Global, Identity, Israel, Politics

Birthright: J Street U too political for Birthright trip (and never mind that AIPAC trip…)

Last week, I blogged here that J Street U was going to begin offering its own Birthright trip this summer.
New Voices Editor Ben Sales reports that Birthright has unilaterally cancelled the trip, less than a week after announcing it!
J Street U President Moriel Rothman’s statement begins:

Within 48 hours of our announcement that J Street U was facilitating its first Birthright trip, “Explore Israel: Progressive Zionism and Social Justice,” over 100 students had signed up expressing interest in participating.

Rothman explains Birthright’s rationale (emphasis mine):

Despite their initial approval for a trip that would provide such an experience, Birthright’s leadership has now decided that it is inappropriate for J Street U to organize a trip because we are politically oriented, according to Israel Experience. Nonetheless, comparable organizations with different politics than ours participate and help organize trips every year. For instance, AIPAC’s “Capital to Capital” Birthright trip is designed for Jewish political activists who are “significantly involved in the American political process.”

So, in Birthright’s universe, there is one set of rules for those they agree with and another set secret rules for those they don’t agree with.
It’s pretty disturbing to see Birthright abandoning their mission like this. If their purpose is to get as many young Jews to Israel as they can, how can they possibly explain cancelling a trip that registered 100 people in the first two days following the trip’s announcement?

33 thoughts on “Birthright: J Street U too political for Birthright trip (and never mind that AIPAC trip…)

  1. This may clarify what happened:
    Official statement: “Taglit-Birthright Israel wishes to clarify that at no time did it approve of a Birthright Israel trip in association with JStreet, nor did it give its trip provider, the Israel Experience, any approval for such a trip. We did not rescind its approval as no approval was given in the first place.”
    also: “Taglit-Birthright Israel wishes to cater to the varied interests of its participants, including those interested in the Israeli political system. For years, we have run a Capital-to-Capital trip through another trip provider, which focuses on the Israeli political system. The provider has been running this trip, with input from AIPAC, a mainstream Israel advocacy group, long before JStreet was established. It focuses on Israel’s political structure, with an approach similar to a political science class; the trip has never been tilted to one side of the political spectrum. Needless to say, the trip organizer submitted a formal trip proposal which underwent rigorous review before it was approved.”
    looks like maybe you jumped the gun a bit with this post?

    1. This part:
      with input from AIPAC, a mainstream Israel advocacy group
      makes me suspicious of this part:
      the trip has never been tilted to one side of the political spectrum

  2. More pointedly…
    “Denying students the opportunity to engage with Israel in a way reflective of their commitment to justice and democracy does not serve the long-term interests of our community nor of Israel. Such a move tells students that a relationship to the Jewish homeland demands compromises many are unwilling to make. We will not let our connection to Israel be severed by those who, to quote Peter Beinart, “demand that we check our liberal values at Zionism’s door.””
    from Jstreet’s blog:

  3. Someone please explain how can an organization like j street that so desperately needs some good PR with all the controversy and negative attention, be so outrageously unprofessional at the highest levels as to try to force birthright into accepting their them as a trip partner? BTVS at least could be taken seriously. I just don’t get whats going on now in Washington.
    on a related note, i’m not sure how comfortable i feel anyway with j street pushing for UN condemnation of Israel in the Security Council.

  4. Without regard to the merits of this particular situation, I would remind you that the Jewish Establishment continues to operate in accord with the Golden Rule. He who has the gold makes the rule.

  5. So why doesn’t JStreetU start its own tours?
    We’ll see how many people go on its tours vs. how many go on Birthright’s.
    Those who can, do.
    Those who can’t, kvetch.

  6. J Street U should be recruiting activists to infiltrate other trips and come with talking points to refute official Israeli propaganda.

  7. “JStreetU should be recruiting activists to infiltrate other trips and come with talking points to refute official Israeli propaganda”
    Can you refute official Israeli propaganda when you’re falling down drunk in Tel Aviv?
    And if you can you may find that your listeners may not be receptive, or remember what you said the next day.
    What’s Hebrew for ‘wet noodle’?

