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Please, don't send your kid on a Birthright tour (by Eyal Clyne)

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 and civil equality. Please, don’t send your children to Birthright Israel (“Taglit”), The Israeli Experience, or any similar project.

Student on a birthright tour (photo: flickr/andydr)

These projects support war

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 am writing this text however to bring to your attention information about these projects that might not have been available to you. 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, I am afraid they are very negative and highly destructive.

The first thing that needs to be said out loud, and I put this upfront because I believe that some of you simply don’t know this, 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 – quite justifiably so. Birthright, by invoking a sense of emergency, conveys the implicit message that whatever happens in Israel- without question- is a true emergency, and through this sense of urgency pressurizes your child into becoming a Yes-Man to any policy, present or future, with no discussion, argument or thought. It dangerously portray 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 – that is, an individual that judges for her/himself what is good and bad in Israel’s affairs – and instead are encouraged to accept and support Israeli policy unconditionally. To give up one’s individual critical faculty is very 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 for their errors. 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.

Celestial Israel

Its not just about Birthright-style projects and the youth though. Millions of Jews, from countries outside of my own, consider themselves ‘pro-Israel’, and I know that they have the best intentions towards me as an Israeli. However, I often find that this picture they have of Israel (and me) is a mere construct. Its 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, just like I probably have a mythical image of New York (which, sadly enough, I’ve never visited).

For some, this construct is also the Israel they think of immigrating to in case of a catastrophe, which may or may not also be completely imaginary. I know that most of you come with a sincere desire to protect what you believe is a safe-haven, and like any protective parent, you sometimes feel that Israel is under fire for no good reason. Well, maybe you’re right sometimes. Yet, being an overprotective parent can also be very harmful. You see, for me Israel is a real country. We, the people who actually live here, make many real mistakes. Just like you probably do sometimes. Israeli society is not perfect, and like many other societies, it is not particularly willing to welcome criticism (and it seems we also have problems with independent thinking, as most Israelis report believing the Military Spokesman more than any journalist). Giving us powerful and unconditional ideological and financial support only makes us regard our errors as legitimate, and makes them more frequent.

As a Jew, I am sad to say that the more racist and militant Israel becomes, it is well meaning Jews around the world who more often than not press harder to keep discussion of Israeli policy taboo, to keep it a sacred and untouchable topic. Israeli policy is being portrayed as always and forever the ultimate expression of justice. I know that Islam regards prophets as infallible, but according to Judaism, even prophets err. So how can Israel, which is a man-made (secular) entity, be regarded as pure of any fault? Is it to be elevated to the degree of sanctity reserved for God alone? Are we building here a new golden calf?

Save the “Safe” Haven

Living in real Israel gives one a slightly different perspective on things. As Jews we are used to thinking of Israel as the country of every Jew, at least potentially. For those who are not Israeli at the moment, Israel is always an option to be kept open. It is an escape plan for times of disaster. It is kept as a possible solution to the constant threat above us. Wherever Anti-Semitism may raise its ugly head again, Israel will be there as a sanctuary. This has come to be like a belief in a prophecy, and as such, it may eventually fulfill itself.

But now, I ask you to think about this idea for a moment. Let’s start from the end. The vision of a safe-haven tries, on the one hand, to foresee the future, actually the worst possible future scenario, and then on the other hand to resolve it by preparing a plan. The plan is building an island in the middle of the Middle East (armed head to toe). In all honesty, I ask you, what is so safe about it? Who was it really who thought of the Middle East as a safe anything to begin with? Weren’t they watching the news? Because, in reality, Israel is probably the least safe place for Jews to be in the entire world.

But more relevant for us Israelis, is that this idea is not really fair. It is favoring visions of the future over our present realities. It offers you, our fellow Jews living around the world, a crazy bargain, which goes something like this: All Jews, wherever they are, are entitled at any moment, to choose to immigrate to Israel and become citizens. We Israelis are expected to ask no questions, provide benefits and voting rights, and all for the ‘symbolic’ price of taking part in the never-ending war. The truth of the matter is, that for someone born Israeli, whose sole language is Hebrew, and who has no other citizenship (i.e. most Israelis), this package is rather unfair. Think about it, Jews living in the rest of the world, usually live in the West, and are often able to live peaceful and fairly comfortable lives. At the same time, we Israelis are subjected to a futureless struggle against racism and hate, and we pay taxes to support the constant war (and oppression of millions), which we also are expected to die in. So while some of you fellow Jews can enjoy a fairly good level of living, and a unilateral right to immigrate from your country to ours at any time, we live in an expensive and unstable war zone, with no safe-haven to escape to, no possibility to immigrate, and no way to influence your politics. So wait a minute, what about us? Don’t we also deserve to live comfortably and securely? Why should we be played like puppets in a show of someone else’s safe-haven – but our home? Don’t we have the right to be supported for criticizing our governments? Who is looking after our safe-haven?

