free speech on the job?

“Three young Jews were reportedly kicked off their free trip to Israel sponsored by the pro-Israel Birthright” So not a birthright then, is there a spit test for that? If anyone told me that there were some ideological impositions required for membership in any group of any kind whatsoever, I would miss them but you got to standup otherwise life is depressing, but when you genuine suffering is light as a feather, beings are, everyone… Read more »

Code Pink recently called on Pro-Palestinian new members of Congress to boycott the requisite “orientation” trip to Israel. I suggested to them, on Twitter, that these freshmen Congressfolk should go but DEMAND that they get the full Apartheid/Hafrada tour. Hebron, Bethlehem, Billin, etc. No response. So I’ll ask here, why isn’t the full racist tour of Israel insisted upon. Why would Code Pink call for these representatives to AVOID confronting the racist Israel reality? I… Read more »

‘I asked two questions and that’s it… [Evidently] my views in my head are incompatible with the trip. Because I am progressive and because I don’t like Netanyahu and Trump and border walls. Because I have those thoughts in my head, I can’t be here?…. What rule did I break?… This has been really stressful and honestly slightly traumatic to be screamed at and kicked off… I asked two questions, and I said I was… Read more »