British Jews against Israeli policies in Palestinian territories say they had a “positive response” when they met Jewish youngsters about to embark on a Birthright trip at Luton Airport.
Activists from new anti-occupation group Na’amod, which was “born out of Kaddish for Gaza” in May, were finally escorted away by police. They said organisers from UK-Israel charity UJIA “tried to stop us talking to participants” but to no avail.
“Activists received a positive response,” said Na’amod organiser Emily Hilton. “Many participants were interested in staying on in Israel/Palestine to go on trips that explore the impact of the occupation on Palestinians and Israelis. Some didn’t even know what the occupation was, or what the West Bank was.”
Of the Na’amod activists, UJIA chief executive Michael Wegier said: “They are of course entitled to their views.”
He added: “The trip has now taken off and we look forward to them having an amazing ten days learning about the extraordinary achievements, realities and challenges of modern Israel in all its diversity.”
Na’amod’s airport intervention is the latest Birthright-related incident to hit the headlines in recent weeks, after two separate groups walked off the free Israel tour to meet Palestinian families and hear a different perspective.
Birthright is a non-profit organisation that takes Diaspora Jews aged 19-26 on a free ten-day trip to Israel to experience “the culture, history and politics of our dynamic homeland, and to get to know young Israelis from a cross-section of society”. Participants must have at least one Jewish parent.
However, the popular trip has been hit by two walk-outs in as many weeks, with an American Jewish group leaving last week to meet a Palestinian family facing eviction, and another leaving the week before to visit Hebron with Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence.
Formed last month, Na’amod says it “seeks to end our community’s support for Israel’s occupation” and “to mobilise it in the struggle for freedom and equality for all Palestinians and Israelis”.
At Luton, activists gave Birthright participants leaflets suggesting questions they ask on the trip, such as ‘Why is the Israeli government demolishing Bedouin and Palestinian homes?’
The British group works with a similar American Jewish group called IfNotNow, and post tweets under the hashtag ‘NotJustAFreeTrip’. Among its supporters is Rabbi Leah Jordan, who led Kaddish for Gaza in Parliament Square in May.
A Na’amod spokesperson said: “We believe it is important that young Jews engaging with Israel know the truth; the occupation is a moral disaster and it is our responsibility as diaspora Jews to bring about its end.”