It was inevitable that the Jewish-roots trip provider would eventually become a battleground, but its co-founder decries the recent walkout by five participant.
Adelson’s money and his presence at events like the program’s mega-event has, justified or not, created a connection between his hard-line, right-wing Israel agenda and — even more disturbing for young American Jews — his tremendous financial and political support of President Donald Trump, which has tainted the organization for many.
Birthright Israel has done its best to stay above the political fray ever since its founding in 1999. Like most major institutions, though, in these divisive times it is losing the struggle to remain detached from deep political differences. Over the past months, it has been targeted directly by young activist Jews, angry over what they believe is the program’s refusal to deliver a balanced message to its participants regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The activities have ranged from protests against the Birthright gala in New York, to leafleting Birthright participants boarding their flights to Israel, to the high-profile walkout of five female participants toward the end their trip to Israel last Thursday, opting instead to join a Breaking the Silence tour in Hebron.
This last event kicked off what the activist group IfNotNow predicts will be a long, hot summer against the program.
The original goals of those who conceived and founded the program were indeed apolitical. If anything, the founders themselves leaned to the left of the political spectrum. It was Yossi Beilin, the father of the Oslo Accords, who first proposed giving every young Jewish person a voucher for a free trip to Israel, convincing major donors Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman to team up with him.