Culture, Global, Israel, Politics

Birthright Israel’s Policy of Exclusion

birthrightpic.jpgLike many, I am troubled by Birthright Israel’s decision to not allow Jews to attend a Birthright Israel program if they openly declare intentions to piggyback a Birthright Unplugged program afterwards.
I am troubled by this policy because it doesn’t go far enough.
All participants should be required to agree not to attend any anti-Israel program while on a trip that Birthright Israel has paid for.  Reneging on that agreement should constitute a breach of contract, and the participant should have to pay the full value of the plane ticket, room and board, and all financial expenditures provided for them on their trip.  Parents should be required to co-sign this clause, and be held financially liable if the agreement is broken.
Birthright Israel is sponsored by members and organizations of the American Jewish community. They have every right and a responsibility to their brand and their donors to set limits on who goes on their program. The very name “Birthright Unplugged” reveals disdain for the Birthright program, and demonstrates the predatory tactics of their recruitment drive
Additionally, while I am usually a big fan of encouraging young Americans to waltz into a geo-political conflict in a region they have never been before and decide what needs to change (cause we know everything, we’re Americans!), it is important to ask who is Birthright Unplugged, and what do they stand for? 
They certainly take pains to portray themselves as lesbian hippies concerned with social justice and human rights, and suggest  their own counter-culture marxist orientation is in line with the thinking of the leaders, if not the masses, of the generally Muslim led anti-Israel movements.

…many of us have chosen not to speak about our sexuality with our Palestinian hosts, even though we felt it was important to come out to our international comrades. 

As if this is a conflict between Left and Right.
And they know this isn’t the source of conflict, no matter how much time Mermelstein spent fighting all sorts of real and imagined forms of “racism” in her previous work. And they have one and only one solution. And it isn’t a drum circle.
The problem for this group is the State of Israel in its entirety. Their solution is to dissolve the Jewish state.  Absolutely nothing less will do for these women.
Come and Hear,
On the staff bios page, founders Dunya Alwan and Hannah Mermelstein boast that they are both members of the International Women’s Peace Service.  Note the language of an “apartheid wall.”  This is simply ridiculous. The fence is clearly a precursor to disengagement.  They know this.  They are concerned that unilateral disengagement might solve Israel’s demographic problem, and alleviate pressure from the international community.  So they call it something it is not in order to preempt its success. Apartheid is a hot and sexy concept, but it has nothing to do with this fence, which also serves as a defensive barrier to prospective infiltrators seeking a bus ride to eternity.  
There is nothing “international” in the focus of IWPS.  It is specifically dedicated to the destruction of Israel.  The first thing on the links page is to the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition.  
This is not because it is a human rights issue.  This is because that alone would do the trick of achieving a “one state solution.”
Some of the links in Birthright Unplugged are revealing as well.  Like to the Electronic Intifada, which contains a whole section of equivocation on why they don’t address the issue of suicide bombings.  Except for the real reason.  That they don’t want to their lose credibility with Islamic Fundamentalists.  And let’s not forget their link to our good friends at the International Solidarity Movement.  My, oh my, what a wonderful feeder Birthright Unplugged might prove for ISM.  Birthright Unplugged might be cautious to avoid conflict with the IDF, but a certain portion of their campers will certainly be interested in going to the next level, that is to say, to ISM.  Of course, ISM claims they are only interested in non-violent resistance.  In war zones.  But in a war zone, accidents will eventually happen.  And then you have martyrs.  Young, western martyrs. And those are a gold mine.  Can you imagine what a Jewish martyr would be like for ISM?  Oh, the blogs, the plays, and the endless crocodile tears that would follow.  See? This is about the Zionists, not Jews.  Many Jews are against Zionism.  They are also killed by Zionists!
And where is the transparency about whom, exactly, is backing Birthright Unplugged?  What are they afraid of?  Are there, perhaps, donations and cooperation from organizations that would discredit the claim that these are “Jewish” trips?
There have always been collaborators among the Jewish people.  And yes, in case there is any doubt, Birthright Unplugged is intent upon cultivating collaborators. 
What is horrifying to me are the comments on the last post by Jews who should know better but who are shockingly ambivalent about Birthright’s proper decision to remove Sierra from the list of participants. 
Don’t you see how we are being played? Did you not have Jewish grandparents? 
What is the matter with you people? This is basic stuff.  Don’t sponsor free trips half way around the world to those seeking to literally stand with the enemies of Israel against our own people. Let Hamas pay for such free trips.  And don’t take an ambivalent position about funding such a thing.   It’s an absurd suggested Jewish communal policy.  Say it.
A clear cut response is required.  Non-Zionists must stand in solidarity with Birthright Israel.  It is, overall, a good program.  A great program. Perhaps the best program the American Jewish community has created in decades. 
Long live Birthright Israel, and may she never be unplugged.

