+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

What happens when teaching diaspora Jews about occupation gets 'too political'

An item on Israel’s top news program falsely accused a volunteer program that allows young diaspora Jews to directly engage with the occupation, of sending its members to clash with IDF soldiers, causing it to lose its main source of funding. Now one of ‘Achvat Amim’s organizers is speaking out: ‘I hadn’t experienced being lied about and mischaracterized in public in such an extreme way before.’

Achvat Amim leader Karen Isaacs speaks at a Combatants for Peace event in Beit Jala, West Bank. (Rami Ben-Ari)

Achvat Amim leader Karen Isaacs speaks at a Combatants for Peace event in Beit Jala, West Bank. (Rami Ben-Ari)

Karen Isaacs was on her way to her sister’s wedding in Toronto when Israel’s most-watched news program ran a primetime item accusing her and her partner Daniel of sending diaspora Jews into violent confrontations with IDF soldiers in the West Bank. Channel 2 openly based the segment almost entirely on information provided to it by radical right-wing group Ad Kan, which had put Isaacs’ organization, Achvat Amim, in its crosshairs.

According to the report, Achvat Amim participants took part in “violent clashes” with Israeli soldiers at Sumud Freedom Camp in the South Hebron Hills. Sumud was a nonviolent direct action by diaspora Jews, Palestinians and Israelis meant to allow the Palestinian residents of Sarura to to return to their homes, decades after being displaced. Ad Kan, which has a history of “infiltrating” left-wing organizations and recording their every move with hidden cameras, this time relied on videos and materials that were openly published by the activists themselves.

Channel 2 ran their report without any comment from Isaacs or Roth, perhaps because they were out of the country at the time. Meanwhile, the item focused squarely on Achvat Amim’s funding, which largely comes from Masa Israel Journey, a Jewish Agency-funded organization which offers young Jews study, internship, and volunteer opportunities in Israel. Weeks after it aired, Masa decided to pull its funding from the organization. Since then, Achvat Amim has launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure its program can continue running.

Achvat Amim (“Solidarity of Nations”) is a five-month volunteer program in Jerusalem that allows young diaspora Jews to directly engage with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through human rights work and critical education. Based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples, the program brings young adults from North America to work alongside organizations that seek to end the occupation. It began as the brainchild of Isaacs and her partner, Daniel Roth, two Canadian-Israelis who moved to Israel in November 2011, both of whom grew up in Hashomer Hatzair, a global left-wing Zionist youth movement that places a strong emphasis on social justice. The first Achvat Amim cohort arrived in the spring of 2014.

A Palestinian and diaspora Jewish activist set up wooden pole to build the Sumud Freedom Camp’s main tent, Sarura, West Bank, May 19, 2017. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian and diaspora Jewish activist set up wooden pole to build the Sumud Freedom Camp’s main tent, Sarura, West Bank, May 19, 2017. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

“We started the program after asking ourselves what are we able to contribute to the movement for peace and justice here,” Issacs says. As experienced educators and community organizers, she and Roth say they believe Achvat Amim allows young diaspora Jews to wrestle with one of the most pressing challenges facing Israel while directly contributing and connecting with Israelis and Palestinians working for a brighter future.

The program budget is tuition-based, meaning that each participant is responsible for fundraising their own tuition. Masa, which is funded by Jewish Agency, provides grants and scholarships to some participants. “We started the program in a scrappy, grassroots way without any funding,” Isaacs notes. “We saw that there was a need and we jumped into creating this framework as volunteers.” [Full disclosure: I received funding from Masa in order to participate in a five-month intensive Arabic semester several years ago.]

Eventually, Isaacs and Roth were able to get Achvat Amim recognized by Masa as a new program under the auspices of Hashomer Hatzair. “We have always been transparent with them about the content of the program. Until now it was an initiative that Masa had found to be valuable and important,” she says.

What was your reaction to the Channel 2 report?

I was surprised and angry that the mainstream media would air a story handed to them by an extreme right-wing NGO without asking questions or doing any basic research. I understood just how easy it is to spread misinformation. There was also a sense of anxiety. I hadn’t experienced being lied about and mischaracterized in public, or really at all, in such an extreme way before.

The Israeli media labeled what happened at Sumud Freedom Camp as “violent clashes” between soldiers and activists. What actually happened there?

The residents and guests of Sarura were completely nonviolent. There were, however, a number of times that the IDF came and raided the camp, behaving violently toward residents and guests and without presenting any official orders. The people at the camp nonviolently resisted the soldiers’ attempts to confiscate their belongings, which the Israeli media referred to as “clashes.” Soldiers arrived in the dark while we were finishing up a barbecue and preparing for a film screening. They came with other armed men not in uniform who refused to explain who they were, and began pushing us, ripping down tents, stealing supplies and belongings.

International Jewish activists chant in front of an Israeli soldier during a night raid on the Sumud Freedom Camp, Sarura, West Bank, May 20, 2017. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

International Jewish activists chant in front of an Israeli soldier
during a night raid on the Sumud Freedom Camp, Sarura, West Bank, May 20, 2017. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

The Sumud camp in Sarura brought together Israelis, Palestinians, and Jews from around the world to take part in entirely legal activities — clearing, cleaning, and making livable the area of the cave home of a local Palestinian family who were working to bring life back to the land they had left two decades ago. Contrary to what has been reported in the Israeli media, there was nothing illegal about this, nor was the area ever declared a closed military zone. Achvat Amim participants who took part did so independently in time that was not organized by the program, and were not present for anything that could be construed as civil disobedience or disobeying authorities, as is consistent with our policy and commitment to the safety and security of our participants.

Furthermore, as an educator, and as someone running a program and responsible for the participants on every level from physical to emotional safety, I certainly do not encourage or allow any of the participants to break the law in any way.

Over the past few years we have seen the Israeli government clamping down on human rights activism and thought. Is this part of the same trend?

I believe it is part of the same worrying trend. Ad Kan’s report, as well as subsequent reports in the media, were an attempt to push Ad Kan’s right-wing agenda of delegitimizing any criticism of the occupation. Unfortunately Masa, which until now had found what we do to be valuable and even worthy of being highlighted as one of their more unique programs, is giving in to pressure from the extreme right wing and personally targeting us. Masa, sadly, is also conflating our personal stances and actions with the program we run and the participants who join it.

Did you expect something like this to happen at some point?

Given the increasing delegitimization of critical thought and the concept of human rights in Israeli society, and the rise of extreme right-wing organizations like Ad Kan, which have become known for targeting left-wing groups committed to human rights, I can’t say I am completely shocked. Unfortunately, in this case they have given in to outside pressure and have chosen to pull support from a program that deals honestly with both the beauty and the hardships of this place, while allowing participants to build solid and long-lasting connections rooted in genuine experience.

Sara Eisen, Masa’s spokeswoman, said that your organization’s programming veered into “outright political activity,” and thus crossed a line. Masa also supports yeshivas that send their volunteers to the West Bank, yet does not consider this “outright political activity.” Why do you think they are specifically targeting Achvat Amim?

I think they are targeting us because they’re under a lot of pressure from the right wing in Israel and in Jewish communities abroad to fall in line with mainstream thought. That is, things are only considered “political” when they have to do with supporting human or political rights for Palestinians, and that being “political” is considered a bad thing.

Of course there are many Masa programs that are quite political, or whose directors are activists for many causes, including the settlement movement. Masa and major Jewish institutions are both responding to, and shaping, the Jewish world. If the growing movement of diaspora Jews who are unwilling to continue accepting simple answers about Israel stands up for real, open, and meaningful educational institutions, they will shift.

Masa is making a choice here, and that choice is to draw the line at political activity that involves actually taking action and supporting something that should be really basic – the human rights of people living under occupation, and the idea of self-determination for all peoples, not only the Jewish people.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      Nice article that shows what the occupation is really about, what Israeli soldiers in the territories really do, how the Israelis routinely lie about what they do and about what activists do, and how the mainstream Israeli media eagerly participate in the lies. The occupation is a society-wide phenomenon, all of Israeli society is implicated in it and involved in it. So tell me why boycott efforts should restrict themselves to goods physically produced in the occupied territories? To restrict these efforts that way makes no sense morally or logistically.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      More left wing self-delusional nonsense about liberal “Diaspora Jews” making a “difference on the ground” BS. The reality is that for for every 100 of these assimilated Hillary Supporters, only about 16 have Jewish Kids – as the last Pew census shows.

      Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Lewis

        Hillary supporters you are talking most of the Jewish population in America. As for 16 Jewish kids per 100 Jews, the birthrate among educated Americans is below replacement it is nowhere near that low. The intermarriage rate is high, but the kids are being raised Jewish in about 65% of those households. Intermarriage is at this point a means of Jewish proselytization not loss of Jews. Not sure where you are getting those numbers but they are false.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben\

          Who is surprised? Lewis feeds us a steady diet of Russian/FSB-planted fake news about The Imminent Fall of Western Europe Overrun By the Muslim Hordes (good “news” to him). The Man from Afula is by all appearances an Isis cheerleader. It’s his great hope that the West is destroyed so that Israel can go about annexation unnoticed and unmolested. Do I exaggerate? One fallacy among others floating around in the Jew counting business he’s on about is the basic Judeofascist-Feiglinist notion that Israel = Jews = Israel, and that all the Jews inside Israel can be counted on to be sufficiently pickled in Shaked & Bennett’s Patented Strong Patriotic-Educational Jewish National Culture Brine. Tender cucumbers totally immersed in it from birth is the idea.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            JeffB:
            Your over-interpreting the data.
            The reality is thar for every 100 liberal Jews ged 50, there are approximatley some 16 Jewish kids.

