Taglit/Birthright Israel's relentless march to the right continues. First, it axed a planned Birthright trip co-organized by J Street U to Israel. Now it has launched a website for young adults called Take Back Zionism, whose "partners" include nobody to the left of Ameinu, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance. So J Street and J Street U (formerly, the Union of Progressive Zionists) are excluded.
Oh, I suppose one of its partners, Ameinu is progressive Zionist….but let's face it, how many young people affiliate with Ameinu and not with J Street U? For that matter, how many young people have heard of Ameinu? I don't mean to diss that organization (I do that here), which has come out on behalf of the Sheikh Jarrah activists, and against some recent Knesset decisions. But why are they partnering with an initiative that doesn't include J Street or J Street U? Is there a real split among progressive Zionists here?
On the disallowal of the Birthright J Street U trip there is a balanced article here. The official reason given by Birthright? J Street has a political agenda, and it does not fund trips that are organized by groups with political agendas. (AIPAC has a political agenda, but AIPAC is kosher for Birthright, since it supports any Israeli government, no matter what shade of rightwing nationalist it may be, from the extreme right of Avigdor Lieberman to the moderate right of Tzipi Livni.)
But what if J Street U doesn't actually sponsor the trip, but a trip is organized for progressive Jewish youth? Here is the response of Jacob Dallal, Birthright spokesperson:
"There have been trips around social justice in Israel," [Dallal] said. "Those trips have been vetted. If the trip provider said, 'We want to do a thing on social justice,' we could have judged it on its merits, but that never took place."
One wonders whether Birthright considers Israeli activists on the West Bank, or the struggle of its Palestinian citizens for equality to be considered "social justice"? I imagine that as long as "social justice" stays within the Jewish consensus – a trip to Neve Shalom, a visit to a clinic for Ethiopian Jews, etc. – that's all right with Birthright.
As for Take Back Zionism -- the drab, alte kakke-looking website has old content paid for by old Zionists in an effort to attract the Rachel Maddow crowd. All right, maybe I am a wee unkind. But take a look at its partners, which include, "Artists 4 Israel" (countering the artistic boycott), Friends of the IDF, The David Project, Standwithus, ZOA, NGO Monitor, Hasbara Fellowships, etc., etc, and you will see how heavily weighted this group is to the right, the Ameinu fig leaf notwithstanding.
I suppose that Take Back Zionism is a way to prolong that Birthright afterglow. But if it wants to appeal to young Jewish progressives on the Upper West Side, it should be talking with J Street U.
When I asked why J Street did not appear as a partner, and why Zionism was limited to the conventional statist kind, I received this reply:
We are not limiting Zionism at all, in fact, the point is to expand Zionism and move it away from the narrow connotation it currently holds in contemporary discourse
There are a number of reasons why J Street is not on this list- first and foremost, they do not have a young leadership group or 'next generation' activity in NYC- you will find that our partner organizations have a way for alumni to actually engage and become involved.
If there are opportunities for young adult engagement in the NY metro area with J Street that you have heard of, please do let us know.
Well, it's nice to know that NGO Monitor has a young leadership group in NYC, and that it numbers more than the young adults affiliated with J Street…If you believe the above, I have a bridge to sell you….
By the way, J Street does have a young professionals network in NYC, and it is putting on an event this week. See here.
Look, I will take back some of my criticism of the site when J Street is included. (Needless to say, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes are not in the pantheon of Zionists there, but the official version of Zionism excluded them long ago, and Americans can't be blamed for that.) But I have a feeling that Take Back Zionism is being disingenuous here.
And I am sure Kenneth Bob can explain to his rank-and-file why Ameinu is kosher as a partner for Take Back Zionism, whereas J Street, on whose advisory board he sits, is treif.