Anti-Semitism may indeed rise again, and it may not. You may come and live here, but most probably you won’t even visit. In the meantime, our actual lives here are affected by your well intended but misguided bear hug. Therefore, I ask you to exchange this deal with a new one: I won’t send my kids to projects run by your government to teach them why your wars are so just, and you won’t send yours to Birthright Israel and other Israeli propaganda projects.

Everyday Israel

Because it is places like this, where all these ‘Birthrights’ kick in. Every time some of us Israelis are prepared to make political concessions, and are willing to acknowledge our historical wrong-doings, to work to fix the faulty nature of our country, countless propaganda projects supported by Jewish organizations from other countries suddenly appear. These help eradicate the possibility of necessary criticism. 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. They can do all this without being asked to give an account, a feasible plan, or even any direction. And this has been happening for dozens of years creating cumulative long-term damage.

So, please, before sending your child to this manipulative summer camp, which is nothing more than one big brainwash by the Israeli army, my army, please take a look at this extract from the excellent documentary by Mor Loushy. She is an Israeli that accompanied an entire Birthright sub-project of teenagers, who were sent to Israel ahead of your children.

Oh, and thank you.

——————————————

Eyal Clyne blogs at Truth from Eretz Israel in Hebrew and in English. This post was translated from Hebrew by Hava Oz.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Margie

      Don’t allow your child the opportunity to see and think for himself. He might just not think like the author of the article above and that would never do.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Nir Sarig

      Do not send your Kids to Disneyland It It Makes them Capitalistic
      Do not allow them to Listen to Rock Music Because It Promotes Drug usage
      Do not let Them Use the Internet Its full off pornography
      Do not allow them to read the bible its full of racism and genocide
      etc etc etc
      They are young and stupid please protect them from the Zionist propaganda

      Reply to Comment
    3. Diana

      What a horrifying video clip… I don’t know about my son, he can make up his own mind, but I defiantly want to watch the full version of the movie.
      And I appreciate your Israeli view of things, I believe you gave us some things to digest.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Another Israeli

      it’s sad that u all speak of your children’s rights to decide – and miss the criticism here over how you, jews in other contries, change our everyday life. i think he made good points. its not the children and their trips, its you.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Margie & Nir,
      I didn’t say “don’t allow”, which is disempowering and authoritarian. I gave reason, and that’s different. Reason is an invitation to “talk about it” and open a discussion (quite the opposite of what you’re doing, which is closing the discussion with insults and changing the subject). I think you can find several arguments in the text about how this influences my/our life/lives. It’s a bit pity that this is what you take from what I hoped would be a “heart-to-heart talk”.

      I do encourage you to watch the video here, and the entire movie as well, and maybe then, just for the sake of trying, try and put yourselves in my/our shoes to see if you can understand how it feels to have others supporting every move of your government.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Dimi

      Margie, how come a torrent of 24/7 militaristic, calculatedly political brainwash is “allowing a child to think for himself”?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Jane

      Obviously there are a lot of problems with Birthright, but keep in mind how frequently those between the ages of 18-26 zone out while other people lecture them, and how many do indeed think for themselves. I came to Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip six years ago, and knew nothing about the country, but was educated enough to know the organizers had an agenda, were full of BS and that the pieces did not fit together. For me, it began a learning process and a shift to the left.

      Tons of Jewish students go to Hillel events for free meals, with no intention whatsoever of meeting their Jewish spouses-to-be, although this is the obvious intention of Hillel. I’d bet many young Jewish people go on Birthright with the same free-meal approach, and don’t buy into what they hear on that trip. If 18- to 26-year-olds really were “kids” it would be a totally different story. And you’d be surprised at how many boys, regardless of their politics, get excited to hold and be pictured with a gun. It’s disgusting, but it’s not like Birthright’s the only chance they’ll ever get to do so.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Margie

      I came to Israel thirty years ago, full of leftist ideals and convinced that there was a simple and obvious solution to the problem.
      The Palestinian rejection of all offers of peace and their laws (that stipulate the death penalty for anyone who sells land to a Jew, for instance) have made me understand how naive I was.