  8. Desh–
    I wouldn’t say that Rothman and Sales jumped the gun necessarily.
    J street U has been working directly with Israel experience who told J street U that Birthright gave their approval. J street U has a record of these conversations from emails.

  9. J – Release the emails! Wikileak them!
    Dave, not all young people, even Birthright participants, are eagerly trying to get drunk every night. Though I’m pleased if they get to enjoy Tel-Aviv.

  10. Dave, please don’t perpetuate negative stereotypes of Birthright.
    BZ, you should take a look at the programming schedule of the AIPAC trips. The last time I cared was maybe 2008, and it was a very diverse selection – a wide assortment (ideologically) of Knesset members, representatives of multiple media outlets, etc. JStreet fanboys (and I love you) have this image of AIPAC as a maniacal right wing menace.
    Whatever the personal opinions of AIPAC staffers, the org runs an exceptionally tight ship on politics. They don’t endorse or condemn Israeli politicians, or their policies, unlike Jstreet. The speakers they send out around the country are from a wide ideological range. Heck, I think it was four years ago that AIPAC brought Peter Beinart, the new progressive darling, to Milwaukee. I still have the email:

    Please join us on Sunday, June 25, 2006
    American Israel Public Affairs Committee
    Annual Milwaukee Community Event
    Peter Beinart
    Editor-At-Large at The New Republic
    12:00pm Lunch & Program
    Dietary Laws Strictly Observed
    at The Peltz Center for Jewish Life
    2233 West Mequon Road
    Mequon, Wisconsin

    AIPAC sees themselves as representing the interests of Israeli governments in Washington, period. Can Jstreet say the same for itself? Would it want to represent anyone except itself (i.e. progressive American Jews) and what they think is best for Israel?
    I can see why Birthright chose to not bring JStreet on board. Bringing young American Jews to Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations is over the top to be considered remotely non-partisan. But hey, there’s always Birthright Unplugged.

  11. victor – only within the last year and a half has beinart taken on the public persona of a critic of the status quo re: israel and american zionism. before then, he was part of the new republic staff, which was and remains resolutely in support of the israel’s government’s actions and often propounds a neo-con perspective on foreign policy issues, so if anything, you just weakened your case.

  12. Just want to note that J-Street is not promoting a UN condemnation of Israel in the Security Counsel. They only said the US should consider not vetoing a resolution that both condemns settlement and calls for both sides to negotiate seriously for a two state solution.

  13. To Jeff Marker,
    By asking the U.S. to “consider” not vetoing the UNSC resolution condemning Israel, JStreet is promoting it.
    If JStreet has emails showing that Birthright agreed to allow them to organize a Birthright trip, they would have released them. It appears that once more JStreet is playing with the truth.

  14. IH, they brought him as a progressive Jewish voice. I remember it clearly. His entire presentation was about how support for Israel is solidly within progressive principles. Maybe he should review his own notes from that time.
    JM, it’s a distinction without a difference. A US vote to condemn Israel will result in a condemnation of Israel by the UNSC. A US abstention will result in a condemnation of Israel by the UNSC. Now, maybe you think Israel should be condemned by the UNSC for its settlement policies. But let’s not pretend that JStreet’s approach is anything but an open door for condemnation of Israel at the UNSC – a committee whose decisions are binding. This is big boy stuff, and people are paying attention.
    Obama is free to do what he wants. If the US fails to veto this resolution the man will not see a second term as President – at least not with Jewish money and institutional backing, which is half the Dem’s gameplan. That’s just reality. When even people like Ackerman start speaking out, you know the Jewish community – 95% of it – has had enough of JStreet’s tinkering with US policy on Israel.

