What ‘Birthright Unplugged’ is about

What ‘Birthright Unplugged’ is about

I get all sorts of email messages, including from groups like this one, which mistakenly assume I’m sympathetic. This anti-Israel group parodies in its name the pro-Israel Birthright program that sends young American Jews to Israel. 

Let there be no mistake.  Birthright Unplugged clearly indicates below that it wishes to help undermine Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, referring explicitly to ending “apartheid” in Israel and “to implement the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”  It has no connection to such organizations as Meretz USA, the Geneva Initiative, J Street, and the New Israel Fund that promote reforms and international agreements that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution and work for equal citizenship rights for all current citizens of Israel. 

This is how their misdirected email to me begins:

Attention organizers, activists, students, faculty, artists, cultural workers, and more!!!

Birthright Unplugged’s Summer 2011 Program

Since 2005, Birthright Unplugged has facilitated travel in Palestine for numerous groups.  We do this because Palestinian people we work with welcome delegations and because we have found that when people have firsthand experiences of Palestine and relationships with Palestinians, it strengthens their resolve, credibility, and accountability to do sustained justice movement work. 
Our 2011 program will include seven days of travel and optional, post-travel, short-term volunteer placements.   Our work is designed to support work related to the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).  This call seeks to bring about the end of apartheid in Israel, the occupations of Gaza and the West Bank, and to implement the right of return for Palestinian refugees.  It is a non-violent strategy that has been crucial to bringing about the end of other systems of oppression, most notably apartheid in South Africa.  To date, we have worked with student and faculty groups, activists and organizers, and faith-based groups among many others to help develop and strengthen their respective understanding of the situation on the ground in Palestine and to support their BDS and  campaign work in their home countries. 
2011 Travel Component:

In seven days, we will visit Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem and spend time with internally displaced Palestinian people living inside Israel/’48.  At this time, we are unable to travel to Gaza and so we will have a video conference call with people living and working there.  Throughout the journey, we will help participants develop an understanding of daily life under occupation and apartheid and the history of the region from people profoundly affected by these realities who are otherwise under-represented in Western discourses. …

By | 2011-04-22T14:59:00-04:00 April 22nd, 2011|Blog|6 Comments


  1. Lilly Rivlin April 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you for posting this. It is useful to know about this. Who is funding them, any idea?

  2. Carolyn April 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    I always thought they just showed the life in the West Bank and Gaza and why it is necessary to end the occupation. Clearly they are upfront that their intention is to support the Palestinian call for BDS. It is a pity they don’t just offer the trip and let people decide for themselves what political position to take. The idea of the trip is valuable but the agenda undermines the goal.

  3. Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    This a funny post in itself, and them the comments themselves further illustrate fear, desperation and hypocrisy.

    Why is Ralph posting about this “insidious” little group in the first place? Are they posing a major threat to Meretz-USA?

    And what’s Lilly’s getting at with her question about who is funding Birthright Unplugged? Her question is suggestive of the type of hysterical assertions that all Palestinian rights groups must be funded by Arab governments and others with insidious agendas. Perhaps the NIF! Maybe the Knesset can force Birthright Unplugged to expose it’s funding sources!

    First of all, anybody can look at their website and see that they solicit private donations online, they probably function on a few thousand dollars a year, and people taking the trips pay their own way.

    Then Carolyn is upset that information on BDS is included in the trips, and people can’t just decide themslves. sad that the people who came up with this very creative idea were subverted and tricked by the awful BDS agenda.

    One might ask, why can’t Meretz-USA just have it’s website providing information, and letting people decide for themselves rather than attacking BDS? Or why doesn’t Meretz-USA set up it’s own trips to the West Bank then, without endorsement of BDS? Oh right, I forgot, because no Palestinians will organize trips with Meretz-USA.


  4. Lisa Stiller April 25, 2011 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks Ralph. Yeah, I want to know who funds these people. Could you write an editorial about how BDS is by nature, as targeted against Israel, antisemitic in nature? I can’t believe some of the truly biased people I am contending with in such a supposedly liberal city!

  5. Ralph Seliger April 26, 2011 at 2:59 am - Reply

    Thanks Lilly, Carolyn and Lisa. And as usual, Ted is a ray of sunshine.

    Ted should be advised that far from his notion that no Palestinians would organize trips with Meretz USA, we’ve visited the West Bank repeatedly. On the 2010 trip–which Lilly and I participated in–we went to Ramallah and even met with Prime Minister Fayyad. (Nor was he the only Palestinian who met with us.)

  6. Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    You’re right, there are some remaining Palestinian Geneva Initiative peace industry types (Yasser Abed Rabbo, et al) who will still host Meretz-USA visitors.

    I do think, however, per Lilly and Lisa’s suggestion,that Meretz-USA should launch an investigation into the funding of Birthright Unplugged. I suspect they are rolling in money, and that all that money comes from some pretty unsavory people. After uncovering the truth about Birthright Unplugged, Meretz-USA would do well to continue to investigate the funding of other US BDS groups. Clearly there’s a lot of money fueling the BDS movement in the US, and no possibility that it is growing because conscientious people have been moved to action by the failure to date to address Israel’s discriminatory polices.


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