So you’re thinking of Birthright: A primer by students who went on birthright for those still considering the trip

birthright
(Photo: Birthright Israel via The Forward)

Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine published this Zine and the original publication can be found at http://issuu.com/tufts-sjp/docs/tuftsbirthrightprimer.

So you’re thinking of Birthright. We have created this publication as a primer for you–so that you may approach your experience in Israel with a more nuanced lens. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a nonprofit organization that sponsors free trips to Israel for many young Jewish adults. The organization identifies its main goals to be: (1) to strengthen the Jewish identity, (2) to strengthen Jewish communities globally, and (3) to strengthen solidarity with Israel.  In other words, the trip will enable you to connect with your cultural and religious heritage as a member of the global Jewish community. Since its inception in 1999, Birthright has brought over 300,000 young Jews to Israel, many of whom have called the experience “life changing.” Birthright represents an incredible opportunity to not only connect with your Judaism but also to travel to a Middle Eastern country, something that most people never get the chance to do.

In an effort to remain a purely cultural trip, however, Taglit Birthright will present you with an image of Israel that is depoliticized and devoid of conflict.  On the trip you will not travel to cities in the West Bank or Gaza nor will you discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They will not tell you that to date the conflict has made more than five million Palestinians into refugees that are unable to return to their homes.  They will not tell you that the West Bank has been under military occupation since 1967 and that although, according to the Israeli government, the Gaza Strip is not technically occupied, Israel still occupies it because it controls the movement of all goods and personnel into the Strip as well as its airspace and waters. They will not talk about politics because they want to create an environment that is as comfortable as possible for you to focus on discovering your cultural heritage.  However, Israel does not exist within an isolation chamber, and unfortunately it is impossible to porce Israel from the political reality of the region.

Therefore, we have drawn upon the experience of Birthrighters past to inform your forthcoming experience.  You will find within this manual some things to keep in mind when listening to your trip leader, testimonies from some of the trip’s past participants, ways to extend your trip, as well as some educational resources.

There is nothing wrong with your desire to connect with your Jewish heritage.  There is nothing immediately wrong with going on Birthright; however, it is wrong to go on this trip without being critical.  You, as an intelligent Tufts student, owe it to yourself to approach this trip with the knowledge that Israel was not a land without a people for a people without a land.  You, as an American, owe it to the millions of Palestinians who are affected by Israel to recognize their plight because your tax dollars are being used to aid the occupation of Palestinian land.  You, as a concerned global citizen, owe it to the world to understand that there is more to Israel than just partying in Tel Aviv, that there are very legitimate criticisms of Israel’s policies.  We hope that you will read what we have compiled for you and remember it when you are in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or the Galillee.

What You Will Hear on Birthright

“We believe that the experience of a trip to Israel is a building block of Jewish identity.” *

What does this mean?

Your relationship with a nation-state, in this case Israel, serves as a foundational, essential element of your relationship with your God and/or your religious traditions.

Is this true?

The land does hold historical significance to the Jewish tradition, and 5 million Jews call it home.  However 5.3 million Jews live in the US, and just over 2 million live everywhere from Iran to South Africa to Morocco to France to the UK.  In terms of population, while the Jewish community certainly includes Israel, it is not limited to Israel, nor does it revolve around Israel.  Furthermore, there is no single prescribed way to be Jewish. By tying Jewish identity to a specific geographic locus, the Birthright organization limits and excludes those Jews around the world without the means or desire to take a trip to Israel.

What aren’t they telling me?

You are not any less Jewish if you cannot or choose not to travel to Israel. You are not any less Jewish if you are critical of Israel. The State of Israel is not a representative of all, or even most, Jewish people.  Zionism is a political movement, and Judaism is a religion. You can choose to what extent you support Israel and how much time you spend there.  This choice does not detract from your connection to Judaism or your Jewish identity.

“During Birthright you will “[discover] Israel and its people” *

What does this mean?

In ten days, you will meet and get to know a portion of the Israeli population that represents the country’s varying peoples and cultures.

Is this true?

No. You will be presented with a very specific and tailored representation of “Israel” and its “people.”  The Jewish Israelis that you meet on the trip will not represent the viewpoints of all Israelis.  There is a growing population of Jewish Israelis who are concerned with ending the occupation of Palestinian lands and fighting for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel; however, you will unfortunately not meet any of these individuals. You will not encounter two million citizens of Israel who are not Jewish and who are marginalized by the state because they are not Jewish.  You will rarely discuss the West Bank, much of which is under Israeli military rule, and if you do it will be in terms that minimize the reality on the ground.  You will not “discover Israel and its people”  in its entirety unless you venture out on your own.

What aren’t they telling me?

There are a number of laws codified by the Israeli government that actively discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.  For instance, the Citizenship and Entry Law (enacted in 2003) denies citizenship for Palestinians who reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who marry Israelis.  Recently, plans have been made by the Israeli government to resettle thousands of Bedouins who live on inconvenient land in the south of Israel.  From 2004 to 2012, 412 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been demolished, leaving 1,636 people homeless, 879 of who are minors (For more information, go to B’tselem).

“Israel Defense Force is for defense, just look at the name. And Israel must always be prepared to defend itself because it is constantly vulnerable to attack by its Middle Eastern neighbors.”

What does this mean?

Every act of violence committed by the Israel Defense Forces has been a direct response to aggressions initiated by others.

Is this true?

No, the Israel Defense Forces, just like any other army in the world, is aggressive and does carry out offensive attacks.  The 1967 War was the result of the IDF pre-emptively attacking the Egyptian Air Force.   On November 4th, 2008, six months after signing a truce with Hamas, Israel broke the ceasefire and launched a military strike on Hamas that resulted in Operation Cast Lead, a war that resulted in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, and 13 Israelis, including 3 civilians.  The IDF does not only act in defense.

What aren’t they telling me?

Israel is not defenseless.  Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world and receives 3 billion dollars a year from the US to continue to develop its military capabilities.  It has a defense budget of 16 billion dollars and is the only nation in the Middle East to possess nuclear capabilities.  Yes, there are obvious tensions between Israel and the rest of the Middle East; however, Israel has stronger military capabilities than any other country in the region.

“It is the “birthright” of all young Jews to be able to visit their ancestral homeland.” *

What does this mean?

If you have at least one Jewish relative, you have a right to travel (and move) to Israel whenever you want.

Is this true?

I suppose it’s up to you. Do you feel like Israel is your homeland? Do you feel more connected to the land in Israel than to the land where you were born, where you grew up? Is it your right, by virtue of your being Jewish, to travel to Israel whenever you please, when a Palestinian, who was born there but exiled during the 1948 or 1967 wars, can never return?  These are questions you need to ask yourself.

What aren’t they telling me?

