Birthright Israel

Birthright Israel seeks to ensure that every eligible young Jewish adult around the world, especially the less connected, is given the opportunity to visit Israel on this educational journey.   Birthright Israel Foundation raises funds in the United States to support Birthright Israel. The Birthright Israel program aims to give the gift of an educational trip to Israel to 50,000 young Jewish adults each year.

(https://birthrightisrael.foundation/mission)

Through the efforts of Birthright, large numbers of non-Israelis receive a totally free, expense paid trip to Israel. 

What on the surface sounds more benign than a free trip for young U.S. Jews (and Jews from other countries) to Israel where they can see for themselves what Israel is all about?   What could be better than learning and experiencing one's connection as a Jew to the one Jewish country, Israel?

Well, such trips aren't "free" in an important sense of the word.

Birthright Israel's motto is clear and simple: we seek unity without uniformity! The diverse makeup of our participants is seen as a great asset and the ultimate example of Jewish pluralism. Our approach is to offer each participant an equal place in sharing their voice about Judaism, Israel and identity — irrespective of personal background, political views, religious beliefs or practices, sexual orientation, gender identity etc. Birthright Israel does not endorse any ideological and/or religious line. We are 100% pluralistic and inclusive!

A Birthright alumnus wrote quite clearly (see below) of her experiences related to her free trip to Israel:

 June 2018

How do I reconcile with the fact that Birthright, a Jewish space, doesn’t uphold the Jewish values I’ve been taught to cherish? We’re encouraged to analyze, to challenge, to question. But why not here? Birthright is missing a crucial component of our Jewish tradition — asking questions. What does this tradition become if we bury some of its most basic values in that process?

- Alyssa, Birthright Participant in March 2018 / Read Full Letter


DDear Birthright Participant,
My name is Alyssa, I’m 24-years-old and I went on Birthright in March 2018. It was a powerful experience  but I’m  writing because there are a few things I wish I had known before I went on my trip, and I’d like to  share a story about some of those things with you.   I was standing outside of the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, crying. There’s this point at the very end, after you’ve wound your way through the museum and thought about fear, hatred, love, how your family did or didn’t make it ... and you walk out and see this incredible landscape with a big open sky, and maybe you feel hopeful, or sad, or even  grateful. I felt all of those things, and so I cried. I felt connected to the others
on my trip, I felt connected to the family I never met, I felt connected to the trees that had been planted in that landscape that gave uprooted families like mine the chance to put down roots again.
But then I thought, “Who lived here before? The land is so beautiful, how could it have been?” I had a creeping feeling that its history wasn’t as  peaceful as it seemed. Later, I asked my tour guide about the land around Yad Vashem. “It was nothing before,” he told me, “just swamp.” Just swamp.

As I had heard over and over throughout the trip. I later looked up the history of lands near Yad Vashem and read reports that not too far away was once a Palestinian Arab village where, in 1948, over 100 villagers were killed. Why couldn’t my group talk about this other history as well?

Birthright was full of these moments. Ten days is a short time and our trip wasn’t supposed to be political, so why would I ask for more? I made great friends, I made out with a cute guy at a bar, we skinny-dipped in the ocean at midnight. I loved all of these moments, but why couldn’t there be any space for me to ask
about the destruction of this village? Why did my friend roll his eyes at me and tell me, “They’re never going to answer your questions for real, so why ask?” 
Wasn’t this an educational trip? Why couldn’t I have my questions answered for real? So instead of speaking up and asking questions, I shut up. So I wouldn’t be a buzzkill. So I wouldn’t make confusing for others what was already confusing for me. So I wouldn’t seem ungrateful for this incredible opportunity to travel to Israel, for free.

But here I am, a few months later, and those feelings haven’t gone away. How do I reconcile with the fact that Birthright, a Jewish space, doesn’t uphold the Jewish values I’ve been taught to cherish?

