Global, Politics

Birthright arm advocates against Iran deal

A provider of Birthright follow-up programming has mobilized its alumni to lobby Congress against today’s historic Iran deal. “The Alumni Community” is a program of the Jewish Enrichment Center (JEC), an orthodox kiruv group and formerly the exclusive provider of Birthright alumni activities in the New York City area.

Today the Alumni Community announced its opposition to the Iran deal in an email to its estimated 15,000 Birthright alumni and posted to its 2,000-follower Facebook page. The messages included phone numbers to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut congressional offices.

"Today was an important day for the State of Israel. After 20 months of negotiations, an agreement has been reached with Iran on their nuclear program. The United States Congress now has sixty days to review the agreement, holding public debates and committee hearings, and will choose to approve or reject the deal. You can help the State of Israel by contacting your congressman and senator and requesting that they reject this deal and override President Obama's veto of their decision. Call their Washington offices and make your voice heard."
JEC’s Birthright page Facebook post 7-14-2015
The email offered at greater length, “As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the world this morning, ‘This is a bad mistake of historic proportions.'” before linking to video of Netanyau’s bombastic speech and AIPAC’s web site.
In previous days, their Facebook page has also featured so-called Iran experts by the Clarion Project, an anti-Muslim group that has poured millions of dollars into fear mongering films and is identified by anti-hate watchdogs as part of the “Islamophobic network.” The speaker in question, an Israeli warhawk, achieved notoriety among Israelis when he called secular Israelis “Hebrew-speaking Gentiles” and said on a military ethics panel that hesitant soldiers should be executed.
JEC Facebook post Clarion Project 7-14-2015
Clarion Project event posted to JEC’s Birthright Facebook page
While global and American news sources are hailing a “historic” deal with far-reaching benefits for Middle East stability and against nuclear proliferation, American Jewish reactions have been divided along predictable political lines. The ZOA and Jewish Republicans denounced it, J Street and Americans for Peace Now celebrated it.
In 2011, Birthright Israel NEXT formally severed ties from JEC for its decidedly anti-pluralist post-trip programming. JEC had been offering events that were exclusively orthodox and Republican, upsetting participants and community institutions alike. JEC speakers included a health care industry lobbyist against Obamacare, foreign policy hawk John Bolton, and controversial conservative pundit Dick Morris, all without counterpoint. And JEC’s ultra-orthodox religious agenda is well-documented, pioneered by Jewschool’s own David Kelsey. Although the group has never said so publicly, alumni and outside observers have proved that convincing Birthright alumni to adopt an ultra-orthodox lifestyle is a central focus.
JEC Alumni Community logoThese incidents prompted Birthright NEXT to sever the exclusivity arrangement and take steps to offer its own, more pluralistic post-trip events. But JEC was permitted to continue using the Birthright logo and offer programming to alumni. And it hasn’t stopped the Alumni Community from promoting views under the Birthright logo that are inimical to those of the vast majority of young American Jews.
In 2009, then-director of Birthright NEXT Rabbi Daniel Brenner was quoted in the Forward on the topic of lobbying: “If Birthright Israel is engaging in any kind of programming, we have got to maintain our integrity as a 501(c)(3). We cannot do anything that is considered to be political lobbying activity. And our partners cannot do that, either. So if it is a situation that our programming in any city is really pushing one political agenda or another, that would be a concern of mine.”
While it’s not legally accurate that 501(c)3s nonprofits can’t lobby at all, it’s certainly in Birthright’s long-term interest to offer alumni more than a far-right sliver of the political spectrum. Even though the Jewish establishment leans right on Iran, taking such a boldly arch-conservative stance will not only do little benefit for JEC. It will also distance those alumni over why some pro-Israel advocates eschew diplomacy and ally with Islamophobes.
We can only hope that the 15,000 unlucky members of the Jewish Enrichment Center’s mailing list are able to access less extreme, more open minded post-trip options. If those alumni are reading this and looking for a diversity of options, then I highly recommend a few listed in the Birthright NEXT city directory: any of the seven Moishe Houses, the JCC in Manhattan’s Birthright Passport, and Mechon Hadar. And here’s a few not on the list: Hazon, New Israel Fund’s New Generations, Keshet, Bend the Arc, and minyanim from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
Feel free to suggest more in the comments below.

One thought on “Birthright arm advocates against Iran deal

  1. Lunatic fringes in Iran must be replaced by secular forces. A civil war in Iran is needed to get the crazies out of office. It can be done by parachuting thousands of Sunni martyrs into the big cities. They will cause enough chaos to implode the Iranian economy.

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