IfNotNow movement calls on college Hillel chapters to end ties to Birthright Israel


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Northwestern chapter of Hillel. The organization has not yet had to confront questions of Birthright Israel’s legitimacy on campus.

Megan Munce, Reporter

IfNotNow, a Jewish-American movement to end support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, recently encouraged the University of Chicago’s chapter of Hillel to cut their ties with Birthright Israel, but the call to action hasn’t yet reached the Northwestern University campus.

Earlier this month, the IfNotNow chapter of the University of Chicago wrote an op-ed in The Chicago Maroon calling on the university’s chapter of Hillel to stop sponsoring Birthright Israel trips, alleging the group supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“They don’t feel like Birthright engages sufficiently with the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Sara Yael Hirschhorn, a NU visiting professor in Israel Studies. “Many, if not most of (Birthright tours), are no longer meeting with Palestinian citizens of Israel nor taking their students over the Green Line to Palestinian cities and villages.”

Birthright is an organization that sponsors free 10-day long trips for young Jewish adults aged 18 to 32 years old. These trips are run through several organizations, including college Hillel chapters.

McCormick junior Kayli Fradin, who attended Birthright Israel through Chabad, another Jewish organization on campus, said the trip was an opportunity for her to learn about her religion and the region.

“It allows people to experience where their ancestors lived and where, if you are religious, your religion is based out of,” she said.

IfNotNow members at the University of Chicago say Birthright Israel’s involvement with the Israel Defense Forces creates bonds that neglect Palestinians, or simply reduces them “to abstract security risks.”

“The institution deliberately lies to its participants about the nightmare of life under military occupation for millions of Palestinians,” according to the op-ed. “Birthright requires each group to spend days with active IDF soldiers, building deep, personal connections between American Jews and the Israeli military.”

Fradin said she met with many soldiers from the IDF during her Birthright Israel trip, along with spending an hour at an information center that informed participants about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She said she didn’t interact with any Palestinian citizens at this center, but was informed that other trips were usually able to.

“It’s not really trying to convince you to take any side,” Fradin said. “It’s very informative, just trying to give you basic information on what the conflict is and why it’s happening in the first place. It really seemed like they weren’t trying to give you an agenda… Everything they said was factually correct.”

The call to end all ties with Birthright marks a departure for IfNotNow from simply incorporating the perspectives of Palestinians. The op-ed concluded, “Hillel, it is time to end your relationship with Birthright.”

While UChicago wrestles with the problem, Michael Simon, executive director of Northwestern Hillel, said in a statement to The Daily that the movement has not impacted the University’s chapter.

Fradin said she appreciated the chance to travel to Israel through Jewish organizations on campus. While she acknowledges criticisms of how the program handles discussing the conflict, she believes Birthright deserves to exist at Northwestern.

“If there is going to be a movement, it should be having that conversation (about the conflict) in the first place, but I don’t think it should be against having Birthright as a whole,” Fradin said.

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Twitter: @meganmuncie

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