Birthright participants who walked off trip ask public to pay for ride home

IfNotNow members say funds will also be used to cover legal costs, though Birthright denies it has any plans to sue them

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Left-wing activists who staged a walkout from their Birthright trip pose for a photo with members of the Sumarin family, who are facing eviction from their home in East Jerusalem on July 15, 2018. (Courtesy)
Left-wing activists who staged a walkout from their Birthright trip pose for a photo with members of the Sumarin family, who are facing eviction from their home in East Jerusalem on July 15, 2018. (Courtesy)

Left-wing activists who staged walkouts from their Birthright trips earlier this week have launched a campaign to raise funds for the costs they incurred by the move, seeking to share their “sacrifice” with the wider world.

The eight participants are being required to forfeit their $250 deposit and pay for their return flights home, which have since been canceled. They have turned to the public on a GoFundMe crowdfunding page to raise $10,000, which would also be used “to cover potential legal costs.”

The walkouts on Sunday took place on two buses, with six participants leaving one bus and two withdrawing from the other.

Six of the eight, who are in their early 20s, are active at various levels in IfNotNow, an anti-occupation organization made up of young progressive Jews in the United States. The other two were sympathetic to their cause and willing to leave the 10-day trip on its sixth day.

Birthright has refused to show us the truth about the occupation’s impact on Palestinians, instead asking us to visit a site operated by a far-right settlement organization. We’ve decided instead to go meet with the Sumarin family, a family that has lived in East Jerusalem under threat of eviction for years to learn from them and hear their story.

Posted by Hal Rose on Sunday, July 15, 2018

As of Wednesday afternoon, the activists had raised nearly $7,500 from over 260 people who donated since the GoFundMe campaign was launched on Monday.

The GoFundMe page claims that “Birthright threatened us with a lawsuit as a way of intimidating future participants from demanding answers to their questions about Israel’s military control over the Palestinian people.”

A spokeswoman for Birthright explained that the activists were simply made aware of a clause in the contract that allows Birthright to sue participants. However, this is only in cases when there is a need to cover damages, such as the destruction of a hotel room.

The spokeswoman assured that Birthright has no intention of suing the activists.

“What exactly would we even sue them for?” she asked, charging that the GoFundMe was an attempt to extend the activists’ PR campaign.

Commenting on the number of small donations the group has been receiving, one of the activists compared the campaign to that of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks on a question during a town hall meeting on April 4, 2018, in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“We don’t need one mega million dollar donor saying go to Palestine. We’ve got the entire community supporting us in this initiative,” said Elon Glickman.

“It’s a message for all people going on Birthright that your community will support you in demanding the truth,” he added.

The activists, in their livestream of the walkout, touted the move as a “painful sacrifice,” drawing ire from critics who pointed out that Birthright trips are free and they were not actually sacrificing anything. Glickman, however, pointed out that the members of his group had to pay out of pocket for the costs of a number of trips to the West Bank, where they have been meeting and volunteering with Palestinians.

The Los Angeleno argued that it would be more powerful “if the entire community shares in the sacrifice.”

Glickman asserted that his group should not have been put in a position where they felt forced to leave their Birthright trip in order to meet with Palestinians.

IfNotNow activists marching to demand that then President-elect Donald Trump fire Stephen Bannon, Philadelphia, November 22, 2016. (Courtesy of IfNotNow/via JTA)

Since leaving the trip, the activists have met with a Palestinian family in East Jerusalem facing eviction from their home, toured the flashpoint city of Hebron with the Breaking the Silence NGO, and visited the Bedouin villages of Umm al-Khair and Khan al-Ahmar where residents are under the threat of Israeli demolition.

Glickman said that any leftover funds from the campaign would be donated to the Palestinian villages that the group visited.

The activists’ walkout on Sunday was the second such incident in less than a month. However, unlike in the first, the eight participants were met with largely no opposition from either staff or fellow trip-goers. While the second group of activists said they were inspired by the actions of the first, they have insisted that their decision was not planned in advance.

IfNotNow has been conducting a series of events in recent months targeting Birthright participants as they depart the US. The activism climaxed just over two weeks ago when five of its members staged what they called the first-ever walkout on a Birthright trip.

Then, the activists were chastised by fellow participants as well as their tour guide for coming on the trip with an agenda and not waiting until the trip was over to meet with Palestinians.

Illustrative: A group of American Birthright tourists visits the dead sea on July 10, 2015. (Matt Hechter/Flash90)

Birthright has brought more than 650,000 young Jewish adults aged 18-26 on 10-day trips to Israel since 1999, and strives to connect Diaspora Jews with Israel. On the trips, they tour the country’s highlights and meet young Israelis, including soldiers, who ride with them on their tour buses.

As it did last month, Birthright condemned the actions of the eight participants on Sunday.

“We respect the ability of all participants to formulate their own views and opinions, and engage in productive and respectful dialogue. However, we will not tolerate any attempts to use this experience to promote ideological agendas,” the organization said.

Most Popular
read more: