Sheldon Adelson, fabulously wealthy right-wing gambling mogul announced this week he was donating $60 million to the Taglit Israel travel program. Taglit was created to provide free trips to Israel for college age youth who may never have visited the country. So what could be wrong with encouraging young people to visit Israel, you ask? Nothing. Except if there is an ideological agenda that underpins the program. And my suspicions along these lines have been confirmed by this Haaretz article on the new gift. For a more in depth discussion of this issue see my blog post and Rachel Shaby’s terrific Salon expose.
A few months ago I started seeing announcements of various large gifts by Adelson to Israeli charities. It appears now that one of the reasons may be that he’s starting an Israeli daily newspaper to compete with Maariv and Yediot Achronot. The Forward chronicles this effort in an excellent expose. When I first heard about this largess I was heartened. Perhaps here’s an American Jew who might fund some interesting, innovative Israeli projects, I foolishly thought. At the time, I didn’t know about Adelson’s hard-core Republican views and support for similar hard-core Israeli politics. Now I know better. He’s just a typical AIPAC Likud supporter.
Taglit would have you believe it is an entirely non-partisan operation which presents Israel to its young charges in a non-ideological fashion. Its purpose is:
to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
But read this passage from the Haaretz article and Adelson’s ideological partisanship is blatant:
Accompanying Adelson were some 20 congressmen from the Republican Party, of which he is a staunch supporter. He has been organizing delegations of Republican congressmen and senators for the past 15 years. “They all come back Zionists,” he said.
An organizer for Taglit told Haaretz that Adelson shares his “clearly hawkish” views with program participants. “He talks with the participants about the dangers that Israel has to deal with and the risks from radical Islam.
“He passed out copies of a documentary on how Islam is spreading in the West.”
Without doubt, the Taglit staffer is speaking about the notoriously anti-Muslim “documentary” Obsession which has been exposed for its hard-right ideological views by no less a source than the New York Times.
The lesson to be learned from this is DO NOT send your child on a Taglit trip. [UPDATE: I realized after I wrote this that I slightly misunderstood how the Taglit program opertes. It is an umbrella that sponsors the concept, but it farms out the actual trips to various Israeli and Jewish organizations–at least that’s how I understand it. So my strong suggestion is to find a Jewish group hosting Taglit trips which you have confidence in and go on that trip. If they sponsor Taglit trips, do NOT go with AIPAC, ADL, AJC, UJC and the like.] Investigate the many Jewish organizations including the Reform movement, Ameinu, Encounter, and Birthright Unplugged, which sponsor alternative trips. You can still use Taglit money to fund trips with some of these organizations and avoid the rightist brainwashing.
New Voices also published this interesting profile of Birthright Unplugged and other alternative Israel tours.
Jerry Haber, being the industrious blogger he is, beat me to writing a post about this subject.