30 thoughts on “Birthright Israel’s Policy of Exclusion

  1. Birthright possibly the best program the American Jewish community has created in decades? WTF?
    Is this a DK value judgment or a comment on its efficacy in achieving the goals of the Am.Jew. community? Or are those the same thing? [cue twilight zone music, rokhl goes to clear head by smoking whatever DK is smoking]

  2. Birthright Unplugged is intent upon cultivating collaborators
    David, do you honestly as threatened by Jews who think differently than you as it seems? Or do you just find it a convenient rhetorical device? From labeling Birthright Unplugged as collaborators to your claims that the existence of moheletot (and, you seem to imply, Jewish feminism) is a “well of misandry,” you appear to view anyone with whom you disagree as an active and dangerous enemy.
    What’s more, you make your assertions on flimsy backing. Some of these are rude, but almost laughable, as when you write that the Birthright Unplugged staff portray themselves as “lesbian hippies” with no backing but a link to a section of their FAQ saying that LGBT folks are welcome on their trips. I find it sad that you assume that being queer-positive makes a woman a lesbian, let alone a hippie, but that’s pretty much your problem.
    I must admit, it does remind me of your assertion in the discussion of a post a few weeks ago that “a disproportionate amount of Mohelets are used ritually in interfaith brisses.” When I asked what that was based on, you provided me links to two articles, saying that one provided direct evidence adn the other was suggestive. When i read them and pointed out that one contained an anecdote and the other didn ‘t back your point at all, you replied, that you “couldn’t find what I thought I had read,” and so would would retract your assertion that you were sure, and just say that you were suspicious.
    So I wonder if that’s the sort of reasoning you used when you made the incredibly bold statement above that Birthright Unplugged’s “solution is to dissolve the Jewish state,” citing nothing to back up that claim. Putting words into someone’s mouth is a great way to make yourself sound right, but it’s a pretty weak mode of argument. Could you not find the things you thought you’d read to back that up?
    I happen to have met and talked with Hannah Mermelstein, and I frankly disagree with her on plenty (we have some friends in common, and I live in Boston). But I don’t know of her advocating the dissolution of the Jewish state. And considering what it means to call someone a collaborator, given the last century of Jewish history, I find it shameful that you would toss around such an accusation so lightly.

  3. And one other note–I have to admire the irony of DK putting words into the Birthright Unplugged founders’ mouths here. When Rabbi Jill Hammer paraphrased DK in her response to his accusations around moheletot, DK protested, writing, “In fact, you never quoted me once, just paraphrased.”
    How can you get upset at being paraphrased (particularly when your original essay is close at hand, in a forum where you can easily respond), when you aparently feel no compunction about making unsourced accusations and assigning beliefs to people who aren’t on this blog and don’t have a simple way to respond? Are some of us a bit more equal than others?

  4. Mr. Goat,
    Nothing to back up my claim? Go to the links I supplied. No- Go to the links they supply. Those partners in peace and love aren’t on this lefty site. They aren’t on any normative Jewish site.
    And since you are such good friends with Ms. Mermelstein, perhaps you could enlighten us about who she deals with in order to make these wonderful tours of Palestinian suffering possible and safe, and where they get their funding.
    And check out IWPS, which your good friend Ms. Mermelstein and her partner are such proud members of. You tell me what IWPS is advocating. What are they advocating, Mr. Goat, if not the destruction of the Jewish state?

