“We do not respond to threats,” says Birthright after IfNotNow protesters were arrested outside its offices.
By Shiri Moshe, The Algemeiner
Birthright Israel said it would not submit to demands put forth by the activist group IfNotNow (INN), which staged a protest on Friday outside its New York City headquarters that ended with 15 arrests.
Activists linked hands and blocked the entrance to the building housing Birthright’s offices, as well as two intersections of Third Avenue during morning rush hour, provoking angry honking from immobilized commuters.
The protest was held in support of INN’s “Not Just a Free Trip” campaign, which calls on Birthright to share Palestinian perspectives while taking tens of thousands of young American Jews on subsidized trips to Israel each year. Friday marked the deadline given to Birthright to comply with INN’s demands, which the group promoted through social media and walk-offs that have drawn press attention.
Dozens of demonstrators — many of them college students, according to INN — wore matching shirts, chanted, and used loudspeakers while accusing Birthright of promoting the interests of “right-wing” donors like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson over those of young American Jews, which the group frequently claims to represent. They repeatedly invoked their belief in Jewish teachings like Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, while calling for an end to American Jewish support of Israel’s control over the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the Gaza Strip borders, and eastern portions of Jerusalem.
“[Today] the movement gave Birthright one last chance, blocking the doors until staff would come downstairs,” INN said in a press release. “According to the protesters, Birthright’s choice to arrest the students rather than engage is a reflection of how they regularly prioritize their donors’ pro-Occupation agenda and alienate an entire generation of American Jews.”
After issuing repeated warnings, New York Police arrested 15 protesters who obstructed the entrance to Birthright’s offices and charged them with disorderly conduct.
A spokesperson for Birthright rejected the claim that the organization was responsible for the protesters’ arrest, calling it “completely false.”
“We had nothing to do with any of the arrests made by the NYPD,” spokesperson Pamela Fertel Weinstein told The Algemeiner. “It is our understanding that after blocking Third Avenue and the entrance of the building to tenants, the NYPD arrested them for disorderly conduct as they would do in any similar situation.”
In a statement responding to the protest, Birthright described itself as “an apolitical organization” that “provides a multifaceted view of Israel, Jewish heritage and Jewish values,” as well as “discussions of the geopolitical realities in Israel, including the conflict, and meetings with Israeli Arabs and other minorities in Israel.”
“IfNotNow maintains a radical approach to an agenda they know does not align with the facts,” the group added. “We do not respond to threats and demands from political activists leveraging our long-standing good reputation in order to advance their agendas.”
Three members of Reservists on Duty (RoD), an advocacy group led by Israeli military veterans, staged a counter-protest to convey their support for Birthright’s effort to “unite Jews around the world,” raising signs including, “IfNotNow does not represent the Jewish community.”
“INN shamefully ruined peoples’ day by not allowing them to commute to work, only to protest about a free trip to Israel that no one forced them to participate in,” said David Abadie, RoD’s New York representative. “It came to a point were a nine-month pregnant woman couldn’t get to her office.”
INN did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.