‘Mama, Please Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Go on Birthright’
Eyal Clyne writes a powerful blog post about the Birthright and Israel Experience youth “education” programs, which have brought several hundred thousand Diaspora Jews to Israel. He begs Jewish mothers to refuse to send their children on these trips:
I ask this as an Israeli, who is trying to make Israel a better place, who served his country, and continues to struggle for a better society, for peace, for human rights…Please, don’t send your children to Birthright Israel (“Taglit“), The Israeli Experience, or any similar project.
I am certain that those of you considering this step have nothing but the best intentions, and that you have a high regard for Israel and us Israelis…I wish to show you what these projects really do, and why they do it. These programs may have some positive sides, but on the whole…they are…highly destructive.
The first thing that needs to be said…is that ‘Taglit’ is a political project, with militant and militaristic undertones. Think about it, would you send your teenage child to summer camp, if it was run by acting military officers inside an army facility? I am guessing that most of you would be rather suspicious of the aims of such a camp…Birthright, by invoking a sense of emergency, conveys the implicit message that whatever happens in Israel…is a true emergency, and through this sense of urgency pressures your child into becoming a Yes-Man to any policy, present or future, with no discussion, argument or thought. It…portrays us as always right, no matter what.
As an Israeli, I am deeply perturbed to admit that such programs do succeed in casting many young Jews into the impossible and unfair role of loyal advocates for Israel. By telling these youngsters that ‘they are Israel’ they are manipulated into giving up individual identity…and instead are encouraged to accept and support Israeli policy unconditionally. To give up one’s individual critical faculty is…problematic, to say the least.
Israeli politicians and generals are only human, they make mistakes like the rest of us, and like the rest of us, they should be held accountable…By having been given such blind and unconditional trust and support for so long, it has become almost impossible for concerned Israelis to voice earnest and loving criticism of Israel without being silenced.
…I often find that this picture they [tour participants] have of Israel (and me) is a mere construct. It’s an abstract image, or a collage of well-known Israeli figures and institutions like the Kibbutz, the army, holy places, the dead-sea, some news-feeds, and maybe a few relatives. This image is not however the Israel in which people live their everyday lives and struggles. The Birthright experience is not the ‘Israeli experience’ of an Israeli. The Israel many of them carry in their heads is a myth.
…Birthright is cynically using young people’s need for a collective identity symbol. It presses the buttons of fear abroad to serve the concrete political aims of the ultra-nationalists, in my home. These projects, which have vast resources from the state, the Jewish Agency, benefactors and participants, serve the most militant actors in Jewish Israeli society. This is the sector that bags for more cannon fodder, for unconditionally supportive ambassadors, for immigrants to join the baby-count race (aka ‘the demographic balance’), that looks for funding of wars and settlements.
The trips are financed by wealthy right-wing American Jews like Michael Steinhardt and Shelly Adelson, who believe that offering a child a free trip to Israel and indoctrinating them in the wonders of pro-Israelism will bolster Jewish identity, attack the issue of assimilation, and strengthen support for Israel among Diaspora Jewry.
I haven’t read any serious academic research which confirms the untested premise behind this project. If Steinhardt or Adelson bought a new business doing as little due diligence as they seem to have done on this their competitors would eat their lunch. Which only goes to show that even hardened businessmen relax or abandon their standards when it comes to personal issues like religion and politics.
Clyne’s post was inspired by a compelling new documentary, Israel LTD, by Israeli filmmaker Mor Loushy. She somehow persuaded the Israel Experience to allow her to film a tour. Maybe they expected positive PR to result. If so, they’re bound to be deeply disappointed by the results which you can see in this trailer.
There are several remarkable portions of the video: one is the display of pictures of anonymous Arabs by counselors to the tour participants. These pictures are as close as any of these teenagers will ever get to a real Arab on their trip. A picture…of a vaguely threatening Arab with a bushy moustache. That’s it. That’s the Arab part of the Israel Experience. There might just as well not be any in Israel as far as tour leaders are concerned.
