Max Steinberg is a 24-year-old American who was just killed in Gaza, fighting for the Israeli Defense Forces. He visited Israel for the first time in 2012 on a Birthright trip, the program that sends American Jews to Israel, and he drank the Koolaid. His parents had never been to Israel.
At Slate, Allison Benedikt asserts that he was indoctrinated by Birthright to believe he should fight for Israel. And she blames Birthright for his death:
There are many people to blame for Steinberg’s death. There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame…
Benedikt quotes Kiera Feldman’s great expose of Birthright and mentions the sexual tourism element of the trips. Her piece refers to Zionism once — the “Zionist claim to the land”– and it never uses the word indoctrination. But it’s about indoctrination. When will 60 Minutes do this story about dubious and dangerous allegiance?
[Steinberg’s] mother told the Washington Post that, initially, he didn’t want to go on the Birthright trip, but once he did, it changed him. It was on his group’s visit to Israel’s national cemetery at Mount Herzl that Steinberg saw the grave of an American “lone soldier” who died fighting for Israel and “decided that Israel was where he wanted to be.” He joined the IDF, his father said, because he saw it as an obligation were he to stay in Israel…
And some healthy cynicism about indoctrination:
What makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew and no ties to the state of Israel suddenly decide he is ready to make this sacrifice? Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it. That serving and protecting the Jewish people was the moral thing to do, and that the best way to accomplish it was to go fight for the Jewish state. It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.