  5. David:
    “They certainly take pains to portray themselves as lesbian hippies”
    That passage you link to addresses concerns about anti-queer attitudes in Gaza and the West Bank. If I were gay and travelling to a Muslim region, I sure as hell would want to know.
    Does simply discussing homophobia mean someone “takes pains to portray themself as a lebian hippie” in your eyes?
    I’m a proud Zionist, and no fan of Birthright Unplugged, but you do seem to think that people should keep their mouths shut about issues that make you uncomfortable.

  6. Best at creating something meaningful and lasting and worthwhile on a massive scale. Visiting Israel is a good thing, and does not translate into one experience or one ideology for everyone. But it is, overall, good for the Jewish community. I once went to an almuni gathering. These people were pumped. I never went on these trips, but everyone I have met seems to have gotten something positive out of it. I have seen nothing comparable coming from the mainstream Jewish organizational community on this level. Have you?

  7. Joe,
    It seems to me that the gay and Lesbian issue is being used (among other things) as proof that this is a Left-wing movement.
    But indigenous resistance to Israel’s existence is not Left-wing. Not one bit. That’s what bothers me.

  8. First off, DK, I wrote that I “have met and talked with Hannah Mermelstein” and that we have some friends in common. I’m not sure what you’re trying to achieve by sneeringly referring to Hannah as my “good friend” (twice!), but it makes you sound overheated and silly.
    And I have to say, I continue to be amazed at the level of your rhetoric. “The destruction of the Jewish state” is the sort of phrased generally attributed to Hamas. For you to toss it around in reference to Jews who oppose the occupation strikes me as little more than demonization.
    But to reply to your questions, no, I haven’t asked Hannah where she gets her funding. Do you ask people you know tangentially, including those you argue with, where they get funding for their projects? Do you expect all non-profits to list their funders on their websites? And if you feel that they’re hiding something, have you asked them? There’s contact info listed on the Birthright Unplugged site. I know that blogging isn’t traditional journalism, but talking with the people you write about is often seen as good practice. If the people are really as abhorrent as you seem to think these two women are, you should be able to use what they say to bolster your point. Did you think of trying that?
    Let’s see. A list of the links on the Birthright Unplugged site? I don’t have time to go through them one-by-one (and I doubt that anyone wants to read a point-by-point critique of the organization’s linsk), but let’s list them. Here we go:
    Palestinian Organizations and Resources:
    BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
    Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
    Palestine Remembered
    Stop the Wall
    Israeli Organizations
    B’Tselem (Israeli human rights org)
    Gush-Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc)
    The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
    New Profile
    International Organizations in Palestine:Bina Kehilla & The Peace Yeshiva
    Christian Peacemaker Teams
    International Solidarity Movement
    International Women’s Peace Service
    US-Based Organizations:
    Jewish Voice for Peace (based in San Francisco, with member organizations around the country)
    Palestine Solidarity Movement (nationwide campus movement, focusing on divestment)
    U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (based in DC, with member organizations around the country)
    Visions of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine, Boston chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace
    News & Commentary:
    Al Jazeera
    Alternative Information Center
    Electronic Intifada
    International Middle East Media Center
    The Palestine Chronicle
    Palestine Media Watch
    Palestine News Network
    So to start with, your comment that “those partners in peace and love aren’t on this lefty site” is not entirely accurate. ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, IS linked here. Moreover, there are 17 links to organizations on Jewschool most of them US-based. The vast majority of links here are to blogs and publications, as well as a section of minyanim and yeshivot. So I hardly think that exclusion from this lefty site is a measure of normativity.
    And let’s look at the other links. There are several which I don’t know, but many of those that I do–Btselem, Gush Shalom, Jewish Voice for Peace, Visions of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine–are certainly not calling for the destruction of Israel.
    Some of these are groups I don’t like. I think that the campus movement for divestment from Israel is often motivated by a level of anti-Semitism, though I also think that it comes from application of the models of South Africa and Burma to Israel. It’s not an appropriate model to apply here, but I wouldn’t say that anyone who advocates is advocates the destruction of the Jewish state.
    There’s the ISM, of course, which you mention in your post. I don’t like the ISM, largely because I don’t think that they confront anti-Semitism and many of them are adventurists trying to do something dramatic. But I also know people who’ve been on ISM trips who are principled, support jews, and oppose the occupation. I’ve yet to see evidence that the ISM supports terrorism, much as the Israeli consulate likes to say it.
    And IWPS. As I mentioned before, I disagree with Hannah on a lot, and this is one of the biggest things. I don’t like IWPS’s links on its website about “isolating Israel,” I don’t like much of their rhetoric, and I don’t like that I hear nothing from them of Jewish identity or concerns. But from all I’ve read and heard (and yes, I’ve even read about it before tonight!), their main activities involve working on olive harvests, supporting marches and other nonviolent protests, and traveling through checkpoints with Palestinians. If they were working to destroy Israel, they’d be doing a pretty lousy job of it.
    So DK, I think I’ve replied to everything you wrote. I tend to place the burden of proof on one making an accusation, particularly when they’re accusations as weighty as yours. And I don’t think you’ve proved them. Others can make their decisions as they wish, and I suspect that we’ll read some of them here.

  9. David,
    As a Birthright alum and pround alum of the Hebrew University’s study-abroad program, you are completely wrong. When I attended Birthright Israel my sophomore year of college, I came to it because it was the only opportunity for me to visit a country that had strongly characterized my experience at my college. I had never been to Israel but felt like I shared largely in how it was percieved in America. In my interview, I said I was sympathetic to those who suffered under the occupation. Anti-Israel propaganda abounded at Sarah Lawrence College, and I went on Birthright to receive just that, another propagandistic perspective on Israel. It is my right, as it is every Jew’s, to visit the Land of Israel. Birthright is just that, a gift to every Jew who hasn’t yet been afforded the opportunity to visit his homeland. However, Birthright was designed by living human beings, not Hashem, nor by the ideologists who envisioned the state. You’re opinion on the Birthright attendance of left-wing, anti-zionist, or maybe even curious Jewish students shouldn’t be contigent on whether they want to experience an antizionist Birthright. Reprehensible. Ugh. I wish I had gone on Birthright unplugged. Maybe it would have helped me better understand why Jewish people blind to the importance of understanding and experiencing antizionism fall so short in adding something new to the discussion of the Arab Israeli conflict.
    -di geto zinger.

  10. Did you not have Jewish grandparents?

    What’s up with this vitriol? DK, try reading (and understanding) the beautiful Soloveitchik quote that comes at the end of every post page.
    Does the editorial policy –the right to refuse comments deemed inappropriate or unhelpful. Users who repeatedly delve into ad hominem attacks or other troll-like behavior will be bannednot apply to contributors? I think this comment is below the belt.
    Cut the hysteria. It’s unbecoming to the debate and less becoming to birthright.
    (And – my own soapbox – avert the controversy by requiring all birthrighters to come and leave together. If you’re gonna let them extend their ticket, you can’t impose an ideological litmus test of any kind. If Ahmed Tibi can serve in the Knesset for years and years with no apparent detriment to the state, I think Sierra can visit the West Bank for six days….)

  11. That woman Hannah Mermelstein is insane. She came to speak at my school and I’ve read through her journals which are somewhere online. Frankly I think Birthright should threaten them with legal action over Trademark infringement as they use the Birthright name. The only problem with implementing your suggestion is that you are, in effect, publicizing their subversive program.

  12. Now – as to the proposal itself:

    All participants should be required to agree not to attend any anti-Israel program while on a trip that Birthright Israel has paid for.

    Who gets to define anti-Israel? American Friends of Betar or American Friends of Peace Now? Or the mega-philanthropists who pay for birthright israel?
    What about the fact that Taglit: birthright israel is jointly funded by American supporters and the Israeli government? So, again, who decides? Yossi Beilin or Avigdor Lieberman? A.B. Yehoshua or Shlomo Amar? Or maybe – Ahmed Tibi MK?

    Parents should be required to co-sign this clause, and be held financially liable if the agreement is broken.

    birthright participants are 18-25. In other words, they’re legally independent adults. Parents aren’t part of this equation at all.

