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 decision of the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to choose the anniversary of the Nakba of the Palestinian people for carrying out this step expresses a flagrant violation of the law.”
— Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Sheldon G. Adelson, one of the most hawkish supporters of Israel among American Jews, has offered to help fund the construction of a new American Embassy in Jerusalem, according to the State Department, which on Friday said it was reviewing whether it could legally accept the donation.
The total price tag to build the new embassy to replace the current one in Tel Aviv is estimated at around $500 million, according to one former State Department official. While private donors have previously paid for renovations to American ambassadors’ overseas residences, Mr. Adelson’s contribution would be likely to far surpass those gifts — and could further strain American diplomacy in the Middle East.
Before the embassy is built, the Trump administration plans to open a temporary one in Jerusalem. On Friday, it said that it was accelerating the projected opening in time to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel on May 14.