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.
[Avrum Burg has served as speaker of the Knesset, Jewish Agency chairman and interim president of Israel.]
Birthright, like every other Hasbara project, is a practice in augmented reality. It is Israel’s attempt to talk the talk without walking the walk, to be perceived as a liberal democracy while imposing a military regime on Palestinians in the territories and expanding settlements in the West Bank, all so the international community and world Jewry support — or at least don’t interfere with — what Israeli conservatives see as Israel’s real birthright: controlling the lives and future of millions of Palestinians.
Last week, five participants of Birthright walked out on the program and straight onto a tour of the segregated city of Hebron with IDF veterans from Breaking the Silence, where they saw what Birthright desperately tried to hide.
They saw the checkpoints, the streets Palestinians aren’t allowed to walk on and the caged windows that protect Palestinians from settler violence.
Their strong actions were followed by strong words as they urged fellow American Jews to refuse to cooperate with pro-occupation propaganda like Birthright: “It is morally irresponsible to participate in an institution that is not willing to grapple with reality on the other side of the wall. That’s why we’re on our way to Hebron now,” they wrote in a statement.
“Like a lot of you, I came on this trip to be in a community with fellow Jewish youth and to learn. I really valued a lot of the experiences I’ve had. We have not been able to do that and as a result, the five of us will be leaving as we get off the bus and will be going on a trip with Breaking the Silence to learn about the occupation from the perspectives of Palestinians and IDF soldiers.”
— Birthright participant Bethany Zaiman
Five American Jews, who were visiting Israel as part of the Birthright Israel program, ditched the trip yesterday in protest. Instead of continuing on with the trip’s planned itinerary, on the eighth day of their trip the five Americans joined Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation army veteran’s group, on a tour of Hebron.
One of the five Americans who walked off the trip, Sophie Lasoff, 24, insisted they did not know each other prior to their trip to Israel and had not planned to join Breaking the Silence. Instead, the five “wanted to give Birthright a chance,” says Lasoff. “We didn’t want to do something like that, but we felt that it was the right thing to do.”
The mere fact that we live within Israel’s borders does not make us less Palestinian. We suffer from the same bitterly oppressive policies, even if our suffering is of a different nature and takes a different form.
This is not the first time that I, a Palestinian Israeli, have fallen between the categories: Not Israeli enough on the one hand, as a Palestinian, and not Palestinian enough on the other, as an Israeli.
About a month ago I applied to attend a seminar for Israeli and Palestinian women to be held this summer in Germany. Two weeks later, I received an email from the organizers informing me that my application was rejected.
The reason, they explained, was that I called myself a Palestinian Israeli. The Israeli designation, I was told, was reserved solely for Jewish women and the Palestinian designation was solely for Palestinian women from the West Bank or East Jerusalem. So where do I fit in?
“It’s a family fight, and like a family fight, there are two sides.”
— Katy Dickinson, Deputy, Diocese of El Camino Real in California
“It is not a family fight when my father has been abusing my mother and raping her for 70 years.”
— Tarek Abuata, Executive Director, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)
Dozens of people representing a broad range of inter-religious voices testified July 6 at a joint hearing on resolutions related to Episcopal Church policy toward Israel and Palestine, a contentious issue at past General Conventions that this year was discussed openly and, for the most part, cordially.
Some read their prepared statements by scrolling on their smartphones or shuffling through notes on paper. Others gave testimony from memory or off the cuff, and many of the nearly 50 people who addressed the committees shared grim examples of life and death in the region, from Gaza to the West Bank.
We have accepted the mendacious official Polish narrative, and we have legitimized the campaign to harass, fine and impoverish Polish liberals, academics, journalists and simply honest people who expose Poles’ involvement in the crimes of the Holocaust.
The usual conduct [in occupied Poland] was not to help Jews, but to harm them, and many Poles were involved in the persecution of Jews. Europeans’ cooperation with the Nazi death machine was widespread, of course, not only in Poland. But in other countries, scholars who uncover this can’t be penalized.
The Polish and Israeli governments have reached an agreement on an amendment to the Polish law that states that claiming that Poland as a country, or the Polish people, were responsible for crimes committed by the Nazis is a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison. According to the agreement, this criminal aspect was removed.
The Polish government passed the law to begin with to defend its good name against accusations that many Poles took part in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. And who will decide on the historical facts? According to the Poles, it will be the Institute of National Remembrance, which is run by the politicians controlling the country today.
And so according to the law — even after the agreement with Israel — the government will determine what happened in the past via historians in its service, and this narrative cannot be critiqued by historians, independent researchers or others. Is this acceptable to the Israeli government?
“I don’t know what was going on here — ignorance, stupidity or the clear amoral victory of transient interests that will remain with us as an eternal disgrace.”
— Yad Vashem historian Yehuda Bauer
Israel’s official Holocaust memorial center on Thursday issued a stinging critique of a joint statement by the Israeli and Polish prime ministers that was meant to resolve a rift between the countries over a contentious Polish law on the Holocaust.
The Polish law, which made it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the Holocaust, was amended last week. The two leaders — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki — issued their statement in an effort to put the controversy over the law behind them.
But the memorial center, Yad Vashem, said the statement contained “grave errors and deceptions.”