Wednesday, August 22, 2007
"Birthright" Students Cancel Tour to Hebron After Threats by Birthright Staffer
The Magnes Zionist has learned that a group of participants on the current Birthright tour, which ended today, cancelled their plans to tour Hebron on Friday, after they were threatened by a Birthright staffer. The staffer said that if they went to Hebron on the tour, arranged by the Bnei Avraham organization, they would lose retroactively funding for their trip. Birthright/Taglit is a program that offers free trips to American Jewish youth who have never spent serious time in Israel before. The threat seems to be a further step down the path for Birthright, which initially said that it was not responsible for what participants do after the tour is over, then denied Birthright funding to a participant who was planning to visit the West Bank with the organization "Birthright Unplugged," and now has told its participants that retroactively they will lose funding for their trip by going on an a three-hour tour. It should be pointed out that many Birthright participants stay on in Israel after the tour is over, and they are not made to sign statements pledging they will not cross the green line. On the contrary, many end up visiting Jewish settlements. More on this story will be forthcoming. But I am quite disturbed by it. Barely a week after I defended Birthright, I see that it is being captured by the right. The tour sponsored by Bnei Avraham has been given to thousands of Israelis and foreigners of all persuasions. It shows how the Palestinian neighborhoods bordering the Jewish settlers have been turned into ghost towns. For pictures see the post below on Hebron then and now. I hope that Birthright will offer a clarification. I know that I will raise a stink over it at my local Hillel (which is not affiliated with Birthright, I hasten to add) Update on August 28: I have learned that the staffer belonged to "Israel Outdoors" which is run by a group called Tlalim. Once again, there are many organizations that run "Birthright" trips (free trips to Israel for Jewish youth), and they differ considerably from each other. I am hoping for a response from the organization, and when I get it, I will publish it here.