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.
As someone who went on a BIrthright Trip with the WZO and the Union of Progressive Zionists last summer, I believe your advice to not send children on Birthright Israel trips is very misguided. My trip on Birthright included a tour of the Separation Barrier around Jerusalem, a visit to the recognized Bedouin village of Laqiya, a talk with an Israeli and a Palestinian from the Bereaved Families Forum, a talk with Naomi Chazan, and a tour of Wadi Ara w/ a guide from Givat Haviva. Many participants from the trip (including myself) became involved with the Union of Progressive Zionists after we got back from Israel. Furthermore, the Reform movement has its own Birthright trip and Ameinu is a key funder of the Union of Progressive Zionists. While I believe it is true that many (if not most) Birthright trips present a simplistic view of Israel, it is extremely unfair to stereotype all Birthright trips as being right wing propaganda trips.
I don’t see anything in your article that would be a reason to tell people not to go on the Taglit trips. Okay, Adelson is supposedly a “right-winger”. Up until now it has been financed by “left-wingers” like Bronfman. Why should the political views of the sponsors matter? Palestinians will claim that the trips sponsored by Bronfman were not “balanced” and didn’t present their views that Israel shouldn’t exist at all, didn’t deal with the Palestinian “right-of-return”, etc. Any trip is going to have a “political bias” one way or another.
Michael Solomon says
Hi, I went on a Taglit trip this summer, and while Adelson’s politics are off (I’d heard about him before because of his Republican activism), the Taglit trip didn’t push the Likudnik or Laborite view of things at all. Our trip organizer (who got in trouble and was punished by the IDF for behavior against anarchists in Dahariya.) when we were in Tel Aviv revealed that we are on a former Arab village and gave us its named and even if I remember correctly, said that the inhabitants had been expelled. We didn’t get to go to the security fence, but that was because a lot of us were constantly late so our tour guide needed to change the agenda so we could see the holy sites. At the end of the trip before we got on our plane to NY, he told us that he had problems with Zionism, but when the first emissaries came to Eretz Yisrael to see about the possibility of the return of Jews here, they told the Jews “the bride is beautiful but she is already taken” where is now the bride is just waiting for us. (The guy is impliticily encouragiang aliyah, but look I wouldn’t use the first quote because it implies theft. ) Also, we were given one political speech in the whole program. It was by Gidi Grinstein in the Re’ut Institute, and the whole speech was about how Israel had to end control over the Palestinians, either through a peace process once there was an ‘address’ among the Palestinans that Israel could talk to and rely on to deliver peace, or through unilateral withdrawals which he told us not to rule out. He also said the three major Israeli parties, Kadima, Labor, Likud all agree on this but differ on how to acheive it. You also get to talk to Israeli soldiers on the trip. So I would say go on Birthright, but talk to the Israelis in the IDF there to get their perspective. Birthright is designed certianly to make people think of Israel as more of a home and a place to care about and certainly increase support for it (beause you leave caring about Israel more.), but it doesn’t really impose a political agenda, other than love for the people. It really depends on your tour guide. Maybe Adelson tries to change the speech you get from Gidi Grinstien and Re’ut to the Jeruslaem Center for Public Affairs, I don’t know but I think Bronfman’s influence should prevent that.
It is interesing you talk about “rightist brainwashing”. Is there such a thing a “leftist brainwashing” or “progressive brainwashing”? I recall a friend many years ago came on a trip something like Taglit years ago. They were treated to a “debate” between an Arab Knesset Member whose name I forgot and Yossi Beilin. They ended up agreeing a lot, that Israel is doing terrible things to the Arabs. No one presented the “right-wing” position. Neither was he taken on a trip to visit the Jewish community in Hevron or other Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria even though he requested that they do so. One could call that “brainwashing” as well because the visitors are being deliberately denied exposure to viewpoints other than those of the organizers of the trip.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for helping make me aware of my error & I’ve updated my post to reflect this. My advice is to go on Birthright trips but to make sure the group hosting your trip will provide a truly representative, balanced program. UPZ certainly does this & I highly recommend their trips along with the other groups mentioned in my post.
Richard Silverstein says
Not true. It was founded by the neocon Michael Steinhardt. In an earlier post I quote a friend whose child told him Steinhardt told a returing 2004 Taglit trip at Kennedy Airport that the only correct thing for them to do after such a trip was to work for the re-election of George Bush.
I am absolutely in favor of Taglit participants visiting the settlers & settlements and speaking with rightists like Avigdor Lieberman & Netanyahu. Tour members should hear the brought range of opinion within Israel. I believe that exposure to Israeli rightists AND progressives will make most visitors understand the complete untenability of the right-wing nationalist position.
Actually, I have heard the opposite about the effectiveness of visits of uniformed Jews to the Jewish communities of Judea/Samaria. A high percentage of people who had never visited them before come away with a more positive view of the communities and their residents after they visit them and find out that the image presented of them in the media is often grossly distorted. I have been told this by people who conduct these tours. There was also an article in the Jerusalem Post about an organization in Israel that arranges such tours and they expressed the same conclusions. Although the visitor may not change his or her’s views about whether it might be necessary for Israel to give up these territories, they generally come away with much more sympathy and understanding for those who live there.
I worked as a volunteer in the Likud members referendum on Sharon’s proposal to destroy Gush Katif (which he lost and then went back on saying it was a “mistake” to call the vote) ti try to convince people to vote against Sharon, and after presenting information about Gush Katif and its residents, I succeeded in convincing people to change their vote to NO. There is appalling ignorance and preconceptions, fed by the biased media, about the Jews of Judea/Samaria.