A group of five activists from the far-left IfNotNow Jewish organization infiltrated a Birthright group currently in Israel this week, and offered a tour of Hebron to other members of the group with the Breaking the Silence organization.
IfNotNow, which says it seeks to “end American Jewish support for the occupation,” launched a new campaign this week called Not Just A Free Trip, in which it says it is using “a diversity of methods” to teach Birthright participants about “the daily nightmare of Occupation.”
It appears that one of the methods is to actively infiltrate Birthright groups without the organization’s knowledge, and influence the other participants regarding the political conflict with the Palestinians by offering them tours and other activities without Birthright’s permission.
The five IfNotNow activists were part of the Birthright group from the outset, which was organized by Mayanot, participated in the full ten days of the trip and received the trip for free like all other participants.
On Thursday, video footage emerged on social media of one such group where an IfNotNow activist stood up on the bus at the end of a trip and offered other participants the opportunity of going on a tour of Hebron with the hard-left Breaking the Silence organization.
Hebron is a particularly contentious spot because of the presence of the Jewish community there within the Palestinian city and the security arrangements due to this situation, and is not reflective of the wider situation in the West Bank.
According to Sophie Lasloff, one of the IfNotNow activists, only five activists actually went on the Breaking the Silence tour.
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They were greeted by Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff who thanked the activists “for not cooperating with the silence that is protecting a violent and immoral military regime that we’re forcing on millions of Palestinians.”
Lasloff said that she and the other four activists had independently signed up to the Birthright trip – not in connection with the #NotJustAFreeTrip campaign.
IfNotNow said, however, that “there have been lots of people planning to go on Birthright this summer who have accessed our educational materials and reached out to us learn about the occupation, especially after the launch of our #NotJustAFreeTrip Campaign.”
The organization added that more such incidents are likely during this summer.
“We expect that more young Jews will be challenging Birthright’s incomplete narrative in lots of different ways throughout the summer,” IfNotNow told the Post
The #NotJustAFreeTrip campaign states on its website that “young American Jews will be making sure that our peers know that Birthright is not just a free trip. Using a diversity of methods, we will give our generation… a chance at seeing the full picture that we didn’t have...to help them better understand what the Occupation really means for Palestinians, Israelis, and our Jewish community, and to reject Birthright’s attempt to narrowly limit our access to the complex truths of life in Israel/Palestine.”
Lasloff said that none of the five IfNotNow activists on her group came to disrupt the Birthright trip and “did not come with an agenda.”
She said, however, that all five have participated in IfNotNow activities prior to this summer, “identify with their message and share the same politics.”
Lasloff declined to answer if she personally supported a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, nor would she comment, when asked, if she would describe herself as a Zionist, saying that the issue is “complicated.”
One participant in the trip, Katie Anne, wrote on Facebook during the first day of the trip: “Today on my Birthright trip we spent a bit of time learning about the importance of water in Judaism. If we value water so much, why is Israel limiting the amount of drinkable water in Gaza and the West Bank?”
Katie Anne also posted a picture of herself on her Facebook page riding on a camel holding up a sign with another activist saying “End the Occupation.”
Lasloff said she and the other activists had raised several questions about the occupation during the trip and felt that they were avoided and obfuscated.
“A professional speaker actively avoided several of our questions, and we felt like it wasn’t a full, fair and balanced view of the actual situation and reality,” she said.
Lasloff also pointed out that maps used on the tour did not show the Green Line delineating between Israel and the West Bank, “which flagged for us that Birthright wasn’t taking the occupation seriously and was not educating about [it].”
She added that “if thousands of Jews are coming and getting a one sided view of whats happening, then that's not right, and that's something we should demand better.”
Asked if their participation in the trip, given their activism, was honest, Lasloff said she’s “not sure if there is an honest or dishonest way of making change,” and rejected the notion that setting up an independent, free Israel tour scheme to discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict would be more sincere method of dealing with the issue.
In response to the incident, Birthright Israel said: “Since we respect the ability of our participants to formulate their own views, we reject the promotion of any agendas, attempts at manipulation or provocations from either political side.”The Reservists on Duty
organization said it had noted in recent months, “concerning attempts by extremist organizations in Israel and the United States to incite Jewish youth against Israel.
“Today, those attempts reached a new low – infiltration and deliberate disruption to a consensus organization which is aimed at bringing Jews closer to Israel,” it said.
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