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Why MASA Was Wrong to Cut Our Funding

Oriel Eisner
September 20, 2017

Photo courtesy of Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim

by Oriel Eisner

ABOUT A MONTH AGO, extreme right-wing organization Ad Kan, a group notorious for infiltrating left-wing and human rights organizations like B’Tselem and smearing them, published an erroneous and misleading report about a 5-month volunteer program based in Jerusalem called Solidarity of Nations -- Achvat Amim. The report was picked up by several Israeli news stations and unquestioningly turned into videos that bolstered Ad Kan’s claims.

The report falsely suggests that participants of the program engage in illegal activities and are brought to Israel in order to clash with the military. Ad Kan published this report in order to put pressure on Masa Israel, arguably the most important source of funding for Israel programs, to pull its support of Achvat Amim. This week Masa Israel decided to cut its key funding, putting the future of the Achvat Amim program into grave jeopardy.

Achvat Amim is not an “anti-Israel” trip, as some have claimed. In reality Achvat Amim brings young Jews like me to Jerusalem to learn, volunteer with grassroots projects and build community that is rooted in Jewish values and a desire for a more just world. As an alumni of Achvat Amim and a participant in the coalition which established Sumud: Freedom Camp I am appalled by the lies put forward by Ad Kan. But we can only be so surprised when a far-right organization acts out its politics. What is more frustrating and upsetting is that Masa Israel has sided with the right wing organization over young American Jews.

Achvat Amim was one of the most powerful and inspiring experiences of my life, and one of the most powerful and inspiring Jewish and Israel experiences of my life. Growing up in the Jewish community in the United States — attending Jewish day school, reform Jewish summer camp, BBYO and Conservative synagogue — I learned to value critical thought, wrestling with difficult questions, social justice and acting upon the world around me in the spirit of Tikkun Olam. As I got older I began to pursue these values and to challenge myself to address the pressing issues around me. This involved wrestling with my beliefs and assumptions about the world and myself.

As a part of this process I began to ask, and be asked, questions about Israel that I had never faced in my Jewish community. I began to learn about narratives, histories, events and experiences no one in my Jewish community had ever told me about. I read and heard about Palestinian experiences, learned words like Occupation and Nakba. When I looked to in my upbringing and extended Israel education to help me sort through and struggle with what I was encountering I found nothing. I had been offered one perspective, one storyline, without questions my entire life so now that there were questions I had no way to face them. When I turned to my community, there was no one willing to hear me; none of the Israel events, the Jewish social justice events and the community spaces had room for my questions or concerns.

I felt betrayed and left out by my Jewish community and upbringing, but I did not want to give up on my connection to Israel and my desire to wade through my doubt and confusion. I decided to spend time in Israel to connect to people and realities on the ground and continue sorting out how I felt and what I thought. Shortly after arriving I found Achvat Amim and spent 5 months in Jerusalem learning, volunteering, growing and connecting.

ACHVAT AMIM PROVIDED ME with an experience I could have never imagined. I connected with amazing and inspiring individuals working for a more just future for Israelis and Palestinians through my volunteer placements and involvement with grassroots projects, learned and discussed during the weekly learning days co-developed by my cohort and facilitated by Karen and Daniel, and was brought into powerful and inspiring networks of community leaders and activists. I connected with powerful and rooted Jewish lived practice and identity through the conversations we had about Jewish history and present, about the tensions and questions of Zionism, and through the spiritual community of learning and growth we cultivated. I found the space to have the difficult conversations and ask the complicated questions I couldn’t find the space for elsewhere. Achvat Amim helped me to deepen my connection to Jewishness, to Israel and Palestine, to critical learning and reflection and to folks working toward a better world.

Jewish identity, Jewish community, Jewish learning and a connection to Israel are the goals and connections that Masa Israel and the Jewish community claim to hold most dear. Yet Masa Israel’s decision to cut Achvat Amim, and the Jewish communities failure to have a nuanced and critical conversation about Israel, show that there is something more primary to their interests: unquestioning support for Israel and the Occupation.

By siding with Ad Kan and the perspectives they represent, Masa Israel and the institutional Jewish community has let me down again and rescinded the hope and support they had given me and others who benefited and benefit from Achvat Amim. They have reasserted that the anti-occupation politics that thousands of Jews in my generation identify with are beyond the pale. That we are no longer welcome in the Jewish community.

But we refuse to accept this status quo. We refuse to check out from the community that we care so much about. Instead, we are staying and fighting to transform our community so that the next generation will be welcome, with no caveats. This is what IfNotNow’s #YouNeverToldMe campaign is all about. Achvat Amim is one of the groups leading this fight; please support them by giving to their crowdfunding campaign.

Oriel Eisner is an Achvat Amim alum and member of IfNotNow Colorado.