Three participants on a Birthright tour of Israel were removed from the trip and sent home on Sunday, due to comments and behavior by the participants which Birthright deemed to be incommensurate with the tour.
This is the latest in several such incidents in which left-wing activists connected to the IfNotNow organization which opposes Israeli rule in the West Bank have declared their opposition to the content of Birthright’s trips during the trip itself and have subsequently left or been removed from the program.
All three have been involved in IfNotNow events and activities in the past, including protests against the Trump administration and its immigration policies and in fundraising drives.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
, Emily Bloch, one of the participants removed from the trip by Birthright, said they had objected to the fact that “There was almost no mention of Palestinians and the Occupation on the trip,” and that when it did come up “it was presented in unbalanced way with no nuance.”
Asked whether she was not aware of the nature of Birthright trips and that the conflict with the Palestinians is generally not one the organization wants to focus on, Bloch said that she was aware that “Birthright has a particular political perspective,” but said that “I didn’t know Birthright would be so threatened about me asking questions about the conflict that they would kick me off.”
Bloch declined to say whether or not she supports the notion of a Zionist, Jewish state even within the pre-1967 borders.
Birthright said in response to the incident that the participants who were removed were IfNotNow activists and that they had “aggressively disrupt[ed] the experience of the other participants,” and that it would not accept “any coordinated plans” to disrupt the trips.
On Monday, the three participants in the Birthright trip who were removed from the program, Shira Tiffany, Ben Doernberg and Emily Bloch, began asking questions about Israel’s security barrier around the West Bank which they had passed on several occasions and were passing again on the bus.
Bloch, who works for an immigrants rights organization in the US, told the Post that she and the others had merely been asking questions about the conflict and the security barrier and that the exchange with the tour guide got heated and tense.
The Post understands that Tiffany was asked to stop filming but declined.
According to social media posts by Tiffany and Doernberg, they began asking to hear alternative perspectives on the conflict, and the tour guide said he was not aware of organizations who could provide it, and became visibly angry when he noticed they were filming him.
In one of several tweets, Doernberg said the tour guide had “launched into a monologue about Palestinian suicide bombers and put 100% of the blame on them [Palestinians],” and that they had asked about “the lack of nuance and whether we'd be getting any perspectives from any Palestinians, or people who advocate for Palestinian rights.”
He added that he believed discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians was “pretty standard right-wing propaganda,” and focused always focused on “someone who was a crazy terrorist murderer who likes killing Jews for fun. Every. Single. Time.”
Birthright staff were waiting at the destination of the tour bus, and Tiffany, Doernberg and Bloch were told that were no longer able to continue on the trip and must either return to the US on a flight that had been rebooked for them by Birthright or their flights would be cancelled and they would have buy a new flight home themselves.
Bloch said that the participants asked which specific clause of the contract and how they had violated it but were not given an answer.
A new clause in the Birthright contract signed by participants stipulates that if participants disturb the trip they can be removed from the program, a penalty which is also applicable for violations of clauses pertaining to alcohol consumption, sexual harassment and other infringements of the contract.
The clause has been added to the contract as a way of dealing with the disruptions to Birthright trips by IfNotNow activists which occurred in the summer.
“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,” tweeted Doernberg.
“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.”
Bloch declined to say how she views any potential solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict or whether she supports a two state solution, a bi-national one state solution, or other ideas.
Asked specifically if she supports the notion of a state based on Zionist and Jewish values, Bloch said she did not want to answer the question.
“I connect to Jewish values through my work on immigration, and asking questions, and wanting to learn about issues in the world. It seems crazy that Birthright wouldn’t have any tolerance for that on our trip,” she said in response.
“The only thing I can respond is that the only way I feel connected is asking these questions, doing the work I do, and being part of the Jewish communities I’m a part of.
Birthright said in response “When activists aggressively disrupt the experience of the other participants then, like in any organized group experience, we have to ask them to leave regardless of their agenda. Birthright Israel always welcomes participants’ views and questions, which are
essential to the success of the experience, so long as they are shared in a constructive and respectful manner. We will not condone any coordinated plans to ruin the experience for others in order to promote a specific agenda."
On Friday, two other Birthright participants, Harry Weissman and Rachel Saltzberg, left their tour on Friday due, they said, to the stance Birthright’s tour guides took on issues relating to the Palestinians.
In response to Sunday’s incident, IfNotNow described Birthright’s actions as “an act of repression,” and that the organization was using the new terms of the contract to stop discussion about Israel’s “Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.”
Said a spokeswoman “How many more participants will be kicked off for asking questions about Palestinians? How many more will see this is a sign to be intimidated out of seeking the truth?”
IfNotNow said that Bloch, Tiffany and Doernberg, together with Weissman and Saltzberg, will spend the coming days “engaging with Palestinian and Israeli anti-Occupation activists.”
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