NEW YORK – Anti-occupation Jewish activists were escorted out of JFK International Airport on Monday after complaints were made against them approaching Taglit-Birthright participants on their way to Israel.
It was the seventh-such “intervention” by members of IfNotNow, engaging young American Jews as they waited to board planes ahead of their free 10-day heritage trip to Israel.
The activists were handing out flyers with information about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. They also handed out a list of organizations the participants can contact once in Israel – such as the anti-occupation veterans’ group Breaking the Silence.
IfNotNow launched its campaign, called #NotJustAFreeTrip, at the end of June, seeking to “pressure Birthright to tell the truth about the Israeli occupation to its 40,000 young Jewish participants.” Soon after, a group of five American Jews left an official trip on the eighth day of their tour, protesting the program’s treatment of the occupation, and joined a tour of the left-wing organization "Breaking the Silence.
Though some participants on Monday mistook them for Birthright staff, the activists explained that they wanted to talk about the occupation. They handed out folders that contained information about Israel, including a map that marks the West Bank and Gaza.
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“This map is not the one they will show you on the trip,” one of the activists told participants. Last week, a video went viral showing a Birthright participant arguing with his guide about their official map, saying it lacked any demarcation between Israel and the West Bank.
The activists at the airport shared their own memories of going on Birthright tours and encouraged the young participants to be critical during their trip. “You should feel comfortable to ask questions,” said a young IfNotNow activist.
At one point during the conversation, a young man standing in line with a Birthright name tag said he had never heard about the occupation.
One of the organizations on the contact list handed to participants was the Sumud Freedom Camp – a Palestinian-led community in the southern Hebron Hills. The group also handed out cards with the number of a hotline the Birthright participants can use to contact IfNotNow members when in Israel.
After speaking with several groups of participants, the activists were approached by airport security personnel who asked them to leave. They told Haaretz they had been called by Birthright staffers, who had complained that IfNotNow activists were bothering them.
"We will come back," said activist Jeremy Oziel, after being escorted out. "We think it is imperative that the Birthrighters are armed with these resources, and understand that Birthright is curating an experience for them that is not the complete picture of Israel."
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