An American, like you, who has never been to Israel, can board a flight from Boston to Ben Gurion Airport without a visa, pass through security, and arrive at a hostel in Tel Aviv in less than a day.  A Palestinian who was born in Israel and subsequently exiled cannot return to Israel without first acquiring the citizenship of another country, which is extremely difficult.  A Palestinian from the West Bank may rquest a one day travel permit; however, the vast majority are denied unless the person is mortally ill or has a job in Israel.  If this person has ever had their house demolished, has a relative who has been wounded by the IDF or is a prisoner in an Israeli jail ,his or her request will be denied automatically by the Shin Bet due to the “prospect of retaliation”.  If none of these conditions apply, 35% of permit requests are denied for unknown reasons.  If this person is rejected and has enough money to pay a lawyer, they may appeal their rejection. If the person does not have money, which is generally the case, he or she can wait for an NGO to appeal his or her case, which will take years.  If the person succeeds, they will acquire a one-day permit that will be available in 14-30 days.  If this person is from Gaza, the process is even more complicated. If you, as an American, want to move to Israel, you will face very few barriers and the Israeli government will in fact aid you in your efforts.  If any Palestinian wants to permanently return to their home or their family’s home in Israel proper, forget about it.

*quotes directly taken from www.birthrightisrael.com

Testimonials from Past Birthrighters

Anna Furman; Tufts ‘13

I went on Birthright the summer after my freshman year.  I went because my sister and brothers went, because I was antsy to travel, and because it was FREE and it was ISRAEL.  What is my relationship to Israel?  Why do I feel connected to a place I’ve never lived?  My relationship comes from learning Hatikvah in Hebrew school and from waving little plastic Israel flags on Yom Ha’atzmaut.  My relationship is saying “Next year in Yerushalayim”  during the High Holy days, Hanukkah, Passover. My relationship is Tzedakah boxes in my synagogue and in my kitchen, having trees dedicated in my name and receiving Israel bonds on my Bat Mitzvah.  Why do I have a relationship to a country I have never (and my parents, and grandparents) lived in? Should I be allowed to have a relationship to this place?

I have studied social conditioning in the context of sex, gender and now in terms of race, and it can be challenging to be able to see how my being female and my being White factors into my particular social location and how my privileges and underprivileges operate in different situations.  But what about the social conditioning I have experienced as an American Jew? What about the social conditioning I received in synagogue, around the dinner table, in the news, and in intimate conversations with my family and friends about allying ourselves with Israel?  “We are Jews and we have always been wandering because we’ve always been PERSECUTED and now we have a HOMELAND and we need to defend it with our LIVES because without it another HOLOCAUST could happen.”  This is the dominant narrative I have been taught and without realizing it, was allowing to frame my worldview.  There is a process involved with trying to unpack and unlearn the narratives I have consumed, and to decide which parts are true. This is not me uncovering some massive myth or following-some-conspiracy-theory-and-trying-to-prove-it-to-you, or trying to be RADICAL! for the sake of being RADICAL! but rather challenging how I have been taught to love and support Israel unconditionally and mapping out why it is problematic.

I remember on Birthright thinking “OK so where’s the part where they brainwash me into loving Israel unconditionally, wanting to marry some nice Jewish (Israeli) boy and make Aaliyah because it’s the most Jewish thing I could do?”  I remember trip leaders and people who had gone on past Birthright trips telling me, “This will change you,” and “You will just feel it,” as if there were some inherent part of me (my soul?) that was always in Israel, that would reconnect with it, and that would confirm for me that this is my homeland. Did I feel it? I kept asking myself, do I feel it… now? What about now? Well, yeah, I felt it.  When we hiked through the Negev desert and looked out on a beautiful expanse of desert sand, when we slept outside in “Bedouin” tents and snuck off to sleep in a fort under the stars, when we woke up at 4 am to hike Masada and when we got to the top and it rained and the old man next to me cried, because, well, it was a miracle.  This land is beautiful and bizarre, I thought. It’s dripping with meaning and history and I want to latch on and drip with it.  But what is this dripping-connection-feeling-thing?  I feel that same connection when I am home in California, swimming in the ocean or hiking a really good trail.  It’s a connection to land and to water that has nothing to do with the land being Israel or California or Boston, but much more: that I am a human being connected to nature.  Call it God or my (Jewish) Soul or a Higher Spirit or whatever you want, but I’ll call it energy.  I didn’t feel this energy because I am American or Californian, and certainly not because I am Jewish.  I feel it cause I am human! 

At the time of my birthright trip, I was surprised with how non-directed and open the trip’s programming seemed–our group leaders asked us questions, asked us to explore parts of our identities and engage in what were (sometimes) meaningful discussions.  By focusing our discussions on our relationship to Israel as Americans and as Jews, we were dissuaded from engaging in real talk—about the Occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli government and the brutal force exerted by the IDF, and also about conservative Jewish political blocs in the US that represent the “mainstream”—and having a real learning experience.

I loved Israel, and at the time I didn’t realize the extent to which I identified with a Zionist narrative that I am part of a group of “chosen” people who have a divine right to live in this land.  The story that Birthright will feed you will (obviously) be very pro-Israel, but it may seem at times to be neutral and unbiased.  Know that your very presence in Israel as an American Jew is not a neutral thing, can never be a neutral thing, because the whole idea that you have a right to travel there because of your birth in a Jewish family is not a given right but a constructed one that falls within a Zionist ideological framework. Question what is meant by “Israel has a right to defend itself,” especially in light of Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza.  What does Israel’s right to defend itself entail? Does Israel have a right to defend itself if “defending itself” results in the death of 50 Gazan civilians (not to mention the 720 civilians injured), and in 2008, the death of 1,400 Gazans under Operation Cast Lead?

If I have one piece of advice for you, it’s to question WHY someone is sending you on a free trip to Israel. But also to GO TO PALESTINE. Un-learn the strategically cryptic narrative you have been fed, the narrative that Israel is great and that you should love and defend it always.

Julia Wedgle; Tufts ‘15

I always knew that I wanted to go on Birthright. It was a Jewish right of passage that I couldn’t wait to experience. I had been to Israel before but only with my family so I was still Birthright eligible, and I thought that made me so lucky. I thought that I would meet my best friends on Birthright at whatever college I went to, and I would hook up with a hot Israeli soldier. When I signed up for Birthright at the end of my freshman year at Tufts my views on Israel/Palestine were already somewhat changing. I had started to see the Palestinian side of the story, but I would still never dare support BDS (Boycott, pestment and Sactions) or step foot into an SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) meeting. 

Even though I knew of Israel’s human rights abuses and cried on Yom Hatzmuot, Israeli Independence Day, because we were forgetting about the Palestinians I was still so excited to “return home” and see Israel again. When I stepped of the plane at Ben Gurion International Airport I thought I was in Disneyland, the Disneyland of Judaism. As we drove that first day, we drove by a poor Palestinian village, near a rich Israeli shopping center and I remember thinking why? As the trip continued more and more questions developed in my mind. I would challenge the tour guide at times when he would tell me that Arab-Israelis had full and equal rights. We visited a playground in Sderot that is inside a bomb shelter and I remember thinking wow that is so cool that the kids can play here and be safe, but what about the Palestinian kids across the border, do they have a similar structure? I doubted it. I was shocked when at Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial museum, the tour guide showed us Nazi anti-Semitism and said “anti-Semitism today is expressed as anti-Israel sentiment, all anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitic.” I challenged her by reminding her that Israel and Judaism are not the same thing but she simply told me that those who are anti-Israel are “obviously also anti-Semitic.” Why wasn’t it until the last day that I learned my bus driver who I had spent a whole 10 days with was a Bedouin-Israeli? Why didn’t we ever hear his real story?  When we went to the old city market, we couldn’t enter the Arab shuck. “Stop at the Israeli flags, the other side is dangerous,” we were told. The Bedouin village seemed so cool while I was there but later I learned that it was owned by Jews and the Bedouins that “lived there” were actually brought in from a nearby unrecognized village where there houses could be demolished in the blink of an eye.

