Jews urged to give up the right of 'return' to Israel

The article by Sam Bahour is followed by an excerpt from the new website and campaign, Renounce Birthright.

Photo from Mondoweiss

Diaspora Jews must speak out against the Israeli Law of Return

By Sam Bahour, Mondoweiss
April 23, 2013

You are born in a country, say the United States. As such, you become a citizen of that country. You are issued a passport from your country of citizenship which allows you to travel to other countries, as a tourist, a foreigner. Of course, you can apply for residency or citizenship in a foreign country based on their immigration laws and, if accepted, you can be issued a second citizenship. Immigration laws are complicated, non-uniform, and, for democratic countries, go out of their way to be non-discriminatory, that is, unless you are Jewish.

If you are Jewish, a very discriminatory law in a foreign country applies to you, without taking your consent and without any formal ties between you and that country. It matters not that you are a citizen of America, Argentina, or Australia; as long as you are Jewish, you have a foreign country that claims to speak for you from the moment of your birth. You could be a sixth generation Alaskan Jew or a tenth generation Brooklyn Jew; it matters not. You, and your entire family for as far back as you can track could know no other place than your hometown in America, and you would still be “represented” by a foreign country, one whose language you don’t even speak. That foreign country is Israel.

Law in the service of discrimination
It goes without saying that for Palestinians, upon whose ruins Israel was established, this Orwellian-perfected, Israeli immigration law, called the Law of Return, is a disgrace and a stain on the quilt of humanity. After all, the Israeli Law of Return only applies to Jews. Those Palestinians who became refugees because of Israel’s creation, or those Palestinians who happened to be abroad when Israel militarily occupied their homes, like my father, or even for the Palestinians living as “residents” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, are totally excluded from this right to return home and gain automatic citizenship. Ironically, the word “return” directly applies to Palestinians given they were born here, lived here, tilled the land here, and were the subjects that Israel attempted to ethnically cleanse in order to build a new state—one which gives Jews exclusivity on both sides of the 1949 Armistice Line, referred to as the “Green Line.”

For the most part, world Jewry is silent about this reality of having an Israeli citizenship held in perpetuity for Jews only that awaits them their entire life. All they need to do to claim it is to visit Israel and request it. Partly because of this warped state of affairs, every Jew in the world is coaxed into thinking that they need to bear-hug Israel, regardless of whether Israel is engaged in war crimes or blatant racism.

Amira Hass, the Israeli-Jewish journalist who has been covering this conflict for decades while living amongst Palestinians under occupation, frequently gives public talks. When her audience is Jewish, she religiously starts by stating: “Any Jew in any part of the world is entitled to rights in Eretz-Yisrael/Palestine [from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River] that are being denied, in whole or in part, to every Palestinian.”

Then, Amira goes on to give some concrete examples: only Jews have the right to visit the country (something not self-evident for most Palestinians who were born outside the country, or were born there but live in the Diaspora), only Jews have the right to reside and work anywhere in the country, only Jews have the right for immediate naturalization, only Jews have the right to reside or buy property in Jerusalem (Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza are deprived of this right), the list could go on.

The Palestinian-Israeli “conflict,” as it is so frequently referred to, has many aspects. To understand this seemingly intractable conflict, one cannot detach themselves from a historical understanding of the Middle East, in general, and of the tragedy that befell the Jews (and all of mankind) in Europe ever since WWI. However, no tragedy, no matter how severe, should be used as a pretext to discriminate—not against Muslims and Christians of the land, and not against Jews who are also inherently linked to the same land. Likewise, no democracy, in today’s world, should have the “right” to speak for persons who are not its citizens, live thousands of miles away, and have not given their direct consent to be spoken for or “represented.”

President Obama weighs in
“Put yourself in their [Palestinian] shoes.” This is what President Barack Obama told a group of Israeli students gathered in a conference hall in Jerusalem during his recent visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank. In an Israeli context, this is a bold statement, one they are not used to hearing. The president made several bold statements in that speech, making repeated reference to the need for Palestinians to be free from Israeli military occupation. The students applauded, several times, to these politically loaded overtures from the president.

The right-wing Israeli leadership led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not invited to the Jerusalem event, was surely fuming at how President Obama spoke directly to the Israeli public and evoked applause on issues related to the unjust Israeli suppression of Palestinian rights. Encouraging those applauses may have sounded nice to the untrained ear, but one fact remains clear: similar applause would be hard to come by from Jewish communities as represented by leading organizations such as AIPAC and the ADL.

