At New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Monday night, Birthright Fellow and student leader Ariel Tidhar reported that the American Jewish activist group IfNotNow waylaid their group, as well as four other Taglit Birthright groups trying to check into their flights to Israel.
IfNotNow attempts “to end American Jewish support for the occupation,” referring to lands administered by Israel after wars, including eastern Jerusalem.
Tidhar told JNS, “They set up a table with a sign and snacks, and then they were coming up to participants while we were standing in line. While they were talking to participants, they were video recording and transcribing the conversations, saying ‘you should learn the truth about the country you’re about to visit’ and that ‘Birthright goes against Jewish morals.’
“Even though the airport is a public place, it’s a total ambush on their end, coming with this sign that says Birthright on it and trying to hand out snacks,” maintained Tidhar.
According to the student leader, some of the Taglit Birthright participants were “asking them what are they trying to achieve from this,” while another defended the organization’s right to “share their side.”
“We have to figure it out more with our guide, but I think it’s fair to have an open and honest conversation about it,” said Tidhar. “I think it’s a huge problem in the states now.”
He told JNS, “They have a simplistic narrative that Israel is wholly responsible for anything bad that happens to the Palestinians, and [that] the American Jewish community is wholly responsible for everything bad that happens to the Palestinians through their support of Israel.”
Aviva Slomich, international campus director for CAMERA, a media watchdog group devoted to promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East, told JNS, “IfNotNow attacks Israel, making heavily biased statements and facts, distorting the truth and demonizing Israel and the Jewish people.”
But Schiffmiller maintained that the assault on Birthright speaks to a more fundamental problem than IfNotNow’s attempt to dismantle Jewish communal institutions.
“There is a basic mischaracterization about the embrace of Israel as a part of people’s Jewish identity,” he told JNS. “You can be highly critical of Israeli government policy, but that doesn’t mean you cannot embrace Israel as part of your identity—and that’s something that Birthright tries to engender.
“Getting involved in Birthright is very misguided by IfNotNow. It blurs the lines between the legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and trying to prevent people from having a strong pro-Israel identity as a part of who they are,” said Schiffmiller.
Neither the Birthright providers nor the Taglit Birthright umbrella organization chose to comment on the incident. PJC