J Street U circulates petition to include Palestinian speaker

Photograph by Ary Hashim

By Amelia Eichel

A petition to bring a Palestinian speaker on PDX Hillel Birthright trips is being circulated by J Street U, the Lewis & Clark chapter of a nation-wide organization that works for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The petition was first shown to LC students at Pio Fair and has since been spread via word of mouth and at the J Street U Israel-Palestine Conflict info session on Sept. 27.

The petition is a response to what members of J Street U perceive to be a lack of discussion and education about the Israel-Palestine conflict when young Jews go to Israel on Birthright trips.

“I’ve been involved in J Street U since my freshman year and I’ve heard story after story of students that went on Birthright, not necessarily with PDX Hillel but also with PDX Hillel, but were never taught about the occupation,” J Street U club leader Naomi Goldman-Nagel ’19 said.

Hillel sends an average of ten LC students on Birthright Israel trips every year. They spend ten days traveling through Israel, learning about the culture, history and people there.

“Students traveling on Birthright Israel trips have access to a wide array of perspectives on the geopolitical issues facing the country, including meeting with experts on the region’s history and current events,” PDX Hillel Director Hannah Sherman said.

LC students in J Street U feel that the Palestinian perspective and geopolitical issues between Israel and Palestine are intentionally avoided on Birthright.

“When I went on Birthright, one of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers told me they weren’t allowed to talk about the conflict,” Sheridan Shenkin ’19 said. “If people are going to go to Israel, they need to be able to have a conversation with a Palestinian who can allow even the smallest glimpse of the way the occupation is affecting people.”

Goldman-Nagel clarified that “Birthright bans Palestinian Israeli citizens from speaking on the trips.”

Many of the J Street U members are also members of Hillel. They told PDX Hillel leadership that they were circulating this petition and Hillel leadership responded by asking which speakers they would want on the trips and contacted Hillel International with the information.

“We worked with LC students to see what speakers they would be interested in seeing. We did pass that information to Hillel International, I cannot comment on what they said,” Sherman said.

Hillel International has not made a public statement about the Birthright petition. College campuses across the country have circulated very similar letters addressed to their campus-specific Hillel, but it is unclear how many other Hillels have reached out to Hillel International and whether or not Hillel International will put pressure on Birthright to bring a Palestinian speaker on trips.

“When students are not taught about everyday Palestinian suffering due to Israeli occupation, they remain extremely complicit in this human rights crisis,” Goldman-Nagel said. “For me, the Birthright petition is one step toward taking more communal accountability for the injustices that occur in part because of the complacency of American Jewish institutions and education about Israel that omits mention of the Israeli occupation.”

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