    This proposal is undefinable and unenforceable.

  13. Maybe it would have helped me better understand why Jewish people blind to the importance of understanding and experiencing antizionism fall so short in adding something new to the discussion of the Arab Israeli conflict.
    Ah yes, experiencing anti-Zionism. I’ve had rocks thrown at me by Arab children and seen the “Beware the bite of the Zionist dogs” graffiti in Meah She’arim, but it didn’t really give me any insights other than, “Boy, having rocks thrown at you sure does suck.” But you’re right, experiencing anti-Zionism is so vital to the people to whom anti-Zionism will, at worst, result in the loss of a nice vacation spot. Sometimes it’s hard to get such an enlightened perspective when anti-Zionism means you and your friends and your family may very well be shot or blown up or horribly maimed. Clearly, what is actually needed is American Jews who have no intention of becoming Israelis to take a brief tour of Palestinian areas led by people who would rather Israel didn’t exist and then, fortified with an understanding of anti-Zionism, go back to America and fix all our problems for us. Oh joy! Thank God for those Birthright Unplugged alumni who have managed to absorb so much knowledge and sophistication in their week in the PA that they can see beyond those myopic people who actually, y’know, live in Israel, and look forward towards a brighter day! I sleep safely at night knowing that they’re on the case.
    Now as for you, Kelsey, you devil, how long have you been hiding this pro-Israel screed? Didn’t it feel good to let all that out? Embrace the dark side, Kelsey…mountains of falafel await you…

  14. shame on everyone for dismissing people as “lesbian hippies,” as if that meant something. it’s as bad as calling someone a dirty jew. shame on all of you.

  15. Sarah,
    As I said, it is part of a general false framing of this conflict as a Leftist cause by Mermelstein, when that simply isn’t the conflict. Same with Mermelstein’s quilt making. That isn’t what the Palestinians are fighting for. Gay rights,quilts, and inclusivity. It is simply not the reality of the conflict. Mermelstein is either disengeous or out of her mind. Judging by her blog, she is both.

  16. I think Shawn above makes some very good points
    (1) Since the program is funded by the Israeli government. and ~20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs wouldn’t it be logical for the government to also fund a “Birthright Palestine” program so that descendents of Palestianian refugees can come and view the olive groves of their grandfathers or something like that?
    After all, it IS taxpayer money.
    (2) As Shawn pointed out, the controversy exists because people are allowed to wander around for themselves after the Birthright thing ends. If they made everyone come and leave immediately after the 10 days then no one could meet with any “undesirables” afterwards and this controversy wouldn’t exist.
    OR they could just keep doing their shpiel, let people meet with whoever they want and let them come to whatever conclusions they come up with.
    I actually suspect this would be more effective since people would feel they are getting “both sides.” As it is they are making Birthright Unplugged look more tempting as the “forbidden fruit.” Not to mention giving them more publicity.
    Birthright: Um, they are these guys who are really, really, really bad. Make sure you don’t hook up with them. They have subversive unacceptable opinions.
    Birthright attendee: Oh, REALLY. Who are these people so we can make sure not to contact them? What is their web site so we can make sure not to visit it?
    Anyway, I really hope the younguns are able to fight this attempted thought-control, do their own investigation and come to their own conclusions (whether they end up turning out as kahanists or anti-zionists).

  17. interestingly you label birthright as thought control… does that go for everyone that tries to pass on their own message? I mean is birthright forced upon these poor ignorant children who will blindly believe anything? Or do they choose to go on the trip…. because last time I checked, to voluntarily go on a trip that is obviously going to support the Israeli side of the argument does not constitute thought-control.
    Or maybe I’m missing the point and people still don’t understand that birthright doesn’t have to pay for your plane tickets to get that other perspective.
    go read a book, or ask Hamas for the money.

  18. David Kelsey is absolutely right. It’s their money and they have every right to spend or withold it as they see fit.
    Of course, ownership is a foreign concept according to the hippies that wonder on these pages.

  19. Thank G-d Sierra is not my daughter. What an embarrasment. My daughter returned form Israel /Birthright with a new since of her Jewish heritage and Zionism. She went on the March of the Living to pay respects to our dead/killed Uncle in Madjanek….not to pay her respect to the Palis.

