In a now-viral video, five American girls staged a walkout on the final day of their trip to Israel courtesy of Birthright, a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free 10-day heritage trips to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage.
The protest was organized by the anti-Israel organization IfNotNow, which seeks to end American Jewish support for Israel and has been widely criticized for refusing to even engage in dialogue with those it slams in the Jewish community.
The protestors accuse Birthright of hiding what they claim to be Israeli oppression against Palestinian Arabs. IfNotNow is on record that publicity is its main goal. “It’s a big deal for us to be leaving the trip, but that’s also why we decided to do it,” said one of the girls who staged the walkout.
It is shameful that this publicity stunt was staged the same week when two female Palestinian journalists were beaten by Palestinian Authority police officers. The women were violently assaulted while covering Palestinian demonstrations, calling on P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas to lift the economic sanctions he imposed last year on the Gaza Strip.
“The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is a body that has long been functioning as a dictatorship that suppresses freedom of speech and imposes a reign of terror and intimidation on Palestinian journalists and critics,” writes Palestinian scholar and human-rights activist Bassam Tawil.
Sadly, the subjugation of women and journalists is a regular occurrence in the Palestinian-controlled territories. According to a 2016 report brought to light by Israeli-Arab award-winning journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, an estimated 36 Palestinian women have fallen victim to sexual exploitation by Palestinian officials. In recent years, at least 13 female Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip were victims of sexual assault.
This is a consequence of Palestinian law granting officials immunity from being prosecuted for sex crimes. Laws do not even confront the issue of sexual assault in the P.A., while connections with the Hamas terror group ensure that these criminals will be kept in positions of power and out of jail.
Palestinian women are often excluded from the public sphere, as exemplified during the latest Palestinian municipal elections. Rather than referring to female candidates by name and publishing their pictures, electoral lists use the terms “the wife of” or “sister of.” However, when Palestinian women carry out attacks against Israeli civilians, Palestinian society glorifies them as heroines, plastering their photos across billboards for all to see.
In other words, for Palestinian women to get any sort of recognition in the public space, resorting to terrorism is often the only way.
These human-rights abuses—treating women like family pets and thwarting free speech—will certainly be missing from the IfNotNow trip to the Palestinian territories. IfNotNow claims they want oppression exposed. But they conveniently ignore the inhumanity of the P.A. and Hamas.
How can any of this be a “big deal” when compared to the trials and tribulations of those five privileged American girls? Especially when there are literally dozens of trips for them to choose from. Whether you are religious, LGBT, vegan, special needs or want a program that interacts more with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, participants are encouraged to choose a trip that caters to their interests.
Birthright participants also have the option of extending their return flight for up to three months after the program has concluded. If those girls were still not satisfied with their options, they could have easily participated in any other program of their choice after the initial Birthright itinerary had concluded.
This walkout had nothing to do with concern for human rights. When compared to the horrendous record of the Palestinian leadership against women and the journalists who speak truth to power, these spoiled American ingrates whining about a free vacation is nothing but narcissism.
Bradley Martin is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and deputy editor for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.