      I have no illusions that the army is perfect or that any army on earth is perfect — it’s an army for heaven’s sake – but it’s there to protect us. There are huge flaws but work with us and not against us.

      Reply to Comment
    9. josh

      It seems as though the footage from the film was taken from a program called Hetz Va Keshet, which describes itself as a military type program aimed at children of emigrated Israelis. I’m pretty confident that birthright does not take their participants through Gadna. They do have a 5-day mifgash with Israeli soldiers, which is largely due to the fact that their ages are similar and that Israeli university students generally couldn’t make the the necessary time commitment.
      I think Eyal is sorely mistaken in saying that there exists little to no criticism, and chose to show specific footage of unprofessional guiding and education. As someone who often gives lectures for birthright groups, this has not been my experience. I often encourage the participants to challenge what they hear, and to engage the soldiers on a deeper level.

      Josh

      Reply to Comment
    10. Challange them? But the program is all set, and the places are already arranging the frame…

      And evenyhough the movie is not the issue, you should note that it was filmed in The Israeli Experience, which is basically a sub-program of the same thing.
      see: http://mondoweiss.net/?s=birthright

      Reply to Comment
    11. Leah

      I am an American and I went on a Birthright trip in 2006 and I was remember the epiphany that this was not just a “free trip to connect with my Jewishness,” but a mission to propagandize me. I was kept inside hotel conference rooms while I listened to lectures telling us that if we didn’t all make aliyah and populate Israel with Jewish babies, the Jews would be outnumbered. I received pamphlets and handouts about why I should marry Jewish, with terrible lies like “gentile husbands are more likely to be alcoholics.”

      I’m sorry, but I was 19 years old and aware enough to read between the lines of my Birthright trip. I agree with everything the author said, and have grown to learn that nothing is free and everyone has an agenda – even fellow Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    12. avi

      leah–fact. look it up, ashkenazic jews eastern european discent are 25% less likely to become alcoholic. information just released via jewish geneology. i literally posted it to my facebook 3 days ago.

      to the author:
      i strongly disagree on all points.

      birthright is any countries dream. imagine if you had outside money tht brought tourists to your country for free. 100% of the money they spend is profit for the country. and considering that israel’s economy was once 50-80% based on tourism, thats a big effing deal.

      furthermore, birthright is also known as birthrate. iwent on birthright. they give you a jolly tour of all the nice and some historical things about israel, but basically, its a college party, spring break style, in the land of jewish people’s heritage. they not only encourage drinking, but at times, give you no other choice. A lot of these people dont normally hangout with jews whatsoever, and so, im drunk, your drunk, my body fits into your body…whoa, what do you know. hence, birthrate.

      students know exactly what birthright is, perhaps parents dont. but point of fact, this whole thing is humorous because it implies that parents send their kids. you cannot go on birthright until you are 18. you have your own rights and freedoms at this point, and dont need parental consent.

      furthermore, birthright never claims to be the israeli experience, rather, the ISRAEL experience. that people should experience their heritage, not how people are living now. that is an inverse conclusion. heritage implies past, not present.
      his assessment of the safety of israel is always flagrantly wrong. a jew was assualted on temples campus. i dont know of any anti-semites surrounding a jew on any israeli campus, and then knocking him out cold and breaking his orbital bone. (I was president of Temple Students for Israel at the time. look it up, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY, PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA)

      furthermore, in hs (AKIBA HEBREW ACADEMY, MERION STATION, PA, USA, now known as BARRACK HEBREW ACADEMY, PA, USA–look it uo), playing phelps hs, their entire school and biggoted parents surrounded our teams bus, –after they, like the above story, has surrounded our captains of the varsity team and punched him in the face, breaking his jawbone– would not allow us to get on the bus. thankfully, i was going home via some parents… but the police were called and knives were even pulled on the coach of my team. YEA THIS WAS ALSO ON THE NEWS. just myself and my friends did not push to get it into every newspaper in the world, as oppose to the above.

      things that do not happen in israel

      When i went on birthright, it was obviously different. I dont need to meet you to know you are not dati. you are not chareidi. you are not chardol. you perhaps visit chabad or breslov from time to time, but otherwise consider yourself simply as chiloni. I went to Israel because it is the land of my heritage. the place whos name was mentioned everyday of school, from the time i was 2 years old, until i was 18. I wanted to kiss the ground when i got off that birthright plane, but i did not do so because I was with 40 other college students. when my birthright hillel advisor said, “we need to hurry onto the bus, some people need to get back to the hotel before shabbat” she really meant, “avi needs to get back to the hotel before shabbat”.

