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11.13.2011 | Jewish Voice for Peace

By Young, Jewish and Proud, Tuesday 8 November 2011

A group of 10 young Jews with YJP: the young adult wing of Jewish Voice for Peace issued their new declaration “Occupy the Occupiers: a Jewish Call to Action”  in novel form last night. Using the “human microphone” or “people’s microphone” made famous by the Occupy Wall Street protests they interrupted a Birthright Israel Next-sponsored event. The event featured CEO Steven Pease, and was called “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” part of Birthright Israel’s Next’s “Wall St.” series. Pease was addressing the question of “Why Jews are disproportionately high achievers?”

The young Jews used the human microphone, one person saying a short phrase and others repeating back, to read a site-specific version of their declaration which calls for young Jews to take similar actions wherever the “1%” of their own community gathers. The disruption will be broadcast on Occupy Wall Street’s video stream. Afterwards, protesters stayed outside to continue reading their declaration and share stories of their experiences of what they saw as  Birthright’s dishonest presentations of Israel. Their numbers more than doubled as passers by joined them. Later that night, via twitter, Birthright Israel offered to “dialogue” with the protesters. Birthright Israel was previously the target of a Young, Jewish, and Proud spoof email offering a fictional “Birthright for All” trip that included Palestinians.

Noting the incongruity of inviting a CEO representing the “1%” while Occupy Wall Street rages a few miles away, participant Carolyn Klaasen noted

“For weeks now, I have been proudly protesting at Occupy Wall Street with other Jews and celebrating Jewish holidays in Zuccotti Park. I feel that such actions are far more in line with Jewish tradition than this event, which lifted up as a model of ‘success’  people like illegal settlement builder Lev Leviev who profit from exploitation of others. That is part of the problem we’re protesting in the Occupy movement.”

Liza Behrendt, participant, adds “Birthright is a symptom of a larger structural problem in the Jewish institutional world in which our version of the 1%, a handful of wealthy donors including people like the Schustermans or Sheldon Adelson, is able to dictate the social and political agenda of the 99%. That’s because Jewish institutions are so dependent on the 1% for funds.

In the case of Birthright, hundreds of millions of private and now Israeli public dollars are being spent on free propaganda trips for predominantly middle and upper class American Jews while urgent needs in the United States and Israel go unmet.  At the same time, within the dominant Jewish institutions, like Hillel, critical thinking about israel is not only discouraged but actively suppressed.”

From the “Occupy the Occupiers” declaration,

We call for young Jews and allies nationwide to join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and with our Palestinian siblings living under their own form of occupation.  Let us stand up to the 1% in our own community – the powerful institutions that support Israel’s corporate-backed military control of the Palestinian people and act as the gatekeepers for our community.”

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