This important Haaretz article is behind a paywall, so here are the important excerpts (update: Jerusalem Post has it for free).
IfNotNow Hijacked Our Birthright Trip
Our trip was shattered by premeditated walk-out in which we, unwillingly, became part of the media spectacle that their activists had sought from the start. This is our side of the story.
The activists said that their questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had not been answered during the first few days of the trip, and they were appalled at the way Birthright had hidden the truth from them and presented a biased, right-wing agenda.
This is not an accurate portrayal of our trip. Their speech gave them the media attention they were seeking, but it was filled with misrepresentation and distortion. We, the remaining participants of Taglit Israel Outdoors Bus 428, are here to set the record straight.
Throughout their abbreviated participation, these protesters used every opportunity to vocalize their viewpoints, using group discussions, evening relaxation time, bus rides, and hiking rest stops to share their emotionally-charged rhetoric about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the group.
At first, most of us were receptive to their questions – we considered them an important dialogue to include in a trip well-known to be heavily funded by right-wing American donors and the Israeli government.
When one activist stressed the need to include conversations about the conflict in our trip, our group leaders generously allowed her to lead a dialogue on the evening of our first full day, during which we discussed and debated the topic for hours. From the first day, the trip schedule had been altered to make space for their ideas.
Many of us, like the activists, had come to Israel intending to ask difficult questions as a meaningful and integral part of our experience. After the first night, one of us even volunteered to lead an effort to pen a group letter to Birthright expressing our disappointment at the lack of importance given to the Palestinian crisis on the trip.
The rhetoric flowing from select group members, however, quickly became unreasonably aggressive and directed at our tour guide, who never avoided the topic, silenced their speech, or seemed to take offense at their disregard for his perspective. He answered each question calmly, patiently, and to the best of his ability, providing an extraordinarily neutral view of the conflict and acknowledging his bias as a former IDF soldier when necessary.
When questions became incessant and repetitive, our guide repeatedly reminded the group that our schedule included a geopolitical discussion with a professor of Middle Eastern history later in the week, and that the professor would be better equipped to answer some of their specific questions. In fact, during that lecture, the professor answered questions in an open and honest way and encouraged us to do our own research and fact-checking on the information he presented us with.
However, the activists did not stick around long enough to attend that discussion. Nor did they make any effort to connect with or ask questions of the seven Israelis who accompanied our trip, having lived in the midst of the conflict throughout their entire lives.
The narrative being portrayed in the media, and the carefully selected scenes from a particularly frustrating bus ride, do not fully capture our group’s willingness, even eagerness, to discuss the conflict.
It became apparent only after the walk-off that everything had been premeditated. Four of the six protesters had already been working prior to the trip with IfNotNow, an activist group with the goal of changing how Birthright presents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
These activists took advantage of the trip and took spots away from others in order to stage a political stunt, and then pretended that the structure of the trip surprised them.
The activists had many options to see the other side of the conflict and to promote change. They could have, as our own tour guide encouraged them to do, extended their trip to visit the West Bank and hear from Palestinians. This would have allowed them to remain on the trip for its entire duration and calmly encourage further dialogue and education about the conflict within our group. They could have written a letter to Birthright, as our group had planned, to express their discomfort with the program’s omission of the Palestinian perspective.
They were not interested in seeing both sides of the conflict, as they claimed. They came on the trip with clear “right and wrong” sides in their heads and refused to hear anything that might contradict their ironclad opinions. Instead of responsibly hearing from both sides, they chose to hear a one-sided narrative from the Palestinian perspective.
(The article is signed by 20 people who were in the group.)
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