The most hypocritical part of Birthright for me was the time we spent in the West Bank. You are probably asking yourself what; I thought Birthright doesn’t go to the West Bank. Wrong, we went twice. We went to the Ahava factory and a Dead Sea beach in the heart of the West Bank. Were we told we were in the illegally occupied West Bank? No way, it was only after that I learned this. I later learned that not only is the Ahava factory located in the West Bank but also it is a major boycott target of the BDS movement I now support. Then, the worst offense came, we stayed in a settlement. That’s right, we stayed in an illegal Israeli settlement, Kibbutz Almog. I later learned that Kibbutz Almog, built in 1977, in the Jordan Valley was built on top of a main water vain serving Jericho. But we were told it was not a settlement, explicitly, because “it is legal under Israeli law and settlements refer to illegal communities.” When I later wrote Birthright a letter, explaining my anger that we stayed in a settlement, which I do not support, I got the same response, that it was not illegal. I was lucky because on my trip the word Palestinian was actually mentioned be it very few times. I was lucky because I stayed after Birthright and continued to inform myself. I even went to the west bank with an ICAHD, Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, tour and spent time in an unrecognized Bedouin village.

Today I sit at a JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) conference as I write this and I can proudly say that I am a Jewish member of Tufts SJP.  If you had told me four years ago that I would be wearing a Keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity, today I would have thought you were crazy and laughed in your face. However, going into Birthright with an already critical perspective allowed me to see the problems and avoid the brain washing that Birthright strives for. I don’t necessarily advocate not going on Birthright because for me, I think without it, I would not be where I am today. In Israel/Palestine I realized that my social activism stems from my Judaism and therefore as does my Palestinian Solidarity. Although I am not a religious Jew, I would like to end with a Torah quote “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). This and many other reasons are why after seeing the problems in Israel/Palestine on my Birthright trip and its extension I support Palestine from a Jewish standpoint and vow to stand in solidarity with my Arab brothers and sisters. So here’s to Peace, Justice and Palestine!!

Thank you, Sheldon Adelson!

Liza Behrendt; Organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace Boston

Dear Sheldon,

Thank you!  Without the $140 million you’ve given to Birthright Israel since 2007, I might not have become a Palestine solidarity activist.

Had I not gone on your entirely free trip to Israel, during the devastating 2008 assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead”, I might not have realized the hypocrisy of a state that claims to provide safety for world Jewry while perpetuating violence and oppression.  Had I not attended a Birthright “mega-event” where thousands of Jews waved Israeli flags and cheered on pop stars and pyrotechnics while bombs fell on Gaza miles away, I might not have realized the dangers of ethnic nationalism.  Had I not rode camels at a pretend Bedouin camp performed for the benefit of our trip, I might not have realized the extent to which Jewish communities deny ethnic cleansing in order to preach persity.

My Birthright tour-guide told us that Arabs have wanted to kill Jews forever, that they are “like mosquitos”  we must swat away.  He expected us to listen to his bus-ride lectures and fear the “terrorists” on the other side of the walls, then to feel relief and safety when we see Jewish holy sites guarded by the Israeli Defense Forces.  Most importantly, he expected us to have a jolly, drunken time at hotel bars and beach parties where we could celebrate our homeland and hopefully even make some Jewish babies. 

The stories he told us felt at odds with my rudimentary understanding of the Israeli occupation, so I asked questions from a place of genuine curiosity.  When I asked about illegal Israeli settlements, the wall cutting off parts of the West Bank, or the disproportionate death toll piling up in Gaza, I was called “stupid” and told that my questions were “bullshit.”  The president of Oranim, my Birthright tour contractor, pointed me out to a crowd of hundreds of Birthright participants and said I represented “the biggest problem with the global Jewish community.”  My questions were so threatening that, at Ben Gurion airport on the return trip, I was separated from my tour group in security.  Five separate officials interrogated me about my opinions on the Palestinians before I was allowed to board the plane.  Thank you, Sheldon, for letting me know that I was a threat to the status quo in the Jewish community.

Sheldon, we both understand that Birthright’s strategy isn’t to convince participants that Israel is right.  The strategy is to provide a physically and emotionally draining emersion experience aiming to reconstruct Jewish identity around support for the Jewish state.  We both know that it makes little difference when participants say, “I’m going on this trip cause it’s free, but I won’t be brainwashed.” They might not be brainwashed to explicitly support Israel’s violent and expansionist policies, but they will likely develop a loyalty to Israel that is more fearful and less critical.  Birthright participants are christened with the Birthright brand, added to the list of almost 300,000 diaspora Jews who make up what Israeli officials call “the most successful project in the Jewish world.”  The individuals’ opinions formed by the Birthright experience are secondary to the growth of Birthright as an institution that is redefining what it means to grow up Jewish in the diaspora.

Thank you, Sheldon, but unfortunately I won’t let you redefine Judaism for me.  My Judaism is about building community based in compassion and justice for all peoples, something that Birthright Israel simply cannot provide.  My Judaism is about supporting the Palestinians in their struggle for equality and freedom.  Your $140 million won’t change that.

Love,

Liza

Extending Your Stay

Many people who go on Birthright choose to extend their stay in Israel/Palestine beyond the end of their 10-day program. Birthright should be the start of your exploration of the Israel/Palestine issue, not the end. Alternative tour organizations give travelers the opportunity to learn about the Palestinian narratives and realities that are underrepresented in mainstream Israel education and organized trips.

How to Extend Your Trip: Submit an Extension Request Form via email on the Taglit-Birthright website through Gil Travel (google “Gil’s Travel Taglit-Birthright Israel Trip Extensions”). The request takes up to 10 days to process so try to plan ahead (however late requests are frequently accepted). Extension fees should not exceed $100-130.

Alternative Touring Options

1. Breaking the Silence

*Tour to South Hebron Hills and the city of Hebron led by former IDF soldiers, NIS 70/person ($20)

*Register at www.breakingthesilence.org.il/tours/4, email [email protected]

2. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

*Tours to East Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, NIS 150-250/person ($40-60), 2-5 hour

tours, depart from ICAHD office in downtown West Jerusalem

*Register at www.ICAHD.org/tours, email [email protected] or call + 972-2-6245560.

3. Alternative Tours with Windows for Peace

*Full-day tour to Hebron and the AIDA Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, departs from Jerusalem train station,

*Email [email protected] or fill out a questionnaire at http://www.win-peace.org/?page_id=1072

4. Green Olive Tours

*Tours to Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, the Galilee and other Palestinian cities

*Homestay and overnight options in guest houses/hostels also available

*Register at http://www.toursinenglish.com/ or call 972 03-721-9540

5. Alternative Tourism Group (ATG)

*Tours to Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Tel Aviv/Jaffa, Nazareth, Palestinian refugee camps, Bedouin

communities, and Israeli West Bank settlements

*Email [email protected] to register, or call 0522 934 415 or 0598 944 142 for last minute booking

6. Machsom Watch

*Tours of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and IDF checkpoints led by a group of Israeli women peace activists

*Contact [email protected] or call 055-664-1797 to schedule a tour. More info at

http://www.machsomwatch.org/en

Can I travel to the West Bank without a tour? YES! It is cheap, safe, and relatively easy to travel to the West Bank on your own. Here’s how: Catch a bus/sheirut at the Jerusalem bus station, one block from Damascus Gate. Busses are frequent and cost no more than NIS 10 ($3). Bus #18 goes to Ramallah, and you easily can catch busses from Ramallah to other Palestinian cities.