If you want to give your child a well-rounded view of contemporary Israel you’re better off looking into Birthright Unplugged, which an antidote to Birthright; and which will actually allow you to meet both Israeli Jews and Palestinians and not treat the latter as if they are some exotic plant infesting the Israeli garden.
23 thoughts on “‘Mama, Please Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Go on Birthright’ – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Taglit-Birthright is NOT “right-wing”. Steinhart is not “right-wing”. One of the founders of Taglit was Yossi Beilin, formerly head of MERETZ, who is certainly not “right-wing”. They do not visit places over the Green Line except for the Western Wall nor do they speak in favor of the Judea/Samaria settlement project. It seems you think anyone who supports classical Zionist values like aliyah, security and Jewish identity as being “right-wing”. Does that make MERETZ or MAPAM “right-wing”?
Michael Steinhardt is a Jewish neocon & certainly right wing. He and Shelly Adelson are Taglits main sponsors, both heavily right wing. Yossi Beilin has nothing to do w. Taglit & has not for yrs.
To say they don’t support settlements is utter nonsense.
I believe his name is Eyal Niv.
Wow, that got me worried that I was mistaken. Eyal tells me he just got married & has taken his bride’s name Clyne. So he is both Eyal Niv & Eyal Clyne. Mystery solved!
Oops. Sorry, didn’t know that.
I didn’t either until you asked. I kinda assumed they were one & the same person. But glad you had me check it out.
Is Lyn Schusterman also a neocon? I also recall NIF sponsored trips organized by the Union of Progressive Zionists. That doesn’t sound very right wing to me. Please try not to yell at me or call me names, I’m just pointing out that the situation is not so black and white. Major Birthright Israel trip providers like Israel Experts have long been known to provide trips that offer nuance and are far from being indoctrination sessions. I can help fill in the grey areas further…
Yes, the Schusterman Foundation funds Mitch Bard, Aipac’s former minister of pro-Israel ideology who now runs the Jewish Virtual Library and AICE. The latter places pro-Israel professors in American universities to teach Israel studies courses. This is funded by Schusterman which pays Mitch a hefty 6 figure salary for his trouble.
Schusterman also funds almost all of Aipac’s on campus activities.
UPZ has done Birthright trips. I never claimed you couldn’t find one trip that was more progressive or balanced. But the overwhelming preponderance of trips are heavily geared to a right wing nationalist perspective.
Richard, unless things have changed drastically, it is simply not true to say that “the overwhelming preponderance of trips are heavily geared to a right wing nationalist perspective.”
I went on Oranim, the largest provider of trips at that time. Like virtually all Birthright trips, we did not visit the settlements; that alone would suggest that the trip is not run from a right-wing nationalist perspective. The trip was mostly a bonding experience. We went on several hikes, visited the Kotel, Masada, Independence Hall, Tsfat, and that’s about it. Our guides were both left-wingers. We also spent a night at a Bedouin tent, which I recognize is a not exactly an accurate portrayal of the Bedouin experience.
We also hung out with Israeli soldiers. That hardly makes the trip right-wing either. The soldiers were of varying political perspectives.
We got very little politics outside of our guides, with whom we had a pretty good discussion during the trip, and whom, as I mentioned, were left-wingers. I did not feel as if I was being indoctrinated, and I have a nuanced-enough understanding of the conflict to know when I am.
Simply look at the list of trip providers, and you’ll find that few if any push a political line, let alone a right-wing political line.
The term is thrown around so frequently around here by people like you attempting to argue that something about Israel or Israelis is kosher that it is a meaningless term unless defined explicitly with examples which you don’t provide.
All you have to do is watch the video to get the clear nationalist ideological narrative espoused by the tour guides. Further, read Eyal Clyne’s blog post or Josh Nathan Kazis’ excellent story about Taglit in New Voices I believe (& linked in a post here). They contradict you. You’re wrong. And again I’m not saying there aren’t specific trips that may be less offensive ideologically. But the majority are. There is far too much evidence demonstrating this. It’s yr obligation to do some research of yr own.
BTW, Israeli soldiers esp officers are overwhelmingly right wing. Again if you don’t believe me articles in Haaraetz document the serious shift in ideological perspective of Tzahal over the yrs.
We had three guides, a head and two deputies. The Boss was a secular high-school science teacher who did not once express his views on the conflict. The two deputies were younger. One was a Labor voter who was against settlements, but a supporter of the government. The other was a Meretz supporter who was against settlements and critical of the government. We were told repeatedly that we were free to talk about any topic and ask any question we wanted. We had a long political discussion on Bedouin tent night.
I read the Josh Nathan-Kazis article. Most of it is about Sheldon Adelson, not Birthright. Adelson is a right-winger. But Nathan-Kazis article received a long response from Yitz Greenberg, the head of Taglit’s educational wing, who said that Adelson had never attached strings to his gift, that Taglit specifically worked to weed out any trip provider with a one-sided approach. Nathan-Kazis responded by saying that he only meant to use the term “propaganda” in the broadest sense, and basically reaffirmed that most of his article was about Adelson and his relationship to Netanyahu, not Birthright itself. I think we can agree that there is an element of propaganda involved in a Birthright trip with calling it a right-wing nationalist trip, which is inaccurate.
Sorry, but Shelly Adelson NEVER gives money with no strings attached & either Greenberg doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s covering for Adelson, or his idea of no strings attached is far diff. than mine. Adelson is one of the most controlling figures in Jewish philanthropy. He’s known for this facet of his personality. No such thing as a no strings attached gift w. him. YOu either do things his way or he doesn’t give.
There is no element of propaganda whatsoever in my description of both Birthright & The Israeli Experience. I’ve written 10 posts about Birthright which document the propaganda elements of the trips including the odd Shlomo Momo, who was fired for going too off the Zionist nationalist reservation & urging Jewish sex on his trips as the way to defeat Jewish assimilation & the woes of Jewish identity. And you haven’t even addressed the claims of Eyal Clyne and Israel LTD which also document the rightist slant of the entire enterprise.
Hophmi and Michael Brenner seem to have more experience than you do with the Birthright trips..
Its saddening to see you disregarding their experiences, as if you’re Mr.Know-All.
No they only have direct personal experience of one particular trip & have done very little or not research to discover what is said or written about the trips & organizations themselves overall. I have read widely on this & published multiple posts on the subject so I actually do know quite a bit about them. SOrry to disappoint you…
I can’t speak to Israel LTD. I can speak about Momo, whose contract wasn’t renewed. Momo did talk, jovially and crudely in broken English, about people hooking up on the trip in classic blunt Israeli fashion. The deal was that if two people met on the trip and got married, he would fly them back to Israel for free for their honeymoon. He was also fond of saying that more Americans should move to Israel because it would teach Israelis proper manners. It did offend some people’s sensibilities. But anyone who feels he was pushing people to have sex is frankly, being childish.
According to the Jewish Week, many of criticisms of Momo came from people who were from intermarried families and got insulted by Momo’s support of Jews marrying Jews. Others were critical of his right-wing politics, which alone is proof that Birthright tries to be at least centrist, and certianly not right-wing nationalist. You can’t call the organization right-wing nationalist when it cuts ties with its largest provider in part because he’s too “nationalist”, which in the context of the Jewish Week article came across as a criticism of the type of people who get offended as soon as they hear a view different from their
Since Yitz Greenberg is the education director of the program, I think he has some credibility.
I’m perfectly willing to admit that Birthright has a propagandistic element. But calling it right-wing is simply at odds with the experiences of the many people I know who have gone on Birthright trips, at odds with the character of the trip providers, a list of whom can be found on the Birthright website, at odds with the policy of not visiting the settlements, contradicted by what happened with Oranim, which wasn’t right-wing so much as run by a right-winger, and, for that matter, contradicted by the fact that right-wing viewpoints among American Jews continue to rest overwhelmingly in the Orthodox community and not in the secular community, which has been the overwhelming beneficiary of the program and is presumably being “indoctrinated.”
I don’t care what Sheldon Adelson’s own policy is, and sweeping statements don’t convince me, but citing him is not a persuasive fact-based argument that Birthright is a right-wing enterprise.
The logic of this fails me: Birthright’s most popular trip-leader & coordinator with right wing politics proves that it tries to be centrist? Why? Because they dumped him? If so, that’s not why they dumped him. They dumped him because he embarrassed them & it wasn’t the politics that did so. In fact, his politics fit right in. Are you saying that because some trip participants criticized his right wing politics that means that Birthright is centrist?? That seems a loony proposition.
Yitz Greenberg has crediblity in his sphere of expertise. But he doesn’t know jack about Shelly Adelson & the level of control he exerts over charities which he showers w. his largesse nor the influence he exerts on Birthright.
If it’s propagandistic how can that not be reflected in its politics? Of course it is.
Sure it is. Without Adelson’s money there would be no Birthright. He IS Birthright in terms of keeping it afloat financially. His politics are about as far right as you can go short of supporting fascism. Of course they are reflected in Birthright. For you to deny this simply means that you’re not willing to acknowledge the 800lb gorilla looking you smack in the eyes.
Oh I should also add that the kids with the guns are in a program called Chetz Va Keshet – one that involves less than 300 participants a year and not done under the auspices of Taglit. No trip participant in Taglit gets a weapon, fires a weapon or undergoes anything resembling military training. This video mixes Chetz Va Keshet footage with what looks like a Birthright Israel Mega Event.
I clearly noted this post was about The Israel Experience and Birthright. The documentary is only about The Israel Experience, which is very similar to Birthright in many respects. The Israel Experience has brought MANY more than 300 young Jews to Israel. Since the producer of the film told me explicitly that the film is about The Israel Experience I am virtually certain you are wrong & there is no mixture of footage.
People who want to guide taglit trips go through various tests to see if they fit. One of the questions asked is “if someone asks you whether the IAF is guilty of war crimes, what will you answer”. Guess what’s the right answer.
Atleast some taglit trips include a “boot camp”.
I didn’t know it was called birthright in english. That is a sickening name.
“One of the questions asked is “if someone asks you whether the IAF is guilty of war crimes, what will you answer”. Guess what’s the right answer.”
You base that on what? And if it is true, than it means that this is all a part of the settler rightist enterprise?
“I didn’t know it was called birthright in english. That is a sickening name.”
I base it on a friend of mine being a guide in one of these trips.
It means the trips have a clear political rightist agenda. It means that someone who believes (damn the right for making us “believe” facts like war crimes, history, evolution, global warming…) that israel has commited war crimes has no place in this program. Ofc you can know that just from the heavy participation of the IDF.
Why is “birthright” sickening? Why is the concept that someone with the right “birth” has better rights sickening? Why is telling children their blood carries special rights which others, say arabs, don’t have is sickening?
Why, I have no idea…
I take the term Birthright differently to mean that Israel is the birthright of all Jews & that these trips are thus designed to bring the kids closer to Israel, make aliya, marry a Jew, raise a Jewish family, become a Mossad asset, & all the rest. The Mossad part was a joke (sorta).
interesting article. I don’t know if you’ve already read this, but i would recommend to other who haven’t yet to check out this series by Rachel Marcuse: http://mondoweiss.net/marcuse
To explain briefly, it’s a seven part series of posts describing her Birthright trip to Israel. It’s taken from her point of view, which is overall pretty much against the Occupation to say at the least.
I really liked reading this, and found it to be quite fair.