  20. Shame on you Mr Goat How dare you advocate people to go on anti Israel programs in Israel after being funded on a program such as Birthright Israel. Birthright unplugged does not advocate a two state solution. It advocates the destruction of the Jewish State with replacement with a binational state! Birthright Israel mission is to foster the love for Israel as a Jewish state. If one wants to go on Birthright unplugged or ISM let them pay for it on thier own.
    Birthright must ban those that go on Birthright unplugged or ISM!
    ISM is anti Israel organization who wants a one state solution. This was masked by Lee Kaplan from front page maghazine

  21. First off, when I get yelled at by someone called “David” who doesn’t identify himself AND quotes Front Page magazine, I must ask: have I gotten a reply from the mighty Mr. Horowitz? I doubt that I’ve earned such an honor but if so, wow. Front page is one of the funniest publications out there. They did a great piece on my alma mater, Oberlin, as a haven for America-haters and terrorists that was one of the best laughs I got in a while.
    But I get the impression that you didn’t actually read what I wrote. Where do I “advocate people to go on anti Israel programs in Israel after being funded on a program such as Birthright Israel”? Can you point to the comment? I don’t think that you’ll find it. You’ll find my criticizing DK’s rhetoric, and saying that I don’t think that it’s appropriate to call people things like “traitors” and “collaborators.” I criticized his calling the BU founders “lesbian hippies.” When DK challenged me to do so, I went through the list of links and said that I didn’t find any that merited the title of enemies, though I also stated plainly that I disliked many of the organizations, including the ISM.
    But I didn’t say who should or shouldn’t go on the Brithright trips. Birthright Israel is a private organization–I agree with DK on that. I think that they should be clear on their standards and state it plainly if their policy is that they won’t take people who go on trips like BU afterwards, but that’s their call.
    What I really object to is the level of rhetoric that refers to groups like BU as “collaborators,” “traitors,” or people trying to “destroy Israel.” There IS a tension between democracy and a state based on an identity, whether it’s Jerry Falwell calling for a Christian state or Israel as a Jewish state. Birthright Unplugged cearly has one set of views on this, though I’ve no clue how much they talk about it on their trips. Birthright Israel has other views on it, though I’m told they don’t discuss it on trips. I haven’t been on either.
    Frankly, if your approach is to call shame on me because I talk about the kind of divisive rhetoric being used here, you’re mostly just proving my point. And I don’t feel ashamed.

  22. America was founded as a nuetral democracy where there was a seperation of Church and state without a state religion. Israel was founded as a democracy which was a state for the Jewish people. Since Judaism is a peoplehood and a creed then Israel can legaly be a democracy and a Jewish State! America was founded as a geograhical neutal democracy the united states cannot be called a Christian country. Fawell can want a Christan nation however there is a seperation of Church and State. America was founded by those who left Europe and did not want an official state religon. Israel was founded by the Jewish people which is a creed and a peoplehood!
    Israel can be a democracy and a Jewish state. Israel is not America!

  23. America was founded by those who left Europe and did not want an official state religon.
    Don’t you think that’s a bit simplistic, David? The Puritans were intensely religious, and were known for persecuting religious minorities like Quakers. There’s a statue of one such Quaker, Mary Dyer, on the grounds of the State House in Boston today. She was hanged on Boston Common. Sounds like official state religion to me. The movement toward the first amendment was slow and contested, like most things in history. And tensions certainly have remained–school prayer was only outlawed in the latter half of the 20th century. That’s a lot of the history folks like Falwell draw on.
    Since Judaism is a peoplehood and a creed then Israel can legaly be a democracy and a Jewish State!
    Not sure I follow your reasoning there. How does peoplehood and creed yield democracy and Jewish state? Particularly when there were non-Jews living there when it was founded?

  24. i was invited to attend birthright israel ….i was flattered but seeing as i am a forty year old goy i didn’t think it apropriate……
    i paid for my own ticket and had a fantastic time….
    what an amazing country…..everyone should go……i mean everyone!

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