What to expect: You will likely be asked to get out of the bus, present your passport, and walk through security checkpoints with your fellow passengers. This is typical procedure that Palestinians and Arab-Israeli citizens must go through every day.  Don’t be alarmed: with your American passport you can travel anywhere in the West Bank and you should not experience any problems at the border. The trip from Jerusalem to Ramallah will take 30 minutes or more depending on checkpoint stops and the security situation.

Remember: People speak English; they will be welcoming and happy to answer any questions.

Dress appropriately, try not to wear shorts or low cut shirts.

Reading List

More on the Occupation…

“Middle East peace talks: Where they stand”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11138790

“Bad Intentions: New Jerusalem Settlements and the Prospects for Peace (and Negotiations)” by Hagit Ofran (Director, Settlement Watch project: Israeli Peace Now movement) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hagit-ofran/post_1329_b_788152.html

Occupation 101 (full length film can be found on Youtube)

More on Negotiations…

Q&A: Resuming direct Middle East peace talks

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11038890

“An end to the occupation first” by Akiva Eldar

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/an-end-to-the-occupation-first-1.330318

On the Palestine Papers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VTAmLnOLZM

More on Gaza…

Guide: Eased Gaza blockade

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle+east-10520844

Q&A Israeli deadly raid on aid flotilla

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10203726

Brain-dead on both sides by Stephen Walt

http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/16/brain_dead_on_both_sides

More on internal issues in Israel

2012: The year democracy ends by Noam Sheizaf

http://972mag.com/2012-the-year-democracy-ends/31935/

The Other Citizens of Israel by Ahmad Tibi

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/opinion/22iht-edtibi.html?_r=2&ref=global

The Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) has compiled a number of fact sheets having to do with various aspects of the conflict, all of which can be found here: http://imeu.net/news/factsheets.shtml

To my friends who are considering a Birthright trip,

I write anonymously not because I do not want you to know my name, but because writing my name puts me at risk of getting through the Israeli airport. Year after year, Birthright participants skip ahead of me in the line I have been pulled out of.  I watch as excited faces enter Israel, while I walk with an officer to a room and wait for an interrogation. Hours of waiting later, I reject my Palestinian identity that lingers in my name. I’m not as Arab as they think, I try to convince the officer with my American passport.  This is a shame I hope no one will have to experience: to reject oneself in order to return home.  My only tie to the place where my great grandparents, grandparents, father, and where I went to school is my mother.  As an American I can go to most places as long as I reject my other half. As long as I refrain using certain words such as “political words” that will guarantee my exile.  For that reason, I don’t write those words and I never will. I do not have that privilege. For Palestinians, a homeland is not our “birthright”. I think of this when I see Birthright groups mounting that famous camel ride.  A spitting beast and a Bedouin boy are all so foreign, authentic, and exciting.  But my friend, you don’t know the best of it: this land and this camel is yours, not the boy’s. This is your exotic welcome home in a land in which he has no place.  He will wear that familiar tight smile, a silent smile of colonial submission. This camel, this ride, this land…it’s all part of Birthright, Manifest Destiny if you will. I’ve seen it too many times in real time and on Facebook. The stage is set: American teenager and camel in center, the boy edging to the picture’s frame.  And while the Birthright groups move from room to room of this new house of a country, we awkwardly stand between their frames. Place a golden Israeli coin into our dirt-caked palms, and we stand a little further from the picture.

When you go on this trip, recognize that you have been put in a place of power.  Remember that you are not to blame, but do not be surprised when the fight for equality beckons you.  I hope you will never have to reject your Jewish identity in front of an officer. You do not have to answer to this call, but just dare to hear it.  I also hope that you will not accept excuses of security when you learn that others don’t share your “birthright”  to the place they call home. Think about how many times the word Palestinian is mentioned on your “apolitical” trip.  Think about the places you are going to. Think about the infrastructures of “security” in place all for the sake of a safe, fun, and segregated “birthright”.

You do not have to know all the facts to know the meaning of peace. You know that peace is not a state in which some identities must be silenced.  It is a state in which everyone has a birthright to freedom.

Your Friend

Posted in Activism, American Jewish Community, Israel/Palestine, Occupation, US Politics

{ 59 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    The organization identifies its main goals to be: (1) to strengthen the Jewish identity

    the Jewish identity
    for there can only be one
    and it is paranoid
    and the lord looked at it
    and he didn’t like it either

    • Mooser says:

      “and the lord looked at it
      and he didn’t like it either”

      As I understand it, the Lord does not appreciate presumption, and mere mortals declaring what He thinks. And He goes livid if He isn’t given His capitals.

      I’m getting more an more convinced that Judaism, possibly in a class action suit with the Lord, will sue for back pay and overtime. We’ve got that pair working 24/7! First a shift for the Zionists, than a shift for the anti-Zionists. Nobody can keep that up and keep their health, and if the NLRB gets wind of it, hoo boy!

      Can’t we give them a rest? I think they seriously need it.

  2. Only a few paragraphs in- “Zionism is a political movement, and Judaism is a religion.”
    Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is more than just a religion.

    If you have at least one Jewish relative, you have a right to travel (and move) to Israel whenever you want.

    Another partial truth. If that relative is your mother, yes, you have a right to move to Israel. If that relative is your father it is less likely you have a right to move to Israel. How many patrilineal descent Jews are allowed to move to Israel a year from the non Soviet Union countries? Not many, I bet.

    • RE: “If you have at least one Jewish relative, you have a right to travel (and move) to Israel whenever you want.” ~ yonah fredman

      MY QUESTION: I have an aunt who was married to a Jewish man. Does that give me “a right to travel (and move) to Israel whenever [I] want”?

    • Avi_G. says:

      So when Israeli agencies go to south America and convert a few indigenous Indian tribes to judaism and subsequently drag them back to Israel as new olim, are they bringing over only those whose mothers are Jewish?

      That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

      Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is more than just a religion.

      Thanks for the clarification.

      • Mooser says:

        “Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is more than just a religion.”

        You bet, there’s no denying that, and personally, I think it’s wonderful.
        But I wonder if being “more than a religion” means you can be a law unto yourself. I sorta doubt it.

    • MLE says:

      I bet it depends on what the Israeli government is feeling at the time. If they’re feeling demographically threatened, then they’ll play it a little looser.

      The whole passing Jewishness maternal lineage is the most arbitrary thing I have ever heard of.

    • Keith says:

      YONAH FREDMAN- “Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is more than just a religion.”

      Are you saying that American Jews and Israeli Jews share a common “Jewishness?” If so, could you please briefly describe this “Jewishness” which binds American and Israeli Jews into a homogeneous community.

      • Keith- Let’s start with Adolph Hitler. If he called you Jewish, then you’re Jewish. If the Soviet Union put a J on your passport meaning Jew, then you’re Jewish. Like that. That’s the first step.

        Obviously there are people who disdain religion and ethnicity to such a degree that they say, my parents were Jewish, but I’m not. Even if they don’t go getting baptized.

