The former congressman Brian Baird once said that when you criticize Israel even privately to Israeli officials, they flip out on you, even if you’re a congressman; and this is the most important takeaway of the wonderful Birthright walkout that happened yesterday and that is now all over the Jewish press. A group of five young American Jewish women on their free propaganda trip to Israel kept demanding information about the occupation, and at last left the trip to join a tour of occupied Hebron by the Israeli dissident group Breaking the Silence. And the Israelis went crazy.
The irrational belligerence of the Israeli response to this mild form of dissent by American Jewish women is staggering, and it’s on film.
When Bethany, a dissenter, announces the walkout on the bus, the Birthright tourguide berates her and the other walkers-out in a disgraceful manner, shouting at them that they are trying to “bash” Israel and did not come with open minds or clean hearts, they are tyrants who tried to impose an agenda, and his grandfather fought the Nazis, and no Palestinian is going to force him out of here. Later he warns the women to be mindful of their security, their lives could be at stake. When all these young women did, they say calmly, was to ask questions.
And an American member of the Birthright group, who describes himself as a “teacher,” taunts the women: “Just go. Go to Palestine. Because guess what’s going to happen. You will get killed. You will get raped.”
The Israeli newssite YNet is offering characterizations of the young Jews as the pawns of “radical” anti-Israel forces, and stating that the non-Zionist group IfNotNow, which encouraged the protest, is an “extreme left” organization. IfNotNow is surely leftleaning, but it does not oppose Zionism outright, and it works earnestly inside a framework of “Jewish values,” and Jewish religious practice.
The Birthright-deserters proceeded over the last week in a collegial, if adversarial manner. Notice Danielle Raskin’s characterization of their decision:
So much of what’s powerful about
#birthright is the first hand experience. After the “Israel update” talk I realized that it’s not enough just to talk about the occupation, although that’s important, but to see it for ourselves. I just wish that birthright would include that.
The Birthright dissenters announced the walkout on the tour bus in an arresting video they posted on Facebook. Bethany takes the microphone to explain their decision to the rest of the group as the bus arrives at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
There’s a group of us on this trip who have been asking questions and trying to engage. And we have not been able to do that, and as a result, the five of us will be leaving, as we get off the bus. We’ll be going on a trip with Breaking the Silence to learn about the occupation from the perspective of Palestinians and IDF soldiers.
Bethany makes a point of thanking Golan, the tour-leader, and saying that his comments about Shabbat earlier on the trip had resonated with “my Jewish values” and hope for change. “I’m really appreciative of that moment, Golan.”
But Golan breaks in on her statement to the others:
This is not fair to me and the rest of the group… This is going to the heads of Birthright Israel right now… You pulled a fast one. You are trying to impose your opinions on the entire bus, on the entire trip, and this is not acceptable. End of story. Period. You cannot be a tyrant on this bus, not when I’m here.
He continues as the group gets off the bus:
You came here with a clear agenda from the beginning. You did not come to learn about Israel. You came to learn about Palestine. You should have gone to Breaking the Silence from the beginning.
Take my picture and quote me. Anywhere you want. You think I’m afraid of some body? I live in Israel. This is my country. I’m a Jew and this is my country and I’m not leaving anywhere. No Palestinian is going to send me away from here. My grandfather fought the Nazis and after 2000 years of Jews waiting to come back home. This is exactly what it’s all about.
If you watch this tape, no one has threatened Golan in any manner. And he responds with this violent rage. This is the same Israel where 95 percent of Jews applaud the killings of nonviolent protesters at the Gaza fence, and Benjamin Netanyahu announces that flaming kites from Gaza will be answered with an “iron fist.”