For Jewish individuals living in diaspora today, such as myself, we’ve pondered the thought of taking a free trip to Israel with Birthright, a Zionist organization which takes young Jews on a 10 day tour of Israel.
I’ve spoken with a number of Jewish peers who have participated in Birthright trips. Nearly all of them consider themselves to have leftist views, and would undoubtedly agree that human rights and refugee rights are important issues. However, the political situation in Israel seems to be the pivotal issue in which their views are incongruous with the rest of their beliefs.
Some of these peers are oblivious to the fact that Birthright is heavily funded by right-wing sources (including the Israeli government and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation which also supports illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank); others are aware of these facts but believe that their participation is harmless since none of the funding is going to Birthright, and is therefore not supporting Israel. I argue that going on Birthright is demonstrating support of the Israeli state and their actions; it shows a willingness to actively participate in the same kind of Zionist youth movements which were instrumental in the founding of Israel. Birthright participants are also diverted from the fact that, while they are given untouchable rights to citizenship and freedom in Israel, Palestinians have been denied freedoms and forced from their homes, without a chance of return.
For decades, youth support has been essential to constructing today’s Israeli state and advancing a Zionist agenda. An example is the desert fortress of Masada, a popular Zionist tourist destination. It has long been a pilgrimage site for Jewish youth groups, even before Israel’s establishment. Sites like this are critical in instilling a sense of mission and dedication in the participants. Young Jews invested in the Zionist cause are the backbone of Israel’s future, and Israel knows they are necessary for its survival.
This indoctrination takes place on the ground, where Israeli citizens straight out of high school serve mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Forces. And it also takes place abroad, where an assimilated American Jew is given the privilege to “return” to Israel for free. Young non-Israeli Jews, most innocently curious about their Jewish identity and connection to Israel, are pulled into Israel’s systemic manipulation of young Jewish individuals, brainwashing them with pro-Israel propaganda. It’s these techniques that make Birthright’s ideology toxic.
In December 1948, the United Nations Resolution 194 on Palestine declared that refugees should have the right to return home and live in peace. The right of refugees to return home is a basic human right. Why can an assimilated, secular American Jew from New York City travel to Israel, to live in freedom, when a Palestinian refugee cannot return to their home?
To my Jewish friends, I encourage you, if you care about human rights, boycott Birthright. Not only is resisting these forces essential to working towards a more just state in Israel-Palestine, but because it is imperative if you wish to be on the right side of history. As a Jewish person, I am constantly confronted with the history of my people and our struggles. It is because of this that I feel a deep, moral responsibility to strive for a more just future in the Middle East and at home. This moral responsibility transcends borders and national conflict, it is about basic human rights. I urge my young Jewish readers to recognize their moral responsibility as well.
For more information on how to get involved in the movement to resist Birthright, visit the #ReturnTheBirthright campaign by Jewish Voice for Peace (https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/returnthebirthright/).
Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/henrymaxm/29378951792
Written by: Ingrid Rosenthal