J Street U calls for Palestinian voices on Birthright trips

J Street U already offers trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories through a program called Ta Shema.

By JNS.org

Continuing its protest, the umbrella organization J Street U has distributed a petition to its chapters on college campuses nationwide, calling for Palestinian speakers to be part of Hillel-led Birthright Israel trips.

As of mid-October, J Street U chapters have submitted almost-identical petitions to their respective Hillel for Palestinian voices to be heard on the all-expense-paid trips.

“We feel our community values the inclusion of multiple experiences and narratives,” states UC Berkeley’s J Street U petition. “The exclusion of voices of Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel from Birthright runs counter to our core values. We see the Birthright trip as an extension of our campus Jewish community, and therefore expect it to live up to the same values of the community as a whole.”

“For those of us that have attended a Birthright trip with Berkeley Hillel: We expected more,” adds the petition. “We expected, and in fact were told we would get, a fair and balanced education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, we got a short, biased and factually misleading narrative with minimal follow-up on the trip or back on campus.”

In Washington, American University’s J Street U petition states: “On a trip to Israel, we should experience the country’s history and culture, but we should also learn about the Israeli occupation and hear the voices of Palestinians living under occupation. As those of us who have been on Birthright and similar trips can attest, masking these truths creates a blind connection to Israel.”

At Tufts, its J Street U chapter also launched a petition and met with the Hillel on campus on Oct. 25.

Sara Legasey and Rachel Eilbaum, the former and current Tufts Hillel Birthright coordinators, told the student-run daily that although Birthright trips vary in itinerary, every Tufts Birthright trip features diverse narratives.

“All of our trips have included Israeli Arab and/or Palestinian speakers, or encounters with another minority group in Israel,” said Legasey and Eilbaum. “Each trip itinerary is different, and for various reasons, we aren’t able to guarantee any particular speaker. Over the years, we have always brought a diverse array of narratives, including Palestinian narratives, into our Birthright trip educational program, and we will continue to do so.”

As of April 2018, there are 60 J Street U chapters nationwide.

J Street U already offers trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories through a program called Ta Shema.

J Street spokesperson Jessica Rosenblum did not respond to multiple requests for comment.