Monday, August 13, 2007

Counter the $60 Million Gift to Birthright (Taglit) With a $60 Gift to "Encounter"

According to Haaretz today, Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy Jewish republican, has earmarked 60 million dollars for Birthright (Taglit), the program that gives a free trip to Israel for Jewish college students. Read about it here.

As a college professor on a major university campus, I have been following Birthright from its inception. I endorsed the program then, and I endorse it now, with reservations. I know that some have been afraid that Birthright brainwashes college students into mindless "advocates" for Israel, i.e., rightwing zombies spouting some Dershowitz or Bard nonsense. Tain't necessarily so.

To do that effectively, you would need to get the students way before college.

The truth is that Birthright hits different people in different ways; in fact, there is not one Birthright program, but there are several, run by different organizations with different agendas.

The good news about Birthright is that many people return from it energized about Israel, but not always in a mindless way. Take an intelligent college student and try to brainwash her, and she will know what is going on. Have her come back to campus and engage her about the Palestinians, and it will be easier than somebody who is apolitical and apathetic.

Still, I have reservations, and that is because the "sophisticated" Birthright programs -- like the adult UJC "missions" they try to emulate -- expose students to a wide variety of opinions within the Jewish consensus, from the Meretz left to the settler right. They do not meet with human rights activists (though they may meet with activists for Jewish minorities Ethiopian Jews, etc.), and they do not meet with people outside the political Zionist camp.

Even a program run by an Ivy League Hillel like Yale two years ago had students meet with liberal Zionist dinosaurs like Amos Oz and Aharon Barak. Hardly cutting edge.

So how can we counter those Jewish Republican dollars? By backing programs that take college students to the West Bank and show them what life is really about behind the separation wall.

One such excellent program is Encounter. No, this is not Birthright Unplugged, which also does a good job, and is worthy of your support. Encounter takes students who are spending a year studying in Israeli institutions, universities, yeshivas, etc. and gets them invited into the homes of Palestinians on the West Bank so that they can see for themselves the effects of the occupation.

You won't see people like Adelson forking over money for justice or understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. But you and I should. And this is a great program. You can donate to Encounter here, and they accept Paypal.

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