A new campaign asking young Jews to refuse to take part in Israel's Birthright program is catching attention across the globe.
The advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has recently launched the #ReturnTheBirthright campaign, asking young Jewish men and women to reject the Israeli state-sponsored program that gives young adults a free 10-day trip to the country.
Birthright was created in 1999 by Israel to give young Jews living in the diaspora a stronger connection to the Jewish state. On top of that, Jewish individuals who end up choosing to immigrate to Israel are also given automatic citizenship. Unfortunately, JVP explains, Palestinians whose homes were taken away from them are not granted the same privilege, even if their ancestors lived on the land that is now called Israel for centuries.
Those who are often targeted to participate in the Birthright program are between the ages of 18 and 26, the same age group JVP is now asking to sign a pledge rejecting birthright.
“We pledge that we will not go on a Birthright trip because it is fundamentally unjust that we are given a free trip to Israel, while Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homes,” the pledge reads.
Calling the Birthright program a “propaganda trip that whitewashes the systemic racism, and the daily violence faced by Palestinians living under endless occupation,” the pledge also states that the Jewish religion should not be used as an excuse to segregate and discriminate.
“Our Judaism is grounded in values of solidarity and liberation, not occupation and apartheid. On these grounds we return the Birthright, and call on other young Jews to do the same,” it concludes.
Haaretz reports that the campaign was launched just as American students return to campus, hoping to grab their attention while registration for winter Birthright trips heats up.
The initiative, JVP Campus Organizer Ben Lorber said, originated with local anti-Birthright initiatives that were popping up across individual campuses in the United States, inspiring the group to do more.
“This is something that Jewish students have been talking about and acting on for a while,” Lorber said. “It is a fundamental injustice that we as young Jews are offered these free trips and can become citizens of Israel if we choose to later on, while our Palestinian friends and classmates are denied the same connection to the land their parents or grandparents come from.”
While Haaretz notes other Jewish organizations aren't as excited about this campaign as the folks at JVP, it's outrageous to even think that thousands of Palestinians are denied the right to return to their ancestors' lands simply because of their heritage.
Not only that, it's heartbreaking to know that to many Israelis and Jewish individuals outside of Israel, the notion that people are discriminated against daily in their own land is often ignored. For that reason, it's truly moving to see young Jewish advocates for peace using their voices to bring awareness to the injustices committed by the Israeli government.
And precisely because the overall attitude regarding the Israeli government among the American Jewish population hasn't changed much in recent years, it's important to continue raising awareness among young Jews.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun