Israel, Politics

** birthright israel removes participant who planned to go on Birthright Unplugged **

birthright israel’s faq claims that their trips are “open to all Jewish young adults… who have not traveled to Israel before on a peer educational trip… regardless of religious affiliation, community involvement or financial wherewithal.” Apparently now there’s an additional condition to add to the list: openness to seeing another side of the story.
Yesterday, Sierra, a birthright israel participant was dropped from the trip because she was planning to travel to the West Bank with Birthright Unplugged following the birthright israel program. Birthright Unplugged is a 6-day educational trip around the West Bank that gives mostly young North American Jews the opportunity to meet Palestinians and learn about daily life under the occupation.
Call birthright israel and tell them what you think about their attempt to stop people from learning firsthand about the situation in Israel/Palestine. birthright israel phone number: 888-99-ISRAEL (994-7723). Israel Outdoors program (the specific program Sierra planned to go on): 800-566-4611.
Support Sierra to come on Birthright Unplugged. Send a message to birthright israel that they can’t stop people from learning! Now that she is not going on a Birthright Israel trip, she needs to raise the money for a plane ticket if she wants to join the Unplugged trip. Contact [email protected] if you can make a donation to help buy Sierra a plane ticket. Let them know how much you are able to give. To learn more about how to donate, click here

41 thoughts on “** birthright israel removes participant who planned to go on Birthright Unplugged **

  1. “Call birthright israel and tell them what you think about their attempt to stop people from learning firsthand about the situation in Israel/Palestine”

  2. After speaking with the representative of the Israel Outdoors program, I was able to find out that this story has a interesting sitra ahrah. It seems as though Sierra had been emailing with someone, telling them she was going to use the Birthiright (Hillel) trip for the plane ticket and then ditch the trip to go on Birthright (Unplugged). The people at Hillel were forwarded these emails and decided that she should not be allowed to take advantage of their program if she was not going to participate. The woman I spoke to said they have no problem with anyone going to the Palestinian territories to see the “other side” AFTER they were through with the Hillel trip.
    I am still undecided about how to balance the two stories next to each other, but I would be very interested in seeing what Sierra’s emails actually said in order to judge better for myself.
    Baruch ha’noten critical thinking.

  3. Check out birthright unplugged’s press release. Sierra wanted to go on both birthright israel and Birthright Unplugged in order to meet both Israelis and Palestinians and hear narratives from each as well. It’s not that she was trying to get a free flight for Birthright Unplugged, she wanted both perspectives.

  4. Is it still not a free flight for “Birthright Unplugged”?
    This is just propaganda, the use of the word, “occupied” throughout was apparent and even the name of the program is clearly intended to rile birtright supporters.

  5. no way would I call and support this. Taglit is an amazing program always infiltrated by Sierra types and Jews 4 jesus…my daughter had a J4J show her true colors on the pre trip message boards.
    Let Sierra find a PLO sponsored trip. Nah…they don’t have the funds except for bombs…maybe she is The Bomb!

  6. 1) Organizations have the right to set their own rules for eligibility of their participants.
    2)” Call birthright israel and tell them what you think about their attempt to stop people from learning firsthand about the situation in Israel/Palestine.”
    As far as I can tell from having known many participants and staff members of birthright trips, the goal is to get young Jews to connect with The State/Land/people/culture of Israel not to learn about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I think that this should be a feature of the trip, no question but Birthright has decided not to focus on this issue on favor of other identity shaping, community building and connection making areas of the country. Why on earth would an organization that has these goals allow one of its participants to take part in a trip that could possibly undo the connection made over the previos ten days?
    3) She was a bit naive. Birthright participants extend their tickets in Israel all the time. She didn’t have to tell Birthright what she wanted to do after the trip, only that she wanted to stay longer. She made a mistake.

  7. Uzi says “Birthright has decided not to focus on [the Israeli-Pal. conflict] on favor of other identity shaping, community building and connection making areas of the country.”….you mean they have decided not to focus on it in order to maintain their funding from the American Jewish institutions…

  8. Absolutely, Sierra should be supported. What are people on this thread so afraid of? That maybe Sierra will learn about things you don’t want her to? People should be able to travel to the West Bank and see the affects and impact of the occupation for themselves.

  9. It would be foolish to ignore the specific political views of birthright’s sources of funding. Of course that is part of the equation. Still, I go back to the goals of the trip: Getting young Jews to connect to Israel. I have no doubt that studying the Israeli/Palestinian conflict first hand is a meaningful and life changing encounter (If I were given the opportunity I would do it in a New York minute). The question is whether this is the best way to foster links between American Jews and the State of Israel. Taglit/Birthright has decided that it is not.

  10. From the birthright unplugged website FAQs: “What should I tell Israeli airport authorities & leaders of my Israel program?”
    So clearly the program is meant to piggyback off of birthright. Knowing that, why in the hell should birthright (i.e. US and Canadian Jews, the Israeli government, etc.) pay for the airfare?

  11. I don’t get it. What’s the problem? Should they also be giving free tickets to students who openly declare they want to jump in front of bulldozers? Conditions for privately funded trips sounds fair to me.

  12. Taglit is an amazing program always infiltrated by Sierra types and Jews 4 jesus
    Um, are you equating “Sierra types”–by which I’m guessing you mean someone who is interested in going on a trip through the West Bank, since we know nothing else about her “type”–to Jews for Jesus? I’m really hoping that you meant something else, though I’m having trouble finding it.

  13. This is disgusting.
    So they are ACTIVELY discouraging people from getting a different perspective in addition to theirs?
    This just shows the real intentions and limitations of this program.

  14. Well, the great thing is that probably at least a good %10 of this illustrious 100,000 lied to get on these trips anyways.
    It’s nice to see someone like Sierra being rewarded for honestly.
    It’s a shame that she now won’t get one of Neil Lazarus’s “awesome” seminars during which he explains that Yasir Arafat used to wear his kaffiyah in the shape of Israel, and that Israel advocacy can be achieved by simply dodging any difficult question.
    She’s really gonna miss out….

  15. While Birthright Israel, as a private organization, has a right to deny anyone a trip, that doesn’t mean they should. Whatever an individual does after the Birthright trip is none of Birthright’s business.
    I do give the individual props for being honest. It’d have been much easier to lie. (But do the ends justify the means? That’s a whole other conversation.) Even though I’m biased in favor of Israel, I think she (or was it “he”?) should go on the second trip. Gaining more education about and insight into the complex political situation in the Middle East has never hurt anyone.

  16. I’m not suprised. Imagine Sierra gets, G-d forbid, hurt or killed and all the papers read “… traveling with Birthright Unplugged”. That’s some really bad press for Birthright proper right there. Given that, I’m surprised that Birthright Unplugged is allowed to eve have that name – you think it’d be copyrighted, although maybe Birthright’s a non-profit and that figures in there somehow (can anyone expound on this?)

  17. I agree…she has the right to all perspectives. But, if that’s what she wants she should be paying for it from her pocket, not using birthright israel for the free plane ride…

  18. Can’t say I’m on anyone’s side here. In fact, it’s a close call to figure out who annoys me less. Probably Sierra. I’m all for gaming the system. She wants to capitalize on the free tickets offered by Birthright- good for her. Just be smart about it. and keep it on the down low. But now that she’s blown it, somehow I’m supposed to step in and come up with the cash? Do I look like Michael Steinhardt? I mean, what really annoys me about the birthright trip is the name- Birthright. If you’re under 26 you have a god given right to an expensive airplane ticket and and vacation in Israel. Frankkly, she wants to connect with her Jewishness? I know it’s a radical idea, but she hardly needs to fly across the world to plug into a deep religious, cultural and spiritual Jewish community. A summer in New York City, done right, could accomplish a lot more. Course she, or her parents, might actually have to pay for it. Yikes!
    Pardon me for suggesting that perhaps these kids don’t “deserve” anything and if they’re given something, by a group with an agenda, no matter what the whitewashing of that agenda is, that’s a privilege, not a right. Michael Steinhardt, for whatever reasons, may want to frame our connection to Israel as a “birthright”, but let’s not get confused. Michael Steinhradt isn’t god, though I’ve heard he has more money than god.
    Furthermore, Sierra wants to experience more sides to the story? That’s great, I only wish it were a binary, like, visit to Masada plus visit to West Bank equals whole story of Israel-Arab conflict. But, point to Sierra (!) she showed the initiative to seek out more than what was being fed to her. Huzzah! It’s not like a visit to the West Bank comes with a membership card to the ISM. Hell, I know people who went to Arafat’s funeral and came back, existing Zionism intact (me, I sent a card. I thought that was sufficient).
    All I see here, in the end, is tons of money, and resources, being poured into connecting young, unaffiliated Jews to the many sides of propaganda in the Israel-Palestine conflict. If that’s my birthright, well, becoming a Quaker is looking better every day.

  19. I don’t see what she’s “gaming.” People who criticize her are assuming that she is “just using” Birthright, and “really” just wants to go on unplugged.
    Who are you to say she’s not sincere in her desire to go on Birthright Israel, and just also wants to do something else afterwards? Because only Israel-hating radicals would ever want to see the West Bank from a Palestinian perspective in the first place?

  20. Why should Birthright pay for someone to go hear Arab lies? Let this applicant tune in Al Jazeera instead. Arab lies are free there.

  21. If Taglit/birthright Israel doesn’t want people to “game” the system, then it should require that _everyone_ arrive together and leave together. End of story.
    However, f birthright israel continues to permit participants to stay for independent exploration, then it should not impose a litmus test. Sierra should be free to participate in Birthright Unplugged no less than, say, “Birthright Gush Katif.” If she had announced that she wanted to cross the Green Line to spend six days in settler outposts, would she have been dropped from the program?
    That said, clearly there is an issue with the name, “birthright unplugged.” That probably is copyright infringement, since “unplugged” doesn’t clearly convey that it is run by a separate organization. For all I know, “birthright unplugged” could be an eco-friendly bicycle version of the regular birthright. So I agree with those who would like the name changed. Still, this is a separate issue from whether or not participants who extend their stays should have to get their travel plans approved on ideological grounds.
    I return to my simple solution. Run birthright like March of the Living and everything else: make the participants arrive together and leave together. Then there’s absolutely no question of whose program pays for what.

  22. The biggest problem I have with the conversation going on is that people don’t understand that a private organization has a right to deny whoever they want. If Birthright wants people to develop ties with Israel, they get to choose how to do that. They are not obligated to shoot themselves in the foot with their own money.

  23. I agree with Shawn’s post too, which i hadn’t read before posting… But the reason they allow that is if someone really falls in love with Israel and wants to build an even deeper conection they can stay longer (at least I imagine that is their hope). I agree with whoever said that she should have just thought about it, and not told them. I’m all for hearing both sides, but birthright isn’t going to ok that if she is upfront about it, and they shouldn’t. Sometimes honesty isn’t the right way to get the “right” thing done.

  24. I honest-to-God can’t understand the seemingly constant, deeply pernicious tendency to conflate people’s rights (what they CAN do) with their obligations (what they SHOULD do). This discussion has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATEVER to do with whether or not the propagandists at Birthright have a right to withhold their funds based on the dangerous sin of having an open mind. They almost surely do (qualified only by the theoretical possibility that they might previously have issued some conflicting directives before the present purge). The question here is what is the fair, decent, and ethical thing to do, and the statement that they have a “right” to do as they please is a complete non sequitur. Indeed, given their inclinations, they’ll likely consider instituting a policy prohibiting trip members from talking to Arabs, Muslims, Peace Now activists, union members, socialists, and assorted other subversives and fellow travelers. The proposition would undoubtedly elicit an enthusiastic reception here at Jewschool.

  25. Birthright simply needs to add one more program: “Birthright Unplugged Unplugged” to deprogram/reprogram these little Jewish Patty Hearsts.

  26. these little Jewish Patty Hearsts.
    So first Elaiine cmopares Sierra to Jews for Jesus, and no you’re comparing Birthright Unplugged to an heiress turned quasi-revolutionary bank robber? Way to keep the level of discourse up here.

  27. Regarding the Birthright name:
    Check it out.
    I have no value judgement on this one, and it’s a separate conversation, but I will add that I accidentally directed a good number of students to this site during my Hillel days.

  28. The whole purpose of Birthright is to sway a/J public opinion into supporting Israel “on campus” (I thought the battlegrounds were in nablus, but what do i know?) — all the rest is bunk. So its obvious that they would kick her off the trip.

  29. Birthright and brunplugged are both advacy groups and have a right to attempt to influence Jews as each deems fit. Each has the right to set the rules for their participants. I don’t think you’d find Young Democrats of UCLA bussing their members to a year of seminars by the Republican National Committee.

  30. I’ve always complained about Birthright’s avoidance of the West Bank – after all, most college-age American Jews have campus activists thrusting this issue in their faces, why not let them see the facts on the ground?
    Like how they can see the airport they landed in – and all of Tel-Aviv – from my backyard in the West Bank, and how it’s all within missile range?
    But then again – I’m an Israeli settler. Even Birthright Unplugged doesn’t include us in their definition of “balance”…

  31. Poor Ben-David, left out of the equation. It’s a good thing that some settlers tried to make up for it by stoning and spitting on a group from Birthright Unplugged.
    You or your parents chose to be in a settlement. If you’re in a legal settlement, you’ve gotten lots of government support to be there, so I’m not too sympathetic. If you’re in an illegal settlement, you’re breaking the law–while Sierra is just pushing (and not clearly breaking) Birthright policy. So again, I’m not too sympathetic to the fact that “even Birthright Unplugged doesn’t include [you] in their definition of ‘balance.'” Sorry.

  32. this may be too late but there are alternative birthright trips – the union of progressive zionists and the hagshama dept. have partnered to bring israeli social and palestinian issues to the forefront of their trip… it’s worth checking out- you do all the birthright things of kotel and traveling but with a social justice bent.
    you know you want to!

  33. “Check out birthright unplugged’s press release”
    Whoa, stop right there, buddy.
    It’s a *press release*.
    As in written *by* Birthright Unplugged, to make BU look as good as possible and to send a carefully-crafted message that supports their agenda.
    If you think press releases are trustworthy, objective sources of unbiased information, I have some beachfront property in Be’er-Sheva to sell you.

  34. So I know – maybe Taglit-birthright israel should also let Jews for Jesus on their trips? huh? I have NOTHING against birthright unplugged or against Jews for Jesus, but I DO have a problem with a kid lying to get a fantastic gift and then going on a program which contradicts the one which would actually pay for her to get her… U want to do birthright unplugged – FINE – but pay for it yourself…. You want to be a Jew for Jesus – FINE, but make your own way yo Israel. Taglig-birthright israel is a program with a purpose – and that is NOT to pay for freeloaders – go get a life!

  35. So Abby, could you explain why you and others are comparing Sierra to Jews for Jesus? Is it just a convenient demonizing tool? You may dislike her politics, but to question her Judaism, even by implication, is pretty asinine.
    As for your comment that she’s a freeloader, multiple people have pointed out that many Birthright participants stay on for other programs and/or personal travel. If Birthright wants to insist that people leave the country together, they can do so. And if they want to make explicit that certain other programs are or aren’t legit for people to participate in, they can do so. But without those policies, I hardly see how you can call Sierra a freeloader any more than you can call someone who goes ona Birthright trip in order to visit a friend in Tel Aviv a freeloader.
    Regardless of one’s thoughts on Sierra or Brithright Israel, the tone of this discussion–and the following two related posts–have been filled with vitriol and name-calling. It certainly violates the spirit of Rav Soloveitchik’s quote, and it’s quite sad.

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