WASHINGTON– On over 30 college campuses across the country today, J Street U student activists are enjoining local Hillel directors in a call to ensure that future Hillel-sponsored Birthright trips include meetings with Palestinians who can speak to the realities of life under occupation in the West Bank.
As part of the new phase of their “Stop Demolitions, Build Peace” campaign supporting the two-state solution and opposing policies of creeping annexation in the West Bank, leaders from the student arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace group will deliver to Hillel directors petitions with over 1500 signatures of Birthright-eligible college students, collected over the past two months. The petitions on 15 campuses, including Brandeis, Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago, are signed by more than 40 students — a number greater than the size of an average Birthright trip group.
The J Street U campaign emphasizes that it is important for American Jewish students to be well-informed and to receive a full and nuanced picture of the challenges facing Israel today, including the threat that the occupation presents to its long-term future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. The petitions warn against the damaging consequences of excluding and omitting Palestinian voices and narratives from the conversation.
“When American Jewish students travel to Israel on Birthright, we think it’s important that we be able to learn about the occupation and to hear from Palestinians who can speak to its day-to-day realities,” said J Street U National President Eva Borgwardt, a senior at Stanford University. “When our institutions ignore and exclude these voices, they help provide cover to settlement expansion, home demolitions, and other policies that entrench the occupation and undermine the chances for a two-state solution. That needs to end.”
J Street U has been promoting their campaign on social media with the hashtag #LetOurPeopleKnow. In the petitions, students write that “The exclusion of voices of Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel from Birthright runs counter to our core values….On a trip to Israel, we should experience the country’s history and culture, but we should also learn about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and hear the voices of Palestinians living under occupation.”
In 2017, Hillel International reported that over 6,500 students traveled to Israel on Hillel-led Birthright Trips. The 1500 students who have signed J Street U petitions so far would constitute over 20 percent of that total.
As proud participants in Hillel and Jewish life on campus, students are asking Hillel leadership to represent them and help address their concerns about Birthright’s programming and practices. “Hillels are responsible for ensuring that the trips they offer are providing a thorough look at the realities facing Israelis and Palestinians today — including the occupation in the West Bank,” Borgwardt said. “We want to work with both Hillel and Birthright to help implement these important changes.”