Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace tables for a boycott of Birthright trips

Tufts student and Vision of Peace Fellow Andrew Goldblatt holds a sign reading "Jerusalem will not tolerate racism" on Jerusalem Day in 2016. Courtesy Andrew Goldblatt

Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) tabled in Mayer Campus Center on March 28 encouraging Jewish students not to go on Birthright trips to Israel, according to Tufts JVP member Hannah Nahar. The Facebook event was titled “Return the Birthright: Teach-Out and Tabling.” The tabling is part of the JVP national organization’s #ReturnTheBirthright campaign.

Nahar described the goals of JVP’s anti-Birthright campaign.

We are out here to say we are young Jews who are boycotting Birthright. We care about being Jewish, and we care about justice in Palestine and Israel for all people who live there. We don’t believe that Birthright is something that Jews should do, and we don’t want our money being funneled toward it,” Nahar, a senior, said.

According to the Facebook event, JVP boycotted Birthright trips in response to Jewish people being given a right to return to Israel while Palestinians have not been given the same right.

“Since 1999, the Birthright Israel program has sent over 500,000 Jewish young adults on a free ten-day trip to Israel … These trips, funded by the government of Israel and the North American Jewish Federations … aim to promote the idea that young Jews from all over the world should feel like the land and State of Israel belongs to us and is our homeland. But while all Jews worldwide are handed this free trip … Palestinians are barred from returning to the homes and villages where their ancestors lived for centuries,” the event page reads, quoting from JVP’s #ReturnTheBirthright manifesto.

Sara Legasey, the program associate of Tufts Hillel Birthright programs, said the Tufts Hillel trip does not exclude Palestinian narratives. Legasey clarified Tufts Hillel’s stance on the conflict.

“Tufts Hillel – and all of our Israel organizations in the coalition Tufts Students for Two States – strongly supports a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians live in the region in peace and security,” Legasey told the Daily in an email. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important topic explored on our Birthright Israel trips. On the Tufts Hillel trip, we discuss multiple narratives, including Palestinian narratives, so that our students engage with diverse viewpoints.”

Molly Tunis, a member of JVP, said she disagreed with the idea that Birthright trips are inclusive of both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives.

“[Birthright] tries to push this idealistic version of Israel without mentioning a lot of the history that is really important to acknowledge,” Tunis, a sophomore, said. 

Junior Zach Rosh, who attended Birthright Israel with Tufts Hillel in January, said that the trip included arguments from both sides of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

“Both the Nakba and the Palestinian side of the story were discussed on multiple occasions during the Birthright trip,” Rosh said in an electronic message to the Daily. “These discussions took place in structured settings such as planned talks and presentations, and were additionally encouraged to take place amongst members of the trip.”

Tunis noted that while she thought that Birthright ignored Palestinian narratives, this was not her reason for boycotting the trip.

“My main reason for boycotting is the fact that Palestinians are denied the right to return but Jews in the diaspora with no strong connections to Israel are given a ‘birthright,'” Tunis said in an electronic message to the Daily.

Andrew Goldblatt, the vice president for the Northeast region of J Street U, a national pro-peace and pro-Israel organization, went on the Tufts Hillel Birthright trip in the summer of 2016 after his first year at college. He said he felt that despite the program’s pro-Israel bias, it offered an opportunity for Tufts students to engage in dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“[The Birthright trip] definitely had a bias and had a certain side, but I didn’t feel that it was completely negative. There was still the opportunity for participants to discuss the conflict. It wasn’t like there was stuff that was anti-Palestinian on the trip, it was more that it was just kind of omitted, which I think is the real problem,” Goldblatt, a junior and a Visions of Peace Fellow at Tufts Hillel, said.

Goldblatt also acknowledged that although Birthright trips are exclusive to people that identify as Jewish, he hopes that someday there will be a similar trip for people who identify as Palestinian.

“I think that the state of Israel, as a Jewish democratic state, should exist. I think Jews should be allowed to visit and travel there. Do I think it’s weird that there’s this free trip that Jews can go on when at the same time there is not a similar thing for Palestinian folks? Yeah, and I hope that one day there would be that opportunity for Palestinians, [and that] there will be a Palestinian state for them to visit though that’s very far from the reality right now,” he said.

For Nahar, the Birthright programming does not reflect the relationship they believe exists between Zionism and Jewish identity. They believe that a person who is Jewish is not necessarily in favor of the initial establishment of the Jewish homeland in Israel.

“The pervasiveness of Birthright programming at Hillel makes it feel like it [is inherent to Judaism]. I think it’s really important to have a Jewish community, and I don’t think that Birthright programming should be implicit to that,” they said.
In response to Nahar’s concerns, Legasey asserted that though many Jews connect to their Jewish identity through their relationship with Israel, this is not the only, nor is it an overrepresented, part of Hillel’s programming.

“[Jews connect to their Jewish identity] through culture, spirituality, education, holidays, social justice, religious observance, language and more,” Legasey wrote. “This is why we work to provide a diverse array of programs on campus, including but not limited to Birthright Israel trips, so that each student can find different opportunities to connect with their Jewish identity, build Jewish community, and engage with Jewish life and learning in ways that make sense for them.”
Legasey also said that Tufts Hillel is committed to keeping the conversation going with students with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Tufts Hillel is deeply committed to engaging with all students on campus in dialogue about the most productive ways to bring peace to the conflict in the Middle East and move the agenda of peace forward,” she said. “Through our coalition of groups that comprise Tufts Students for Two States, we actively work for a time when Israel and Palestine will live side by side in peace and security.”

Editor’s Note: Austin Clementi, Elie Levine and Zachary Hertz contributed reporting to this article.


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