A group of five American Jewish women who flew to Israel on a Birthright trip for a tour of the Jewish state earlier this month left the group on Thursday to join a far-left organization critical of the IDF.
Since 1999, Taglit-Birthright Israel has brought more than 650,000 young Jews from across the Diaspora to Israel, in an effort to deepen the connections between Diaspora Jews and Israel, and to strengthen Jewish identity.
Funded in part by the State of Israel and partially by private donors, Birthright Israel’s primary program offers young Jewish adults aged 18-32 free ten-day trips to Israel.
While the program touts its apolitical message and offers a wide variety of tours catering to different Jewish communities – with separate tour groups aimed at Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox youths – some far-left Jewish groups have attacked Birthright over its pro-Zionist message accusing it of avoiding difficult political issues stemming from Israel’s defensive actions.
The Jewish Voice for Peace, for instance, promoted a campaign against Birthright Israel, dubbed “Return the Birthright”, calling on Diaspora Jews to boycott the program.
Last week, far-left anti-Israel activists from the IfNotNow organization attempted to recruit Birthright participants departing from New York’s Kennedy Airport.
"They set up a table with a sign and snacks and when the groups arrived they turned to them as they waited in line," said one of the group members, Miss Ariel Tidhar. "They told them they had to learn the truth about the State, and claimed that Birthright was working against Jewish morality." Operatives demanded "to stop American-Jewish support for the occupation."
"This was an ambush, although there's no doubt they're allowed to be at the airport," Tidhar said. According to Miss Tidhar, they tried to engage the students "using snacks".
On Thursday, it appeared that the group’s efforts to recruit Birthright participants had paid off.
A group of five American Jewish women in their 20s made a very public exit from a Birthright tour, publicly protesting Birthright with text and video messages released via social media.
The group blasted Israel’s use of force to defend its border with Gaza from terrorists and rioters attempting to breach the security fence, and condemned Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria as an unjust “occupation”.
The five young women, all of whom are between the ages of 22 to 25, also hit Birthright for not sharing their political views regarding Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.
"Over the past ten days,” the five wrote in a statement spread on social media by Danielle Raskin, “we have engaged deeply and honestly with our Birthright tour guide and the other participants, who we feel are members of our community.”
“We built strong relationships with them and feel sad to leave them without saying a proper goodbye, but we could no longer go on with this trip that was so deliberately hiding the truth from all of us. For us, grappling with this important place in our tradition means grappling with it in all of its complexity."
"We each came on this trip separately with hope that - especially in light of the recent killings of more than 100 protesters in Gaza and Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem - Birthright would trust its participants enough to give us an honest education. We came with questions about what's happening in the occupied territories and wanted to engage with new perspectives, but what became clear over the course of ten days was that Birthright did not want to truthfully engage with our questions. It's clear that young Jews who have critical questions about Israel are not welcome on Birthright. It's shocking that given all the recent violence, Birthright would continue to act as if we can't handle the truth."
At the end of the message, the five announced their plans to join a tour of the city of Hevron hosted by the radical left-wing “Breaking the Silence” organization.
"Our message to the American Jewish community - young Jews who have not yet gone on Birthright and their parents who want to send their children on this trip - is to now that Birthright is not providing the education our generation deserves. It is morally irresponsible to participate in an institution that is not willing to grapple with reality on the other side of the wall. That's why we're on our way to Hebron now."
“Birthright wouldn’t show us the occupation so we are going to see it for ourselves,” Katie Anne wrote on Facebook.
In April, members of IfNotNow were arrested in Los Angeles after they entered a Jewish Federation office and began reciting the traditional Jewish “Kaddish” prayer to mourn the deaths of Arab rioters killed while attempting to infiltrate into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Days later, IfNotNow activists protested outside of the annual Birthright Israel gala in New York City.