Birthright will fail if it doesn’t evolve with young Jews


(photo: Gili Getz / Forward)
Instead of seeing Israel as a Jewish Disneyland, young American Jews should see it as a country — like their own — that is both precious and in urgent need of moral repair.

By Peter Beinart | Forward | Jan 3, 2019

[Going to Israel] can be life-transforming. It offers young American Jews a glimpse of the beauty and grandeur of Jewish tradition. It helps them appreciate what they have inherited as they begin thinking about what they want to hand down. Ideally, Birthright would thrive. But it can’t thrive if it makes moral blindness the price of Jewish connection.

On New Year’s Day, a young woman rushed the stage at the “MegaEvent” held in Jerusalem for participants in Birthright, the program that takes young American and other Diaspora Jews to Israel on a free ten-day trip.

She unfurled a banner that declared “Birthright Sponsored by Adelson, Trump, Netanyahu” and directed viewers to CostofBirthright.Com, a website sponsored by the anti-occupation Jewish group, If Not Now. Then she was hustled off stage.

It’s the new normal. Since June, 22 Diaspora Jews have either walked off Birthright trips in protest against their tour guide’s refusal to take them to meet Palestinians or been kicked off for raising uncomfortable questions about Israeli policy. And If Not Now activists and members of Na’amod, a similar group in Britain, have distributed anti-occupation literature to people about to embark on Birthright trips at airports.

All this is both necessary and tragic.

It is necessary because taking Diaspora Jews to Israel without giving them the chance to hear from Palestinians who live as non-citizens under Israeli control in the West Bank is dishonest and immoral. It’s like organizing a tour to America in the 1950’s without introducing participants to blacks in the segregated south.

Birthright’s defenders may argue that the trip isn’t about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s about using Israel to foster Jewish identity. But Jewish identity is itself inextricably bound up with the way Jews treat the strangers in their midst. The Torah makes that point 36 times.

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