      The truth is, Americans are stupid, PERIOD. They are indoctrinated all the time. And you need not worry. They share your equally bigotted leftist views, as per all college campuses in the United States. The president and vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine on my campus were both jewish while i as president of Temple Students for israel. and the Palestinians have organized Birthright Unplugged–where they tour gaza, ramallah, and the poorest parts of the arab-israeli world. You prefer this? the brain washing that israel is purely evil? The one where they feel as though they are guilty, because they are taught (both on campus, in campus classes, and then on these alternative trips) that as a jew, they are PERSONALLY responsible for what Israel as a government does?

      Israel is no different then any other country. significant government distrust, and disallusionment. No, the birthrighters do not meet chareidim. they do not get to see how a bunch of people sit and do nothing all day, get 90% tax credits and stipens from the government, all without even serving in the army.

      Finally, since I am done correcting your, in my opinion, untruth…i would like to end on the most glaringly obvious omission from your little diatribe above. Birthright is for all Jews, EVERYWHERE. On my trip, i met jews from Africa (no, not south africa), India, England, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia… it is for all Jews to experience their heritage.

      you clearly take for granted living in israel, and what it means to do so. others dont have the oppurtunity to go. like myself. i was supposed to go for 2 weeks in 8th grade. i sol 500$ worth of wrapping paper to go. then arafat declared war on the jews. our trip was canceled. i finally got to go 5 years later because of birthright. i fought to go to israel. and it was an honor, and a privilege.

      Reply to Comment
    13. avi

      Phelps HS assault on Akiba Hebrew Academy, 2003

      http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-79380840.html

      Visiting Jewish Student Assaulted on Temple University Campus
      -please note, Andrew Schwartz (me) is quoted)

      http://temple-news.com/2008/03/03/campus-gathers-after-attack/

      _____
      i am exceedingly qualified to have an opinion. I was forced into a leadership position and the out spoken voice of the Jewish population on campus. There were maybe 10 active students on campus. We had to get the others into the know. Most, know nothing. The vast majority dont lean left, they sit in on a couch on the left, watching CNN and at times, perhaps cracking open the NYTimes.

      professors are 99% left, and unfortunately, it creeps into their classes. it shouldnt.

      you should be more concerned with what i said above, the Birthright Unplugged program. Statistically speaking, the less observant Jews are in the diaspora, the less they think Israel is important. They both have no connection emotionally (because they have never been) and religiously, because the reform [and increasingly the conservative movement] have emphasized social judaism, not religious. I live in one of the only hubs of conservative jewry in the world, and also a booming reform community. the kids who do not go to jewish dayschool literally know nothing.

      while the media is not as bad as the BBC, it is terrible here.

      Active intelligent students will be active, and intelligent. But most United States birthrighters are neither.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Avi

      and leah, just so you too have a source:

      http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/160/1/41

      third paragraph, second sentence

      “ADH2*2 is highly prevalent among Asians and infrequent in most Caucasians except for individuals of Jewish descent (30, 31).”

      Reply to Comment
    15. RichardNYC

      This is totally unlike my Taglit trip…

      Reply to Comment
    16. Yoni Mann

      Eyal, I see where you’re coming from but you may have misinterpreted the effects of Birthright. I’ve worked with many Birthright groups and spoken with countless Birthright alumni.

      While the goal of Birthright is to strengthen a Jew’s connection to Israel and his/her People, you claim it turns participants into blind supporters of Israel. I know firsthand that Birthright in fact causes participants to engage with issues and think about it for themselves.

      I’m not sure what trip you were on, but perhaps coming from an Israeli mindset, you mistook excitement for Israel, for blind support.

      You can disagree with your parents on things, yet still have unconditional love towards them at the same time.

      Wishing you much success.

      Reply to Comment

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