Close to 25 years ago, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, prominent American Jews known for their generosity and largesse agreed that something had to be as far as Jewish youth between the ages of 18-26 identifying as Jews. They came up with “Birthright.”
Known in Hebrew as Taglit, or “discovery,” Birthright brings Jewish youth from gateway cities in this country to Israel for a 10-day, all expenses paid trip of Israel, which includes sightseeing, lectures and meeting with Israelis. As a matter a fact, seated across the aisle from us on our recent flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, were Canadian college students beginning their Birthright experience.
Little did we know, that a mere four days later, five participants (not those on our flight) would walk off their Birthright trip and onto a tour of Hebron led by Breaking the Silence, a group sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. The five participants were also members of If Not Now, an American group opposed to Birthright, in that they maintained that Birthright had a “one-sided” agenda, thereby concealing the “truth” about the “Israeli occupation”.
Pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe what took place, just as Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the behavior of the If Not Now members. If there were any justice in this world, other “friendly” Palestinians from Hebron would have greeted the five defectors with a welcoming committee, slingshots armed and ready, tires burning, while screaming “Allahu Akbar.” Heaven forbid that any physical harm would befall them, but I for one would have hoped and prayed that the experience would have left them shaken. Birthright goes out of its way to ensure and guarantee the safety of all its participants, yet a group determined to “save Israel from itself” meanders off to neighborhoods where they could very well be greeted with Arabs chanting “Itbah al-Yahud” (Arabic for “slaughter the Jew”).
Birthright is totally transparent as far as its itinerary and its goal. If that itinerary and goal is too one-sided for your tastes or political views, no one is forcing you to participate. Speaking of one-sided political views, Zehut is a political party in Israel, espousing Jewish sovereignty in all parts of the Land of Israel. Zehut encourages voluntary emigration of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Yet, I am not aware of any members of Zehut or any college age students who identify with Zehut ideology signing up for Birthright and then walking off their Birthright trip only to proceed with a tour of Hebron with the express purpose of meeting with nationalist Jewish settlers, living in a city surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. For them to do so would be an affront to Birthright. To sign up for what amounts to an all expense paid for trip to Israel, only to walk off that trip because of one’s personal political agenda is antithetical to Judaism. My upbringing instilled in me that this is simply no way for a mentsch to behave. Would these same “walkers” accept an invitation to spend an evening with a family, only to get up partway through that evening, to walk over to and visit with a problematic neighbor?
If groups such as “If Not Now” maintain that Birthright is presenting our youth with a jaundiced view of Israel, then let “If Not Now” offer our youth an alternative Israel experience, replete with their own political agenda. They have every right to do so, provided they present themselves honestly. I will be the first to applaud their integrity regardless of how I feel about their orientation. If on the other hand, the behavior of such groups is less than forthright and honest, and their constituents sign up to participate on Birthright only to undermine Birthright, then they’ve reminded me how very repulsive it is when Jews turn against each other. And that, is a shanda of the highest order.