        I think books can be written on the topic of Jewishness and it does not mean a homogeneous community and I think Jewishness changes over time and is expressed in different ways. But to pretend this is a cut and dried issue, is a pretense. I think to give it a gloss like the Tufts students have done here is like writing “God does not exist”, next question?

        No, I cannot define what being Jewish is while standing on one leg. And yes, when you are a Morrocan Jew who doesn’t keep the religion and a Seattle Jew who does not keep the religion, the connection is tenuous.

        No, it is not a homogeneous community. But if you really feel it is a cut and dried easy to gloss over issue, then I think you are wrong.

        • Mooser says:

          “Keith- Let’s start with Adolph Hitler. If he called you Jewish, then you’re Jewish. If the Soviet Union put a J on your passport meaning Jew, then you’re Jewish. Like that. That’s the first step.”

          Yonah, Yonah, Yonah! Isn’t the very first Israel does is to put the “J” or “non-J” on your papers? Your whole life, as a matter of fact?
          Why, identifying and counting Jews is anti-Semitic, what does that make Israel?
          Sometimes I think you step in it, Yonah, but you just jumped right off a cliff.

          So it’s all right to identify Jews when you are identifying them for the purpose of discriminating against non Jews, okay, got it.

        • Mooser says:

          “No, I cannot define what being Jewish is while standing on one leg. And yes, when you are a Morrocan Jew who doesn’t keep the religion and a Seattle Jew who does not keep the religion, the connection is tenuous.”

          Oh, you can’t define it, but you think you have the right to judge it? Sure, okay, you’re entitled to your own delusions of glanders.
          So let me get this straight, a settler who steals land and a house and terrorises Palestinians but “keeps the religion” is a better Jew than a rather unobservant Jew in Seattle who thinks Judaism is best expressed to non-Jews in upright decent action? Okay, got it!

          Yup, there’s no doubt which one God will favor. He can’t think straight when the tantalising odor of burnt-offerings drifts by His cloud “Where is that wonderful smell coming from? Mmmm!”, saith the Lord. “Why it seems to be those illegal settlement down there. I must remember to do something nice for those people, they Keepeth the Religion, and as far as those mosers in Seattle, who never sent Me anything except grunge CD’s…Now where are those plague bacilli… no reason to stop at ten…”

        • Keith says:

          YONAH FREDMAN- “Keith- Let’s start with Adolph Hitler. If he called you Jewish, then you’re Jewish. If the Soviet Union put a J on your passport meaning Jew, then you’re Jewish. Like that. That’s the first step.”

          So, “Jewishness” is centered around Adolph Hitler and the former USSR?

          “…it does not mean a homogeneous community….”

          Surely there must be some common thread which delineates the “Jewishness” of Jews from the Goyishness of Gentiles? You referred to Hitler who has been dead a long time. Is it that he symbolizes irrational Gentile anti-Semitism? Is the essence of “Jewishness” the fear and loathing of Gentiles? The kinship of a shared fate from a common enemy? A “Jewishness” born of the Holocaust?

          Marc Ellis has several posts on the Holocaust and Jewish power. I don’t believe that you have commented on any of them. It might be interesting if you did. Surely, Jewishness, Birthright, Israel, the Holocaust, and perceived anti-Semitism are intertwined, are they not?

          As for the USSR passports, were the Jews the only ethnicity identified, or were the Gentiles broken down into ethnic groups? I am under the impression that Jews did quite well in the former USSR compared to their Gentile comrades. Have you read “The Jewish Century” by Yuri Slezkine?

        • Keith- This web site has become unpredictable in terms of its timing of printing responses. The topic of Jewish identity is not one that should be discussed with every other response delayed by a day or more. The gist of my response to the students from Tufts is that the question is much deeper than a one line: Israel is a state and Judaism is a religion. This is glib, and is useful for sound bites and for headlines and not for thinking.

          Similarly your usage of my words against me are useful in gaining points in a debate.

          I think identity as in national or ethnic identity, is a fluid identity and is not static. I think in 1945 in Europe, for someone to call himself a Jew was by no means a statement of religion and by every means a statement vis a vis how they were just treated in the previous 4 or 5 or 12 years, and it would be very useful to use the term Jew and have no reference to religion and only refer to “nationality”.

          The Soviet Union, to my knowledge, only put the identity nationality on two groups of people, those who had a soviet republic that “belonged” to their nationality- as in Ukranians, who had a separate “republic” that belonged to them and on Jewish identity cards, though the Jews had no republic that belonged to them. Any assertion that the Jews did well in the Soviet Union, should include the fact: despite the fact that the Soviet Union went so far as to mark their identity cards with the fact that they were Jews, despite the fact that they had no republic.

        • Keith- I used the examples of Hitler and the Soviet Union- because those are 2 examples when groups (Hitler stands for a group in this context) delineated Jews as belonging to a nationality other than theirs and the attitude of the excluding other is relevant. The Nazis persecuted gays, but they did not call them a nationality. They called the Jews a nation apart. This does not mean that they were right, just that sometimes, one figures out who one is by what other people call you. Herzl realized he wasn’t a german when he attempted to join a German fraternity and he was informed: You’re not a German, you’re a Jew. Today one can be a German and a Jew at the same time, but in the 1880′s and 1890′s and in the 1930′s and the 1940′s they were seen by many of the ruling elite as separate nationalities. This does not mean that this is something static, permanent, essential or tells us the whole story. But it is a beginning point to discover why someone might think that their Jewishness is not just a matter of beliefs, but has something to do with ethnicity as well.

          Young adults who go on birthright might be curious as to what the Jewish people are doing these days. Unfortunately part of what the Jews as a people are doing these days is oppressing Palestinians. This is not good. But to answer this by saying: Jew is a religion and any other attempt to understand what Jew is must be backed up by some sort of homogeneity, is just wrong.

          There is a Jewish language: and that is called Hebrew. There were two semi Jewish languages that developed over the millennia- Yiddish and Ladino. But there is only one country where the Jewish language- Hebrew, is the language on the radio, television and the street signs. This is not to assert that Arabic should be erased from the radio, television or street signs. But a young person from a Jewish background, might have heard of this language called Hebrew, they might have used it in religious ceremonies and to see it in use in secular ways, might tell them something about what the Jews are doing these days.

        • Mooser says:

          “This web site has become unpredictable in terms of its timing of printing responses.”

          Send money. Quick moderation requires more paid hours and overtime. Look how fast mine come up. C’mon Yonah, put something in the New Blue Box

        • Mooser says:

          “Similarly your usage of my words against me are useful in gaining points in a debate. “

          If you say stupid stuff, and contradict yourself within the same comments, don’t expect people not to notice. Nobody here is scared of you and your settler-gang.
          And damn it, Yonah, just once, please, stop whining! It’s embarrassing.

        • Keith says:

          YONAH FREDMAN- “Similarly your usage of my words against me are useful in gaining points in a debate.”

          I comment on Mondoweiss in order to engage in discussions, not score debating points. Besides, who would score the debate? I am not using your words “against you,” I am referencing your comments in an effort to probe deeper into what you refer to as “Jewishness,” a highly relevant topic relating to Mondoweiss, Zionism, and Birthright. In your response to me, you start off by referencing Hitler and USSR passports indicating, I assume, that perceived anti-Semitism plays a large role in your sense of “Jewishness,” a topic you raised. I’m not trying to trick you or use your words against you, just trying to understand the basis for Jewish kinship and Zionism’s appeal.

