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Young American Jews walked off their Birthright tour of Israel. The protest sparked a debate at home

Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"The mature thing to do is to vocalize, admit that they disagree in a professional manner, and then try to have it addressed. And if they can't have it addressed, to find a way which it can be done," said Hemmati, a biotech entrepreneur in Los Angeles.

One of those who quit the program last summer was Danielle Raskin, who started working with IfNotNow over the last year. The organization has launched a campaign called #NotJustAFreeTrip that argues Birthright "curates an experience that deliberately obscures the occupation and the truth about Israel from view."

Raskin applied in the spring, eager to see Israel at a time when it was at the forefront of the news -- the United States had announced that a new embassy would open in Jerusalem and there had been a fresh round of violence in the Gaza Strip. The 23-year-old said she had hoped Birthright would discuss those issues.

Raskin and four others left on the last day, after what she described as more than a week of trying to "meaningfully engage with the occupation."

"We felt we needed to do something to publicly call them out," Raskin said.

The protesters contacted another Israeli tour group that takes participants into areas such as the West Bank city of Hebron. There, they met with Palestinians and saw the settlements firsthand.

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Still, Raskin said, Birthright did leave her feeling more connected to her Jewish identity.

"It was a powerful, moving experience for everyone, and I think there is some value there," she said. "I just think people who go on Birthright should really be aware that it isn't going to provide them the kind of education that our generation deserves."

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