Friday, February 4, 2011

In Defense of J Street's Birthright Trip

An Open Letter to Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark:

Dear Mr. Mark,

The J Street Birthright trip issue is causing you headaches because of a simple fact: Jewish support for Israel is political. Supporting Israel means supporting a real live country, one which you and your organization work so hard and effectively to promote. But explaining Israeli security, the importance of a Jewish state, and the social dynamics of the country to 18-26 year-olds requires delving into politics. Birthright participants are smart. They ask questions. We give answers.

Sometimes these answers come from more conservative organizations like AIPAC, StandWithUs, and the Zionist Organization of America. Sometimes they come from more liberal organizations like the New Israel Fund and the Union of Progressive Zionists. Yet what these organizations seek, more than partisan foot soldiers, is engagement. Engaging with Israel requires engaging with its politics. Contributing to Israel's solutions means understanding its problems. Loving Israel requires doing so despite occupation, discrimination, and mistakes which characterize the struggle of all liberal democracies.

Mr. Mark, putting obstacles in front of a J Street Birthright trip is more than inconsistent; it is actively harmful to Israel-diaspora relations. At a time when our young generation is struggling to grasp the implications of Israel's history for its own era, many are simply abandoning Israel altogether. Engaging in Israel from the left, right, or center should not preclude 18-26 year-olds from engaging altogether. Whether religious or secular, student or professional, left or right, the imperative of Birthright cuts across these divisions with one clear message: You need to see it for yourself.

This is one message on which we can agree.

I strongly urge reconsideration of J Street's trip, and working with them to make this trip a reality.

**The Confused Sheikh**
Birthright Peer Leader, Trip SA-18-249
June 2008

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