We’re encouraged to analyze, to challenge, to question. But why not here? Birthright is missing a crucial component of our Jewish tradition — asking questions. What does this tradition become if we bury some of its most basic values in that process?

I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I had pushed back more on the half answers. I wish I had asked about the Occupation. I wish I hadn’t felt guilty for asking questions because the trip was free. So I encourage you, ask all of your questions. Read this packet without guilt. Read other histories and narratives
online. Talk to your new friends. Think critically and openly. Have fun, let it be complicated.

What do you compromise when you tuck away your questions? What do you compromise when you listen to one story without recognizing that there could be others? Please, cry at Yad Vashem, as I did. Cry at the cemetery, cry at the Western Wall, cry when you say goodbye to new friends. But if you can, go to the West Bank afterwards. Go to East Jerusalem. Cry when you see the separation wall. Cry at the statue of the key in Aida refugee camp. Cry that your Palestinian tour guide cannot walk on the same street as you in Hebron. 
You can derive meaning wherever you find it. You can cry in one place and still cry in another, because you can celebrate the complexity of a place, of humanity. Is to love blindly to truly love at all? If you choose to love this place and its people, know that you can do it in a way that embraces all of this. You do not have to choose one or the other. Choose it all. Hear it all. Believe it all. Love it all.
— Alyssa

( https://www.notjustafreetrip.com/ )

Is Birthright Israel an apolitical organization?

Unequivocally, yes. Birthright Israel is committed to the State of Israel as a sovereign, Jewish and democratic state, and upholds its standing as the historic and eternal homeland of the Jewish people. Within that framework, Birthright Israel refrains from any political or ideological partisanship in its platform. Birthright Israel promotes a culture of open, safe, pluralistic and meaningful dialogue and seeks to unite young Jewish adults with each other.

 (https://birthrightisrael.foundation/faqs)

This is blatantly false!

Birthright Israel has a clear agenda

that is very political.

 Since 1999, the Birthright Israel program has sent over 500,000 Jewish young adults on a free ten-day trip to Israel, in the name of strengthening Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish state. These trips, funded by the government of Israel and the North American Jewish Federations as well as individual donors like billionaire Republican Sheldon Adelson, aim to promote the idea that young Jews from all over the world should feel like the land and State of Israel belongs to us and is our homeland. ...

As young Jews, we #ReturnTheBirthright. We implore other young Jews on our campuses and in our communities: don’t go on a Birthright trip to Israel. Don’t take a trip sponsored by conservative donors and the Israeli government, where the ongoing oppression and occupation of Palestinians will be hidden from you, just because it’s free.

(https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/returnthebirthright/#1503600634512-7c5eee0a-7f36 )

(Above is from Jewish Voice for Peace: jewishvoiceforpeace.org)

If Not Now ( ifnotnowmovement.org ) does important work in exposing both the lies and the attempt to force young Jews from outside of Israel to see Israel totally free of its oppression of Palestinian citizens and residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

In what follows below I would like to show some of "the facts" about the conflict in terms of "equality" as is often spoken of related to the conflict between Palestinians and the State of Israel.    It is often indicated by many that "both sides are equally wrong" or sometimes that The Palestinians are this violent people, killing many innocent Israelis.

Things are not equal at all.   Palestinians are the victims, far, far more frequently than Israelis are.   The power imbalance is extreme.   Only Israel, with pressure from the outside world, can change the status quo in positive ways. 



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Since 2001, Palestinian militants have launched thousands[1][2][3][4] of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip as part of the continuing Arab–Israeli conflict. From 2004 to 2014, these attacks have killed 27 Israeli civilians, 5 foreign nationals, 5 IDF soldiers, and at least 11 Palestinians[5] and injured more than 1900 people

Total fatalities in the history of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel: 44
Civilians: 30 (including 2 killed at military posts)
Soldiers: 14
Rocket fatalities only: 23
Total fatality-producing strikes: 32 (19 rocket, 13 mortar)
Total rocket and mortar fatalities incurred in Israel during major Israeli “anti-rocket” military offensives: 27

These figures indicate that over a period of 11+ years somewhere between 27 and 44 Israelis were killed.

Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 210 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave and wounded more than 18,000 people, according to health officials in Gaza.

The deaths noted above in November, 2018 note that at least 210 Palestinian were killed and over 18,000 Palestinians were injured in a period of eight months.

Civilian casualty figures for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict from B'tselem and Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 1987 and 2010[263][264]
(numbers in parentheses represent casualties under age 18)

Year
Deaths


2011
118 (13)
11 (5)

2010
81 (9)
8 (0)

2009
1034 (314)
9 (1)

2008
887 (128)
35 (4)

2007
385 (52)
13 (0)

2006
665 (140)
23 (1)

2005
190 (49)
51 (6)

2004
832 (181)
108 (8)

2003
588 (119)
185 (21)

2002
1032 (160)
419 (47)

2001
469 (80)
192 (36)

2000
282 (86)
41 (0)

1999
9 (0)
4 (0)

1998
28 (3)
12 (0)

1997
21 (5)
29 (3)

1996
74 (11)
75 (8)

1995
45 (5)
46 (0)

1994
152 (24)
74 (2)

1993
180 (41)
61 (0)

1992
138 (23)
34 (1)

1991
104 (27)
19 (0)

1990
145 (25)
22 (0)

1989
305 (83)
31 (1)

1988
310 (50)
12 (3)

1987
22 (5)
0 (0)

Total
7978 (1620)
1503 (142)



One should note in the figures above that the ratio of Palestinians killed to Israeli’s killed is over seven to one and that the ratio increases as the years go on concluding with a ratio of ten to one.

One should not minimize the importance of the death of anyone.   At the same time it should be noted that fears that Israelis have related to rocket and mortar attacks are based upon Israelis killed somewhere in the range of perhaps two to four persons killed per year on average.   It is clear that the Gazan attacks upon Israel are token, rather than “real”.   The “real” effort is to aggravate and scare the Israeli’s with minimal realistic danger actually existing.

Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 210 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave and wounded more than 18,000 people, according to health officials in Gaza. (citation noted above)

In November, 2018 it was noted that – from April through November,  a period of 8 months there were at least 210 Palestinians killed and more than 18,000 people wounded.

I find that comparing in the range of 27-44 people over a period of at least 11-15 years in comparison to 210 people killed in 8 months grossly disproportionate!    I do not have a figure for the comparable ratio of those injured, however it seems obvious that over 18000 people injured in 8 months, would be even more grossly disproportionate to Israeli’s injured.

It is highly significant that Birthright influences significant numbers of Jews from outside of Israel to teach them a grossly distorted view of what is going on between Israel and the Palestinians.    Those who go on these trips certainly will not learn facts similar to what I have described above.

The public in the U.S. does not know facts such as these in general.   If they did, perhaps they might view the conflict differently,   IF Not Now – does important work!

There is a large public relations campaign which is done by both the Israeli Government and allied U.S. Jewish groups which attempts to teach Americans distortions and lies.     Groups such as IF Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace are fighting a growing battle to end this deception.  I hope that you will use some of what I've said above to help bring about important, positive change.

The Palestinians are people; normal people.    They deserve justice.   Such justice need not and should not be violent.   Peaceful change is necessary!   Peaceful change will not occur until and unless there is justice for the Palestinian people.   This can only happen if/when the Israeli Government drastically changes what is going on.   The Palestinians have struggled for over 60 years for justice.  

The American Jewish establishment in support of the Israeli Government has consistently created a false dichotomy.     It is alleged that either Israel exists (as it is now) or the Palestinians will triumph  destroying Israel and the Jews, creating a new holocaust. 

A just peace is possible.   It will take a lot of important work. 

Thank you!

(written originally: December 19, 2018; revised January 1, 2019)

(added  January 29, 2019 - See: 

Three Young Jews Kicked Off Birthright for Trying to Learn about the Occupation



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