Young U.S. Jews Aim 'Occupy' Movement at Birthright Israel

Members of youth section of Jewish Voice for Peace disrupt New York event sponsored by Birthright, say program 'free propaganda trips for predominantly middle and upper class American Jews.'

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As the various "occupy" movements spread across the United States, headed by the massive Occupy Wall Street events, a group of young Jewish Americans is taking the notion of the "99%" against the ruling "1%" to debunk what they see as the hypocritical U.S. Jewish leadership.

In a mission statement titled "Occupy the Occupiers: A Jewish Call to Action," the Young, Jewish, and Proud (YJP), described as the youth wing of the left-leaning Jewish Voice for Peace movement, called out to young Jews to "stand up to the 1% in our own community, the powerful institutions that support Israels corporate-backed military control of the Palestinian people and act as the gatekeepers for our community."

An Occupy Wall Street campaign demonstrator holds a sign in Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street in New York, October 17, 2011. Credit: Reuters

In one event meant to demonstrate the kind of grass-roots dissent shown in other "occupy" events, YJP members disrupted a New York event sponsored by Birthright Israel Alumni Community, using the now famous "human microphone" to interrupt a speech by venture capitalist and author Steven Pease.

In response to the incident, Executive Director of the Birthright Alumni Community Rebecca Sugar told Haaretz that those who interrupted the event "numbered roughly 10 people" and were quickly escorted out of the room.

"We have chosen not to respond to blatantly false claims made by protesters, because we feel this group is not deserving of anyone's time or energy," said Sugar, staying that the Birthright Israel Alumni Community believes in "civil discourse and in a healthy exchange of ideas."

Speaking of the incident to the YJP website, one participant, Liza Behrendt, said the event was meant to protest the Birthright program – in which Jewish youths are given a tour of Israel.

"Birthright is a symptom of a larger structural problem in the Jewish institutional world in which our version of the 1%, a handful of wealthy donors including people like the Schustermans or Sheldon Adelson, is able to dictate the social and political agenda of the 99%. That's because Jewish institutions are so dependent on the 1% for funds," Behrendt said.

Behrendt criticized Birthright as "free propaganda trips for predominantly middle and upper class American Jews while urgent needs in the United States and Israel go unmet."

"At the same time, within the dominant Jewish institutions, like Hillel, critical thinking about Israel is not only discouraged but actively suppressed," she added.

Another participant, Carolyn Klaasen, quoted on the movement's website as referring to the event, said that the recent "occupy" movement made her feel that "such actions are far more in line with Jewish tradition than this event, which lifted up as a model of success people like illegal settlement builder Lev Leviev who profit from exploitation of others."

"That is part of the problem were protesting in the Occupy movement," Klaasen added.



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