          “Keith- This web site has become unpredictable in terms of its timing of printing responses. The topic of Jewish identity is not one that should be discussed with every other response delayed by a day or more.”

          Yes, the delays in the moderation process are an impediment, however, I’m not sure why “Jewish identity” would be more impacted than any other non-trivial topic. Since you brought up the topic, I thought that you might be interested in discussing it, however, if this makes you uncomfortable just say so.

          “But it is a beginning point to discover why someone might think that their Jewishness is not just a matter of beliefs, but has something to do with ethnicity as well.”

          In Classical Judaism, “Jew” referred to someone of the Judaic religion. It was only during the last 200 to 300 years that, with the advent of blood and soil nationalism, that “Jew” took on a racial/ethnic definition, and modern anti-Semitism came into being. And it wasn’t just the Nazis that talked of the “Jewish race,” the early Zionists voiced similar sentiments. Which brings us back to your emphasis on “Jewishness” being something imposed upon Jews by non-Jewish anti-Semites back in the days of blood and soil nationalism, but which still defines Jewishness as it exists today, in spite of being subject to change. And anyone with a Jewish mother who does not self-identify as a “Jew” disdains their religion and ethnicity, that is, their Jewishness. As for Hebrew and Yiddish, the use of a distinct language was one of the ways that Jews have traditionally maintained their isolation from the surrounding Gentile community. I’m not trying to be critical, merely pointing out that after several lengthy comments, “Jewishness” seems to equate with not being a Gentile and being persecuted because of it, the shared kinship of victim-hood.

          Yonah, I appreciate the time and effort you put into your thoughtful responses to my questions.

        • some reactions to comments from others-
          as far as I can tell the dictum “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” is not unique to the book of Leviticus or to the Jewish tradition.
          It is, as far as I can tell, the highest directive.
          An analogy: the Jewish tradition is a car. Its engine is the Shabbos. The passenger is “love thy neighbor as thyself.” If you have a car without an engine, it is not really a car. If you have a car and no passenger, it serves no purpose.

          Millions of words (at the least) have been written on the topic of Jewish history, roots, connectedness, or even that tainted word, identity.
          To sum it up in one sentence: “judaism is a religion and Israel is a nation state” is sophomoric.

        • “You ain’t no kin to pa”

          The attempt to tell American Jews that they have no connection to Israeli Jews reminds me of the following off color joke.

          A y0ung man comes home and tells his father that he wishes to wed Mary Sue who lives down the block. Pa says “you can’t marry her. She’s your sister, cuz I’m her real father.” Junior goes to Mom and laments his situation. Ma says, “Go on and marry her. She ain’t your sister. You ain’t no kin to Pa.”

          Some people hope to weaken the Israeli lobby by telling American Jews that they’re no kin to Israeli Jews. One of Marc Ellis’s theories seems to be that the best Jews, Jews of Conscience, are for the most part detached Jews: those who don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish, who feel uncomfortable in synagogues, particularly traditional synagogues. Thus those who feel no connection to anything Jewish are the best hope to recognize the Zionist enterprise as a failure.

          Thus I concede that those who wish to strengthen kinship ties are an enemy to the best instinct vis a vis the Zionist crisis.

          But there is a kinship: a common past. And even if recognizing the kinship risks the soul of those who will come down on the wrong side of the Zionist crisis, to boldly claim “you ain’t no kin to Pa” is a bald faced lie.

          The kinship some feel towards the Jewish past and the Jews who currently live in Israel is not the whole story. Identity and kinship change every second or certainly every generation and to expect things to remain static is to expect an unnatural occurrence. But kinship is part of the humanity of those who recognize it and ignoring it usually comes at a price.

        • Some people hope to weaken the Israeli lobby by telling American Jews that they’re no kin to Israeli Jews.

          can you link to an example. is that what telling american jews they’re kin to israeli jews is? your hope to strengthen the lobby?

        • An analogy: the Jewish tradition is a car. Its engine is the Shabbos. The passenger is “love thy neighbor as thyself.” If you have a car without an engine, it is not really a car. If you have a car and no passenger, it serves no purpose.

          and if you’re out of gas you can’t go anywhere anyway. what’s the gas in your analogy? or did someone put sugar in the gas tank? cuz lovin’ their neighbor does not seem to be a passenger in a car driving thru israel.

        • eljay says:

          >> Some people hope to weaken the Israeli lobby by telling American Jews that they’re no kin to Israeli Jews. … But there is a kinship: a common past.

          That’s funny. No, there’s no common past.

          I have no common past with my father – a Croatian military man who fought as a liaison officer with the German army. Sure, I could pretend there’s a “common past” with him – and with other Croatians of similar background…but there isn’t.

          But what’s the point of being an American citizen of the Jewish faith if you can’t pretend you’re an Israeli oppressing Aye-rabs and colonizing the “Promised Land”, eh? ;-)

        • eljay says:

          >> To sum it up in one sentence: “judaism is a religion and Israel is a nation state” is sophomoric.

          “Jewish State” is only two words. What’s less than sophomoric? Idiotic? Moronic? Overly-simplistic? Biblical? Righteous? All of the above?

        • tree says:

          To sum it up in one sentence: “judaism is a religion and Israel is a nation state” is sophomoric.

          Said by the man who says Jewish tradition is like a car. What a profound intellectual statement!

          Why, not only is it like a car, but Jewish tradition is also like a hat, a broach, a pterydactyl. Its a dessert topping AND a floor wax. Its complex. Mere mortal gentiles just can’t understand it, so we have to resort to sophomoric analogies to explain it, right? Good lord.

        • tree says:

          On the Shabbos, an Orthodox Jew is not suppose to drive. So if it is the engine of the “Jewish tradition” car then that car might as well be up on blocks ‘cuz its not going anywhere.

        • Antidote says:

          “Let’s start with Adolph Hitler. If he called you Jewish, then you’re Jewish. ”

          True, but if he called you an honorary Aryan, then you were an honorary Aryan, even if you were Jewish. Also the entire Japanese people.

        • Keith- I’ve been reading I. J. Singer in Yiddish recently and reading him in Yiddish is so much “richer” than the English translation. Singer catches Jewishness of a particular moment- the early part of the 20th century. To label the Jewishness of his day as merely influenced by blood and soil is ridiculous, I suppose because the recentness of the religion to all the characters. Even if they have thrown off the yoke of Torah, they are still in its shade and thus to call it mere ethnicity is to deny the essence of the connection between Jews of his day and Jews of 20 years before. Things were changing fast for Jews who came from the countryside to the big cities, Lodz or Warsaw. His main character, Nachman, in Khaver Nachman (English title, East of Eden) goes from yeshiva bochur to apprentice baker to revolutionary in one lifetime. There is no lapse of generations to account for, only a whirlwind change of perspective of one character.

          one cannot take the birthright youngsters on a whirlwind tour of the changes that Nachman went through. their connection to Nachman is tenuous or debatable. But it is not artificial. It must be cultivated for it to be more than an asterisk. To turn it into something meaningful would take much work.