If President Obama was sincere about wanting to see the conflict from a Palestinian perspective, then, instead of praising Israel for being a successful country of immigrants, he would have used his charm and oratory skills to portray to the Israeli public how wrong it is for a Jew born anywhere in the world to have more rights in Palestine/Israel than the Palestinians themselves.

The reality that the state of Israel lacks defined borders, which happens to be one of the key requirements for statehood as defined by international law, clearly articulates the preferential treatment that Israel has been provided by the international community ever since its establishment. When such preferential attitudes become embedded in a nation’s DNA, exclusivity is bound to reign supreme in every sphere of the state. Like in apartheid South Africa, such exclusivity is a recipe that jeopardizes any nation-state project, including Israel’s. Jewish communities around the globe can stop the damage Israel is self-inflicting upon itself.

However, if Diaspora Jews can accept having an Israeli citizenship being held ‘forever’ for them while Palestinians are denied not only citizenship, but basic human rights, then they too are directly partaking in the continued apartheid against Palestinians.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Youngstown, Ohio, living in Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy advisor of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and blogs at

Jews renounce their right of return

Above, one of the photos on the Renounce Birthright website which illustrates the campaign’s aims.

The Renounce Birthright movement and website were founded by Aviva Stahl and others this year. Read their aims below.
About Renounce Birthright
Welcome to Renounce Birthright.

Taglit-Birthright, which was founded in 1999, offers the “gift” of a free, 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish youth between the ages of 18-25. We are young Jews living in the diaspora committed to mobilizing for the abolition of Birthright.

We have three broad aims:

Call for an end to the Taglit-Birthright program.
Educate young Jews about the connections between Birthright trips, and the ongoing colonization and occupation of Palestine.
Affirm the importance of Jewish life in the diaspora and contribute to it in whatever way possible.

Please join us! Start by:

signing our open letter to Birthright, available in the ‘get involved’ section [read it below]
joining our listserve by sending an email to, liking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter
sending us an email at This is a constant work in progress. It’s also a collaboration. We would really love to hear from others who’d like to get on board and contribute to our vision.

Proposed open letter to Taglit Birthright. If you would like to sign, email with your full name and address.

Wednesday April 10, 2013

Dear Taglit-Birthright,

The following is an open letter from Jewish folk living outside of Israel. We come from a diverse set of backgrounds, but are grounded in a common opposition to all forms of colonialism (including Zionism and the State of Israel), and all forms of racism (including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia). We oppose the oppression of indigenous populations by non-indigenous governments and powers (eg. Israel, Canada and the United States), and stand firmly against land confiscation, and unequal laws that institutionalize racism and systemic discrimination.

We reject the fundamental premises of “Birthright”, and its intended effects. Many of us have friends and family who have attended a trip, and some of us attended a trip ourselves. While we do encourage individuals to boycott the trips, our primary political target is not the individual, but the institution. We are here to call for the complete defunding and termination of the Taglit-Birthright program.

1) We reject the idea that we have an inherent “birthright” to visit Israel. The Taglit-Birthright program is a direct extension of the racist policies of the Israeli state – granting Jews the “right” to visit and even immigrate to Israel purely on the basis of their bloodline — while ignoring the right of return for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees (and their families) who were forcibly expelled from Palestine.

We renounce the Birthright program (and the notion of a “birthright” that it assumes) because we refuse to be complicit in the Apartheid practices of the Israeli state.

2) We also believe that Birthright- Taglit dangerously conflates Judaism (a religion and/or cultural identity) and Zionism (a political ideology which advocates an exclusive Jewish nation-state). Birthright has convinced us that our Jewish diasporic identities need to be linked to Israel. They don’t. There is a long, rich history of Jewish diasporic life, and that is a tradition we are proud to call our own.

We renounce the Birthright program because we refuse to be complicit in the marginalization and erasure of different forms of Jewish diasporic life.

Challenging the hegemony of institutional Jewish communities outside of Israel (particularly on the question of Zionism) is not an easy task. Confronting Birthright-Taglit, and the ideology that underpins this program, means engaging with our schools, our synagogues and our community centers. Nonetheless, we believe that in our efforts to act in solidarity with Palestinians and broader Palestinian liberation, this is a necessary task.

In signing, we call for the complete defunding and termination of the Taglit-Birthright program. We are committed to struggle until Israel ends the occupation, recognizes and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and grants equal rights to all citizens, regardless of faith or ethnic origin.


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