Is there anything wrong with sponsored trips to Israel tailor-made for a specific group of Jews? It’s only natural that Israel trips would be organized around interest groups so that the experience can be more meaningful for them. Some of the niche markets that Birthright has organized trips around in recent years include foodies, techies and queer and queer-allied Jews. But now Birthright is venturing into new territory, launching skateboarding and hip hop-themed trips to Israel. What does this say about the values of the organized Jewish community and the way that it interprets the State of Israel?
To be sure, there is an Israeli skateboarding subculture and there is an Israeli hip hop scene. Since I haven’t seen their itineraries, I have no idea how much of the 10-day trips are devoted to heel flipping, nose stalling and bombing and tagging. But 10 days is an awfully short amount of time for a first-time trip to a place with as rich a history as Israel’s. Is it right to visit the skate park in Kfar Saba or hear a rap battle in Hebrew at the expense of a trip to Safed or the Dead Sea? Of course there’s nothing wrong with making those options available for those who wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
But what does it say about the organized Jewish community when the Israel trip experience it throws massive support behind is willing to organize skateboarding and hip hopping trips to Israel, but not one that is co-sponsored with J Street? That organization is far from leftist – it publicly supported Israel’s recent assault on Gaza and refuses to condemn Israel’s concentration camps for African refugees. But its meek criticism of Israel’s continued expropriation of Palestinian lands has rendered it off-the-spectrum untouchable for Birthright’s ultra-nationalist funders. For Birthright, Jay-Z is Jewish, but racial justice is Gentile.
Birthright refuses to send young Jews to Israel on a trip that will allow them to learn about the inequalities that plague Israeli society, so that they can apply themselves to erasing those inequalities, thereby improving that society. Its planned skateboarding and hip hopping-themed trips are revealed for the insulting exercise that they are: a marketing gimmick to reel in more ‘genetic’ Jews, getting them high on hormones and Ziojuana. All the better to brainwash them into accepting the political premises of Birthright’s paymasters: only mate with other Jews, never criticize Israel’s actions.
Goth Birthright? (Image: David Sheen)
Birthright dilutes the Israel experience to exclude the struggle for social justice for everyone living in the territories Israel controls, but tries to make it funky-fresh by co-branding it with cool. My response to Birthright’s skateboarding and hip hopping Israel trips is to ridicule them. I invite readers of Mondoweiss to make this a meme and create adverts for fictional Birthright trips that target only a tiny fraction of the Jewish community and have only negligible connection to Israel itself. I have provided you with the first five. What’s next? Steampunk Israel? Goth Israel? Trekkie Israel? Juggalo Israel? Planking Israel?!
Juggalo Birthright? (Image: David Sheen)
Maybe what the Jewish people needs right now is not more Jewish people coming on trips to Israel, but more Israeli people going on trips abroad. Not a trip to Israel for Jews living in the Diaspora to make them realize that they are connected to this land and these people, but a trip for Israeli Jews to other parts of the world, to make them realize that they are connected to everyone else on the planet. Maybe if more Israelis realized that we are all equally human, equally deserving of life and liberty, health and happiness, we’d be less likely to choose politicians who pursue policies that oppress other peoples. Instead of Birthright trips, maybe what the Jewish people really need is Earthright trips.