          I began with Hitler and the Soviet Union, in an angry reaction to your use of the word “homogeneous”, like what does that have to do with anything. If in fact we were in 1945 in Europe the discussion of Judaism other than a religion would be natural. It is wrong or bad to view life through Hitler’s eyes. But it is not wrong or bad to view Jewishness through the major Jewish event of the last two thousand years that occurred a mere decade before I was born. I won’t stop anyone from throwing Jew into the garbage or assigning it to meaningless history and books. To each his own.

          But to demand homogeneous before we can begin a discussion of anything Jewish other than the religion was simply ridiculous, so I over reacted.

          If I was not convinced of the strength of much of Torah (certainly not all) and of much of Talmud (certainly not all), and of much of Jewish liturgy and sentiment (certainly not all) I suppose I would dismiss connection as stupid and a waste of time. The Marx Brothers and Bob Dylan and Lenny Bruce would not be enough for me to say, it is incumbent on Jews to know where they come from. No. It is from 2 sources- the echoes of the religion and the echoes of the Khurban. That is personally where I come from on this issue.

  3. RE: “If you have at least one Jewish relative, you have a right to travel (and move) to Israel whenever you want.” ~ yonah fredman

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [The Law of Return]:

    The Law of Return (Hebrew: חוק השבות, ḥok ha-shvūt) is Israeli legislation, passed on 5 July 1950, that gives Jews the right of return and settlement in Israel and gain citizenship.[1] . . .
    . . . A Jew can be excluded from Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return if he or she is considered to be dangerous to the welfare of the State of Israel. Jews who have a past that involves a serious crime, such as murder, or who are fugitives in another country for any felony (unless they are persecution victims) can be denied the right of return, (e.g. Meyer Lansky, Victor Vancier).[3] The Law of Return also excludes any “person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.” . . .

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

  4. mcohen says:

    thank you for presenting birthright in a negative light

  5. Mooser says:

    “Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is more than just a religion.”

    So is Jewishness political, too, since it’s more than just a religion? Just a religion. Depressing thought isn’t it, just a bunch of people praying together (separated by gender, of course) and sharing fellowship in a drafty, not-too-well-janitor-ed building. Just a religion. Feh
    Ahh! But a religion which can sponsor a politically manipulative and criminal colonial project, and take any, using every available method, the land from the people who live there, no you got more than just a religion. Now you got something the world better respect. And when we get our birth-rate and retention rate up to something well, not negative, it’s look out, world, there’s more than a religion comin’ at you.

    Yonah, when Judaism set out to be, or complied in the project to be more than a religion, Zionism is what we got. And present mess.

    • mooser- In the prologue to “A Serious Man” by the Coen Brothers, a walking dead man, is exposed for what he is, a walking dead man. Pinsker also used the analogy of a walking dead man, a sort of ghost, in describing the Jews, especially in his attempt at analysis on why the nations hate the Jews. (Insert: “why the nations hate the Jews”: Totally appropriate to 1881 Russia, not so appropriate to 2012/2013 USA.)

      Serious followers of the Torah will tell you that the Jewish essence could not survive even a few weeks without the keeping of the Shabbos. But the fact is that though Sabbath observance is not highly valued among those who call themselves Jews, Jewish identity still perseveres, if only for a few moments, or generations.

      Skepticism in reaction to Torah or belief in God is part of the process of digesting these beliefs, pulling them apart and putting them back together and making them one’s own. Those who swallow these beliefs whole are less than those that break their beliefs and rebuild them, in my estimation. Those who are willing to go into the valley of disbelief should not be threatened with excommunication. By which I mean, disbelievers still belong to the mishpocho.

      I think religion is a deeper ism than nationalism. But Jewish identity is not to be dismissed. In the context of Zionism, which you consider to be a very destructive movement, I understand why you would wish to dismiss all Jewish identity that is not God based or ethically rather than ethnically oriented. Fair enough. But Jewish identity, as in something that Marranos were forced to hide and something that fleeing Jews were forced to hide, is not something to be dismissed.

      • Mooser says:

        “Those who are willing to go into the valley of disbelief should not be threatened with excommunication. By which I mean, disbelievers still belong to the mishpocho.”

        Sure, Yonah! If they’re willing to help you steal from the Palestinians, they can even be Reform!
        Your upbringing shows in your every comment. What wonderful traditions you are upholding. Doubletalk like your’s you don’t find in Long Island suburbs.

      • Mooser says:

        “is not something to be dismissed.”

        I’m not the one dismissing Judaism and Jewishness. The Zionists are. I’m the one who thinks that Judaism goes beyond a Hochstim Society and actually may be a religious and cultural connection, not just a source of “human material”

        How the hell would you know, anyway?

      • Mooser says:

        “Skepticism in reaction to Torah or belief in God is part of the process of digesting these beliefs, pulling them apart and putting them back together and making them one’s own”

        Anotherwords, if you end up a Zionist, it’s all good. See it’s really hard to see into some-body’s soul, see what they believe, even if they observe ritual;s. But a man who’s brave enough and loyal enough and disciplined enough to face the Palestinians on an olive-orchard-burning raid, or a home-takeover, well, he’s entitled to few doubts on Torah or Talmud. You can see what kind of Jew he is.

        Of course, I thought “skepticism” meant something else, in relation to religious texts, but what do I know? I guess this must be some kind of skepticism-cum-blind acceptance I don’t know about. Remember Yonah, Torah study takes up a lot of evenings!

  6. RoHa says:

    “Jewishness is more than just a religion. …If you have at least one Jewish relative”

    But what makes that relative Jewish, if not religion?

  7. RoHa says:

    “to connect with your Judaism”
    “to connect with your Jewish heritage”

    Do these phrases have any real meaning?

    • Mooser says:

      “Do these phrases have any real meaning?”

      You bet! If your community is broken inside, they help you repair it! Everybody knows that.

  8. Keith says:

    All of this “Birthright” information appears to have a secular orientation. I don’t think enough attention is paid to the religious aspect. Most American Jews who go on a Birthright tour will likely be either secular or reformed. They will assume that most of the religious Israeli Jews are more or less just like them. I think many would be surprised to learn how little they have in common with the religious Israeli Jews, and what the Orthodox Israeli Jews’ attitude is towards Reform Judaism.

    • Antidote says:

      “Most American Jews who go on a Birthright tour will likely be either secular or reformed. They will assume that most of the religious Israeli Jews are more or less just like them”

      So what? Most American Christians who visit the Holy Land as tourists, pilgrims or Christian Zionists will wonder what they have in common with the various stripes of Christians or Jews who actually live there.

    • Mooser says:

      “Most American Jews who go on a Birthright tour will likely be either secular or reformed.”

      Any Jew can be secular, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, or all three in one day.
      They don’t even keep lists.

      • Antidote says:

        “They don’t even keep lists.”

        You Jews are lucky. No Gentile could pull that off. If I waver for a second from my secularism I’m on the Pope’s list, or the Jehova’s Witnesses hunt me down, not to mention dozens of other denominations. They only back off if I tell them I’m Jewish. Works like a charm

        • Mooser says:

          “You Jews are lucky.”

          You bet, we got rights baby! Why the only American with more rights than us is The Gun. But I accept that, because after all, Mr. Gun is a fine citizen, who has saved countless lives, and dispatched countless villians.

