Earlier this year, the J Street U chapter at Lewis & Clark launched a petition to include Palestinian speakers on Birthright trips in order for Jewish students to gain a multi-faceted perspective on these trips to Israel. The petition was sent to Birthright International for consideration, yet Birthright sent out trip itineraries which did not include the suggested speakers.
Naomi Goldman-Nagel ’19, Vice-President of the National Student Board of J Street U and Representative for the Northwest, has been actively involved with the creation and launch of the petition.
“To be honest, I wasn’t surprised that it was denied, just because a big reason we ran the petition in the first place was sort of like a last hope and last attempt to expose the right-wing agenda that Birthright has,” Goldman-Nagel said. “But, I was surprised that they denied the speaker request from Hillel (PDX). I could imagine them denying requests from students, but from a Jewish institution like Hillel I think that’s pretty significant because they were advocating on the students’ behalf and Birthright denied them.”
Member of J Street U Avia Kaner-Roth ’22 expressed a similar lack of surprise at the news.
“My reaction was one of disappointment, but not (of) surprise,” Kaner-Roth said via email. “Birthright has been consistent in the past in the ways that they interact with students and people who don’t share their views or politics, and to think that they would change was a long shot. Regardless, we thought it was important to raise awareness the extent to which American Jewish students were unhappy with the status quo.”
As a result of Birthright International denying the petition, J Street U has launched a campaign called “Let Our People Know,” in which students can pledge not to attend a trip to Israel that erases Palestinian perspectives.
The J Street U website advertises the pledge: “We pledge to only participate in organized trips to Israel that include meaningful engagement with key questions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the occupation and the status of minority groups in Israel. We will only participate in trips that include meetings with both Israelis and Palestinians and that show participants how the occupation impacts the daily lives of Palestinians living beyond the Green Line.” The Green Line refers to the border between Israel and Palestine that was demarcated in 1967; it does not include the contested spaces of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, or Golan Heights as part of Israel.
As a part of the campaign, J Street U has created an alternative free trip to Israel for Jewish students that includes Palestinian voices. According to the J Street U website, the first “Let Our People Know” trip will take place this summer in July.
Goldman-Nagel expressed that despite Birthright denying the petition, she thinks the largest success this year has been not only creating a discussion about the politics of Birthright but providing students a choice with this alternative trip.
“Before we started organizing and exposing how Birthright was this really problematic thing, so many Jewish students just saw it as an opportunity for a free trip and were willing to forgo the bad politics behind it,” Goldman-Nagel said. “By creating this campaign and by creating this alternative trip we were able to force a choice on a lot of people, so instead of it being a status quo, ‘I’ll just go because everyone else goes,’ I think now there’s a lot more consciousness towards what it means to choose to go or not to go.”
J Street U member Ariel Moyal ’19 stated that Birthright International denying the petition will not discourage future action from the Jewish community.
“The core of my Jewish tradition is to question and debate, and also to actively work towards justice,” Moyal said via email. “Birthright’s antiquated and oppressive position to deny the injustice and conflict going on in Israel-Palestine holds our Jewish community back. We will continue to fight.”
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