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.


Any society or government is bound to have its share of malcontents. It’s a reality of life. The Israel Defense Force is no exception. Close to 12 years ago, a group of disaffected soldiers and veterans of the IDF formed an organization known in Hebrew as Shovrim HaShtikah or Breaking the Silence. Its goal is to tell the other side of the story of the most “remarkable” army in the world, by bringing to light incidents of unacceptable and even criminal behavior on the part of its soldiers. And so, Breaking the Silence tells how the army indiscriminately fired at a nearby settlement thereby killing innocents. Similarly, Breaking the Silence reports how three or four soldiers of a unit entered a home, blindfolded its occupants holding them at bay, so that the soldiers could commandeer the television and watch a soccer game being broadcast.
Breaking the Silence may be a perturbed and agitated group of soldiers and veterans but at the same time it sure as heck ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Fulminate if you must, but don’t tell us that Israeli soldiers engage in immoral and illicit behavior against civilians. Not only do your charges and claims insult our intelligence and make us very angry, but it gives you zero credibility.
Only Fort Knox is under tighter scrutiny than the Israel’s army. With more reporters looking for a front page story of a dishonest or crooked soldier who takes the Palestinian problem way too personally and camera men all too trigger happy to get the incident on tape, the IDF is very much aware that just one wrong move on the part of their soldiers against the “poor Palestinians” and as they say in Italian: Badda Bing! Badda Boom! All hell breaks loose in the sanctimonious media that shapes the vacuous minds of the vast majority of its viewers and readers.
The IDF avoids trouble at all cost. Very much aware that it is held to higher standard than any other army in the free world, very much cognizant of that these standards are at times even seemingly impossible to attain, the IDF has for the longest time adopted an attitude very much like the fictional Paul Cicero of the 1990 Mafia movie Goodfellas. “I don’t need that” every commander screams at his men at his men, reminding them that by is very nature, the IDF finds itself sitting on a tinderbox 24/7.
One vital bit of information that Breaking the Silence just doesn’t get, yet the Arab enemy understands only too well, is that as brilliant as the IDF is, it is still very much dictated by its heart and soul. Because of this, the enemy will use human shields whenever possible, knowing that Israeli soldiers have far more respect for the lives of Palestinian children than Palestinian fighters do. Because of this, Israeli units have placed themselves and at times Israeli civilians in harm’s way. It is not all that far-fetched that the 12 year old Palestinian youth the Israeli soldiers are refraining from shooting at, in order to neutralize the terrorist cowering behind the youth, might very well be the next “suicide bomber” as he avoids detection at a military checkpoint and then proceeds to make his way to a Jerusalem market to detonate himself, snuffing out the lives of any number of Israelis and injuring many others.
As much as I hate to admit it, thanks to existing in a democratic country Breaking the Silence can continue with impunity to disseminate its “information” and viewpoint, however skewed and blatantly false it may be. One thing however I would hope the Israeli court system can change. The group has no right to call itself Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence is a misnomer. The group should be required by the court system to change its name. Breaking Our Hearts would be a far more apt moniker, because that’s precisely what the group is managing to do.