        • Antidote says:

          I quite agree, mooser. I just read somewhere (forgot where) that, on average, each day 30 children and teenagers are killed by guns in the US . That’s an entire classroom full of kids wiped out on a daily basis. If the IDF would do this in Palestine, or the Hamas in Israel — what would be the reaction in the US and elsewhere? Or what if a proportional number of Palestinian kids were shot by Palestinians. You wouldn’t hear the end of “there will be no peace until the Palestinians love their children more than they hate the Israelis/Jews etc”

          With all the wars and drones flying about in the ME, people forget that the US is a most dangerous country for Americans. The best way to avoid being shot may well be to go abroad and shoot other people, usually “fanatics” who could pose a threat to Americans? From your link:

          “Since… 1997, at least 427 000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165 000 who were victims of homicide.1 To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

          And that’s just guns. Compare to statistics cited here

          link to tmh.floonet.net

          “The piecemeal, unspectacular death of hundreds of thousands of Americans in accidents of all kinds during the war years of 1941-1945 produced hardly any notice. …. According to a New York Times calculation two months after the end of the war, American loss of life in military operations during the entire war totaled 262,000 while accidents in the United States took the lives of 355,000; the logic of this suggested that the American civilian scene, even without bombing, was somewhat more dangerous than the armed services, averaging in all combat losses.”

  9. Peter in SF says:

    1. From the manual:

    Israel is not defenseless. Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world and receives 3 billion dollars a year from the US to continue to develop its military capabilities. … Israel has stronger military capabilities than any other country in the region.

    I think this section could be strengthened by quoting from the U.S. law that requires the U.S. government to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region.

    2. Quoted from birthrightisrael.com:

    “It is the “birthright” of all young Jews to be able to visit their ancestral homeland.”

    In response to this: The manual doesn’t point out that not all Jews today have the land of Israel as an ancestral homeland (obviously, because for thousands of years, people have become Jews by conversion).

    I do like the detailed section about how non-Jews from the land of Israel somehow don’t have the “birthright” to visit the place where they were born, but the part of the manual before that is unfair when it asks, “Do you feel like Israel is your homeland? Do you feel more connected to the land in Israel than to the land where you were born, where you grew up?” because the quote from birthrightisrael.com specifically says “ancestral homeland”. Plenty of Americans have an unambiguous ancestral homeland in Europe, Africa, or Asia, but feel more at home in America. And they might have immigrant parents who want them to be familiar with their ancestral homeland; liberal-minded Americans don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    One thing that isn’t mentioned here is that the majority of American Jews trace their ancestry to Europe, not to the land of Israel. I’m not trying to suggest any Khazar theories or anything, just pointing out the plain fact that if you ask any American Jew about his or her ancestors — with individual names, dates, and places — in the majority of cases, the most distant individual ancestors known would all be in Europe, and none in the land of Israel.

  10. seafoid says:

    The whole idea that apartheid is a Birthright is disturbing

  11. HHM says:

    Birthright Israel?

    Just whose birthright is it to go to Israel?
    Some young American-born Jewish student or a Palestinian refugee who has direct ties – and whose family has had direct ties – to their homeland for centuries?

    I think of Birthright Israel as a supremacist, hate-mongering organization working to obstruct the human rights (the right of return) of an entire group of people and very dangerous because it is so well-funded and organized.

  12. YoungMassJew says:

    I’ll say this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with celebrating one’s Jewish identity, even an assertion of a secular Jewish identity that is connected to Israel, or Eastern Europe or where-ever. The problem with birthright is that it glorifies the brutal IDF and doesn’t engage in an honest debate about the root causes of the conflict. I’ve done the trip. I didn’t know that Shelly funded it when I went. You meet a bunch of soldiers and Jewish-supremacist types on the trip. I had to sit in on a lecture that was like a meeting of the KKK in 19th century Mississippi in which the owner of an olive oil factory in the Occupied Golan Heights said he agreed with Newt Gingrich that Palestinians are “an invented people.” How nice. This is the type of hateful rhethoric one hears on birthright and one of the reasons(besides the fact that Palestinians aren’t afforded their birthright despite living on the land continuously for thousands of years) why these trips should end. It glorifies another people’s dispossession.

  13. jack dresser says:

    The accounts by insightful student survivors of these seductive hasbara blitzkreigs was very encouraging. They demonstrate what I’ve always hoped and halfway expected – that bright and sensitive youg people, having been subjected for many years to unrelenting product advertising, can spot snake oil salesmen when the see them, know how to gather their own research data, and resent being treated as mindless objects of manipulation. Sheldon Adelson might have learned this from the last election where everywhere he poured his millions into lost.

  14. wiserman says:

    Israel is an illicit colonizing enterprise that has been systematically ethnic cleansing and murdering people out of the way of its illegal and yet-undeclared borders for 64 years.
    A few quotes of Israel’s founding terrorists:

    “It is our right to TRANSFER the Palestinians!”—Transfer Committee director Yossef (Joseph) Weitz

    “We must work out a secret plan based on the removal of the Arabs … [and] include it in American political circles.”—Weitz

    “There is no other way than to TRANSFER the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, all of them.”—Weitz

    “Not one village, not one [Arab] tribe should be left.”—Weitz
    “If the Arabs leave, the country will become wide and spacious for us [Jews].”—Weitz

    “Only after this TRANSFER will the country be able to absorb millions of our [Jewish] brothers.”—Weitz

    “We should prevent Arab return at any cost.” –David ben Burion

    Scores of documented quotes like these can be found online.

    This is the result:

    link to desertpeace.wordpress.com

    BirthRIGHT??? BrithWRONG is more like it!

  15. Obsidian says:

    I love Israel and I never had Birthright.
    I fell in love with Israel after I opened a copy of William L. Shirer’s ‘ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ and saw the picture of naked Jewish women being herded into the gas chambers.

    • I fell in love with Palestine after I saw pictures of the native people being herded out of their homes and farms, degraded and humiliated, massacred, impoverished and stripped of any of their natural rights. And when I went there and encountered a people of great dignity and remarkable stoicism, with a deep love of their land, in no need of ersatz ‘birthrights’ to the places they were born in and lived in, I appreciated the depth of their suffering even more, and their need for justice and restitution.

    • Mooser says:

      “I fell in love with Israel after I opened a copy of William L. Shirer’s ‘ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ and saw the picture of naked Jewish women being herded into the gas chambers.”

      Whatever turns you on, Obscenium, Whatever turns you on.

    • American says:

      “I fell in love with Israel after I opened a copy of William L. Shirer’s ‘ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ and saw the picture of naked Jewish women being herded into the gas chambers.”

      Humm….I’m not a psychiatrist but I’m pretty sure there’s something slightly sick about love inspired by that kind of thing.

  16. eljay says:

    >> I fell in love with Israel after I opened a copy of William L. Shirer’s ‘ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ and saw the picture of naked Jewish women being herded into the gas chambers.

    Injustice and immorality made you fall in love not with justice, morality, accountability and equality, but with injustice, immorality, oppression, colonialism and supremacism.

    How very sad. :-(

    • wiserman says:

      “I fell in love with Israel after I opened a copy of William L. Shirer’s ‘ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ and saw the picture of naked Jewish women being herded into the gas chambers.”

      So in your view it would be ok if Congolese people (who also suffer genocide), come into the US and murder your family out of the way to create a Congolese state?

      You would be supporting injustice if you hold that view.