            In other words, the whole thing is imploding. In another 30 yearsthe near future, only the orthodox will remain.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            More crazy gobbeldygook from “European society is not being dragged into civil war” Ben.
            Its all lies isn’t it, Ben?
            My tales of thousands of white (plus Sikh and Hindu) girls raped and pimped, bombings, stabbings, car-rammings, arson, Sahria no-go zones are all lies and / or gross exagerations aren’t they?
            ALL IS WELL IN WESTERN EUROPE
            Ben guarantees it !

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Lewis

            I haven’t read your various comments about Europe, I assume I will. But that being said from these mentions.

            European “no go zones” are substantially less violent that the ghettos that exist in the United States in most cities. The levels of violence and crime in these crime district Muslim ghettos in Europe don’t compare to what a Jewish ghetto in the USA would have been like a century ago here. “Murder Inc”, which I assume you know of from period movies, was a Jewish gang. This gang eventually they rolled their profits from protection rackets, prostitution and gambling — along with the gentile Kansas City mafia — into building the city of Las Vegas. Which gives you some idea of the scope of the crime. To use a more recent example Europe’s problems don’t compare to the levels of violence in the USA during the crack wars. I lived in Los Angeles during the gang war between the Crips and the Bloods. Approximately 15,000 people in Los Angeles died over that decade in the turf battles between those gangs. Europe has nothing remotely like those kinds of levels of violence. I should also mention it wasn’t particularly traumatic for me living there.

            http://www.snopes.com/crime-sweden-rape-capital-europe/

            That there is a surge in certain types of violent crime from very low levels to low levels may be true. But there is a big difference between a surge in violent crime and societal destruction.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            20 years ago, a single woman traveling alone could travel through Germany, France, Belgium, Britain, Sweden, Denmark and would feel safe – even at night – in most places. Now, you’ve got gangs of Muslims attacking and raping women for wearing short skirts or wearing makeup. These things are occurring in public areas in broad daylight.

            In fact, in many places the police DO NOT ENFORCE the law for muslims. If they arrest a Muslim, there will be 200 Muslims rioting outside the police station the next day. If the police try to arrest those 200 people, there will be large scale rioting in many cities. That is why you have the army patrolling the streets in Paris, Brussels and sensitive places in Britain. In fact, militarization of this civil unrest has already started. 6 months ago, Sweden started calling new 18 year old recruits for military service.

            PS: Unlike Americans, Europeans pay higher taxes and have had no “no-go zones” (at least in daylight) in the modern era.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Lewis

            I’d also have to say Europeans are kinda wimps about rioters. A mob moving in on a police station would either have to be a lot less violent or a lot more violent in the USA. That being said I included the link. I don’t have direct evidence but the reputable sources say otherwise. Here is another: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-14/debunking-the-muslim-nogo-zone-myth Do you have reputable sources that will confirm the existence of these no-go zones?

            Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Amongst Reform, Conservative & Unfiliated Jews aged 50:
          50% are NOT married to anyone
          30% are Intermarried
          20% are married to another Jew but have no kids
          Only 16% are married to another Jew and have kids.

          Those Jewish kids in intermarried homes, nearly all of them go on in later life to marry another Non-Jew.

          Conclusion: In another 2 generations, only Orthodox Jews will remain in America.

          Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Lewis

            Amongst Reform, Conservative & Unfiliated Jews aged 50:
            50% are NOT married to anyone
            30% are Intermarried
            20% are married to another Jew but have no kids
            Only 16% are married to another Jew and have kids.

            Well first off remembered married to another Jew and have kids could imply multiple children. I’m assuming you meant under age 50. In which case where does this start age wise? Among the intermarried as I mentioned 2/3rds are being raised Jewish. So that’s another 20%. And among the 50% not currently married what percentage are divorced with children? Finally while out of wedlock birth is uncommon among American Jews the number ain’t 0%.

            Those Jewish kids in intermarried homes, nearly all of them go on in later life to marry another Non-Jew.

            And if the 2/3rds number holds up, that increases the number of Jews quite rapidly. If you assumed that 100% of Jews intermarried at a 2/3rds raising children as Jewish, you would be looking at an over 1% per year increase in Jew’s relative share of the American population. A doubling every 70 years, the whole population in slightly over 400 years. I don’t think it will play out that way. But if one wants to project based on the data, the data isn’t saying what you are claiming it is.

            Reply to Comment
      • King David

        More inane gobbledygook from a racist mock-hebrew bigot and wannabe Zionist colonizer.

        Reply to Comment

The stories that matter.
The missing context.
All in one weekly email.

Subscribe to +972's newsletter