BU runs what it calls "alternative" tours of Palestinian areas, tours that according to its website "are designed primarily for Jewish people, though we welcome people of all backgrounds." The itinerary includes meetings with officials of radical Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, designed to expose participants to a narrative that denies any Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel, rejects the legitimacy of the establishment of the State of Israel, and supports the Palestinian "right of return" (which amounts to a call for the removal of Israel).
Birthright Unplugged receives some funding from the Rachel Corrie Foundation and the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute. The majority of its operational budget, however, derives from personal donations from the tour participants, who are asked pay $350 to $500 each, depending on their personal financial resources. BU also encourages the participants to fundraise independently to generate additional money for the organization, offering a model "fundraising letter" on its website.
BU states that it "is not a political organization and has no party affiliations." But in an August 2007 CNN news feature (in which CNN described the organization as "unabashedly political"), founder Hannah Mermelstein said that BU’s goal is "to take the power out of the concept of a birthright for Jewish people in this land that Palestinians were displaced from." Moreover, the BU website states that “Birthright Unplugged uses Palestinian goods and services, and boycotts Israeli goods and services whenever possible.”
BU also distributes information packets from the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit (NSU) to its tour participants. As NGO Monitor reports, NSU is primarily an advocacy organization that plays an integral role in Palestinian propaganda. NSU’s official website features “fact sheets” where Jewish settlements are categorically referred to as “colonies”; Israeli checkpoints designed to prevent Palestinian terror attacks are said to “highlight Israeli Apartheid”; and Palestinians are said to be “caged” in “isolated ghettos” or “open-air prisons” in the West Bank. NSU has received significant funding from the British government via its Department for International Development (DFID).
In addition, BU provides each of its tour participants with a 12-page guide to activism entitled Public Speaking, Report Backs, and Media Talking: Skills and Ideas. This guide teaches the would-be activist how to influence audiences while concealing his or her own political position. For example, the guide recommends that when speaking to “liberals and others who may be sympathetic but still [sic] somewhat ignorant regarding Palestinians and their struggle," an effective strategy is to make “personal” statements such as: “I believe people should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives … the solution will emerge as the situation changes…”
The guide also features a section titled “Talking to the Media,” which begins by explaining that “Dealing with the mainstream media is a game that we can easily master if we recognize how it works.” The “game” includes answering “hostile or distorting questions with your own questions.” Later in the pamphlet, an entire section is devoted to the issue of suicide bombings. Rather than condemning such attacks, the authors advise: "To address the implicit racism in much of the discourse around suicide bombings, ask if it is more ethical/civilized to bomb a refugee camp from an F-16."
Birthright Unplugged also runs a parallel tour program called “Birthright Re-Plugged,” which its website describes as “a two-day trip for Palestinian children who want to visit their grandparents' ancestral villages, the Mediterranean Sea, and Jerusalem before age 16, when Israel restricts their mobility.” These tours promote the Palestinian “right of return.”
This profile is adapted, with permission, from NGO Monitor.
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