  15. Boxthorn,
    as usual you have a very interesting (read: faulty) interpretation of numbers. as BZ pointed out, JStreet U is a new organization, VERY new. Plus, hit counts mean nothing. There is nothing that tells a savvy interpreter that any of the hits on the jews-for-allah site are going there because they proscribe to anything it may advocate. For example, I just went to their website because of the link you provided. I don’t support their efforts. I think a site like jews-for-allah probably get more curious viewers than anything. the site has a bounce rate of over 60%, that means that when people log on they almost immediately go somewhere else. The average time spent on the site is under two minutes. the jstreetu site, on the other hand, is so new these stats can’t even be calculated. did you even investigate or research? based on the search terms that bring people to each site, any person doing internet research on jews who have converted to islam throughout history might find this site. they aren’t looking for it, but they might click because it has a surprising and interesting title. Your analytical skills are seriously questionable, that or you’re just trolling. again. i wonder which it is…

  16. Justin- or they’re looking for blues for allah- the original…
    but i just wanted to add a rare (for me anyway) voice of pleasant surprise/ zchut in birthright. after meeting their new academic oversight head a few weeks ago- i was seriously impressed with their vision of a real overhaul and increased depth on birthright trips. requiring the providers to go beyond the party and zipping through the country- reflection times, educational units… And one of the three new values he is set on requiring for all birthright trips to include is .חינוך לשלום
    peace education…
    we’ll see!

  17. Israel Experiences is a well established Israel trip coordinator, all kinds of trips for all kinds of populations. I have direct experience with them and vouch for their professionalism and creative edcutaional programming. IE has been a vendor for birthright trips in the past. The disconnect here is birthright’s claim that they never approved Israel Experience’s trip. Something’s amiss.

  18. Everyone, stay tuned for a very full analysis of this from New Voices later today.
    RCG, J Street U’s statement directly disagrees with Birthright’s statement.
    Jon, it’s more complex than that. Wait for the full story from New Voices.
    Boxhead, obviously if J Street U did its own tours independent of Birthright, they would have fewer participants because it is targeted a certain group of people. That’s beauty (*cough*) of Birthright: it’s not a one-size-fits-all trips. Rather, there are different trips for people with different interests.
    JG, WORD. Haha.
    Victor, I doubt J Street U was planning to bring Birthright participants to Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations. And the AIPAC trip may have given a broad view of Jewish Israeli politics, but it left Israeli Arabs and Palestinian voices completely out of the equation, so I’m not so sure it’s as bipartisan as you’re saying.
    AGAIN, EVERYONE, keep your eyes peeled for the full story.

  19. David Wilensky,
    Were you a participant on an AIPAC birthright trip? How can you speak with certainty that the AIPAC trip leaves Israel Arabs and Palestinian voices completely out of the equation? I don’t know that they don’t, but I know that I don’t know for sure.

  20. David Wilensky,
    Like I said I don’t know that they do meet with Palestinians, but I know that I don’t know for sure since i’ve neither been on the trip nor spoken to anyone from birthright regarding the full schedule. A 9 point bulleted highlight list for a 10 day trip is hardly a full description and line by line schedule for an Israel tour. The list also does mention both “Palestinian Affairs” and “Pluralistic approach,” so it reads to me like you are making false claims about subjects you just don’t have the information on. It seems to me that it was this type of questionable journalism that brought about this story in the first place.
    Please jewschool how about some journalistic integrity? Going to print with rumors and accusations without fact checking has no place in reputable media.

  21. journalistic integrity
    folks, it’s a blog. blogs are not newspapers. bloggers are not journalists. there is no “going to print,” there are people who type out their ideas into their computer and press ‘post’

  22. Justin,
    I’m quite sure as the lead contributor to this story Mr. Wilensky considers himself a journalist. I know many bloggers who consider themselves journalists. It may be “new” media, but it’s still media.

  23. Detractors of the J Street U trip are quite missing the point. UPZ and NIF led six trips in 2007-2008 with much the same content. UPZ is J Street U and yet only when they switched names did Birthright object.
    I led one of those trips and we visited an Israeli Arab village half-straddling the ’67 line, a Sudanese refugee shelter, and a Bedouin shanty town in the Negev. Along with Masada, Yad Vashem and the requisite 40+ hours of Zionist history lecture. That made for a much more rich environment for participants.

  24. That’s fair, Birthright just doesn’t shop out trips to explicitly political or religious organizations . . . except Chabad and Aish HaTorah. Oh, wait . . .
    (And I speak from experience because as a nieve college student I ended up on an Aish Birthright trip and spent ten days being told that I should spend the rest of the summer at seminary, how I was Jewish was wrong, and as a woman I needed to embrace my role . . . )

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