Occupy bursts in on Birthright

Group protests Jewish “1%,” Israel’s treatment of Palestinians

New uses of the word “occupy” abound. The latest is Occupy the Occupiers, a new campaign led by the Young, Jewish and Proud (YJP) division of the Jewish Voice for Peace, a far-left Jewish activist group.

At a Birthright Israel Alumni Community event last night, YJP members interrupted speaker and author Steven L. Pease, using an Occupy Wall Street-style “mic check,” also know as the “human microphone,” to call attention to their Occupy the Occupiers initiative. The protesters were all escorted out by security, but continued their chanting on the sidewalk outside the room on 13th Street in Manhattan, where the Birthright event was being held.

JVP is a group dedicated to “reaching a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on the principles of equality and international human rights law,” according to their website. YJP is its young adult chapter. Of the 12 people who showed up for the protest, only three had any official affiliation with JVP. The majority of the group attended the “occupation” because of their association with Occupy Wall Street or a bad experience on a Birthright trip. One protester was Palestinian herself. However, most of the group was Jewish and frustrated with the way the “Jewish 1%” controls the ideology of the rest of the Jewish people.

The protest was organized by two JVP members, Carolyn Klaasen and Liza Behrendt, who recently moved to New York and are interested in focusing some of the Occupy Wall Street energy on their cause. The mic check was a call for Jews to put an end to the “Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

This protest, among other similar ones in New Orleans and in D.C., was designed to bring attention to large Jewish organizations, such as Birthright, AIPAC and the Jewish National Fund, that are “dominated by a handful of wealthy right-wing donors who fund their own interests,” ignore the plight of Palestinians, and actively silence any opposing ideology to their own, according to the materials the group was handing out after the protest.

“I recently started working for JVP and I’ve been active at Occupy Wall Street,” said Julia, a protester who wouldn’t give her last name. “I was arrested on Brooklyn Bridge way back when. I’m here because I passionately feel that Israel has no business occupying Palestine.”

The mic check was orchestrated a few blocks from the Birthright event in the hour before Pease came to speak about his book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement.” Behrendt led the mic check, before being escorted out by security, and was quickly replaced by other protesters, until all were led out and the event resumed.

The audience was not particularly receptive to the mic check, and in fact chants of “Free Palestine” and “Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine” were met with unanimous booing and, in the case of a couple of audience members, angry shouts of “Get a job,” “Who are these people?” and “Thank you all for ruining our event.” Other shouts were more profane.

“These people are really stupid,” said one particularly irate audience member, who declined to provide his name. He then corrected himself. “No, you know what? They’re overeducated and they hate themselves.”

The message of the mic check was difficult for audience members to appreciate in light of the method of the protest. The script of the mic check was not fully heard, and what the protesters managed to say before they were ejected was drowned out by the titters and the confusion of the audience. Most of the crowd was perturbed by the fact that they couldn’t see a connection between the message of the mic check and the topic of the night’s event.

“You’re so stupid to think that anyone here is occupying Palestine,” they called to the protesters. “Why don’t you protest the Israeli embassy, or an event that’s talking about Israel? We came to hear this man speak about the achievements of Jews in today’s world.”

As the mic check resumed outside, it attracted some attention from passersby, especially from one Israeli man, Avraham Shlomo Adler, who found the demonstration concerning for a number of reasons, least of all the message of the protest.

“I spent 18 hours at Occupy Wall Street,” explained Adler. “I spent the whole time there talking with people. The atmosphere there is that they want to learn from each other, they’re eager to hear each other. Here, there’s a different agenda. They don’t want to listen.”

This was a common sentiment among audience members, all of whom passed by the protest at the end of the speech without pausing to hear the message or take one of the YJP handouts being offered.

The JVP members were enthusiastic about the protest to the end, and ended with talk of how best to spread their message in other forums.

Simi Lampert is a New Voices blogger, a senior at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and the founder and editor of the YU Beacon. This is her first news piece for New Voices.

CORRECTION, 11/9/11: This article originally incorrectly identified the speaker at the event as Steven L. Peas. His last name is correctly spelled Pease.

CORRECTION, 11/10/11: This article orginally identified the event as a Birthright Israel NEXT event. The event was sponsored by Birthright Israel Alumni Community.

2 Older Responses to “Occupy bursts in on Birthright”

  1. Yitzhak
    November 10, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    Speaking as an Israeli who made aliyah from the US, I personally invite all these “occupiers” to make aliyah to Israel where they can participate in democratic elections and vote for the party of their particular taste. If they don’t like the occupation, there are parties to vote for and organizations to join. The point being, given how diverse the Israeli electorate is, with the numerous political parties active here, legally protected by law and represented in the Knesset, they don’t have to protest against the so-called 1%, but join the 100% that votes and acts here. Besides, by doing so they will put their tushes where their mouths are, and show real moral courage by living in this country and sharing in the joy, burdens, pain, and responsibilities of being citizens of the first Jewish commonwealth to exist in freedom in nearly 2000 years. Courage, my friends, is what it takes. Real courage, not the feel cheap courage of of standing up and making a nuisance of yourself at Jewish communal gatherings. Just saying…

  2. Ben
    November 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    What exactly is a mic check? Could you describe it?

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