Opinion |

Birthright's So Scared of Arabs It's Banned Them

Birthright's 'total, complete shutdown of meet-ups with Israeli Arabs till it figures what's going on' at least exposes the organization's political agenda to sunlight. But it's left Israeli peace-builders like me furious

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Birthright participants. 5 April 2015.
Birthright participants. 5 April 2015.Credit: Taglit

Birthright is reportedly ordering their trip providers to stop meetings between their participants and Arab citizens of Israel. In their own words, "there is a need for further analysis of this module."

I read these lines over and over again and could not trace my thoughts fast enough. My responses went from laughing out loud, to wanting to smash the nearest available wall, to being entirely unsurprised.

"Further analysis" on how and if to meet Arabs?

Maybe they mean to say Birthright participants should meet only the properly vetted and defanged "good pro-Israel Arabs", because they're scared delicate Birthrighters might be exposed to critical thought? After all, what a disaster it would be to raise a generation of Jews who dare to think critically about Israel.

Birthright is attempting to create a sterile, ideologically 'pure' environment, for its participants. But what will happen when they grow up and realize there is so much more than what they have seen on Birthright? Could that dissonance mean they'll lose faith in this place called Israel? How do Birthright organizers expect its alumni to correlate the false images they saw on a perfect, 'clean' ten day freebie with the complexity of the real world?

Let Birthright ban the meetings. It's better. And it's more honest of Birthright to just come out and say it: Jews from all over the world, come for a free ride to Israel and don't worry, you won't be 'contaminated' by meeting 22% of Israel's population, or any Palestinians at all.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson at the Taglit Birthright Israel event in Rishon Letzion, June 25, 2017.Credit: David Bachar

Oh, but wait - who will be cleaning their rooms in the hotels? Who will be driving their buses? Who will be cooking their authentic "Israeli food"? Who will be providing the camels for the compulsory rite-of-passage Birthright pictures? Who will host them in the 'traditional Bedouin tent'?

It's 2017 and it's hard to believe that I'm saying this – but Birthright thinks Arabs are only good for you when they are your service providers. But to shut up and listen to them as equals? Let's get rid of that.

As an alumni of Brandeis, the U.S. campus with the largest number of students attending Birthright trips, I am not surprised about this step, but I'm so angry. I was always concerned about the brainwashing that's built in to these trips.

But I also believe in young people's hearts and minds; I believe that awareness and exposure can change mindsets. I insist on meeting Birthright groups, I insist on speaking to people who disagree with me.

The hardest part about this scandal is that it would never pass muster back in the United States. In the U.S. you know damn well that being uncomfortable and critical and celebrating diversity are integral parts of a multilayered democratic conversation. But when it comes to Israel, in Israel, apparently those values don't apply.

An annual Birthright event in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

As an Israeli Jew who's not afraid of being critical about her own state I ask you, Birthright: How dare you design a program and bring people for free and deny them the right to complex points of view, to experiencing democracy? Do you think that expelling Arabs from your schedule and from your agenda will 'disappear' them from our lives here?

After 10 short days Birthright participants go back to the U.S. We Israelis have to live here together. The damage you're causing affects everyone , builds higher walls and makes respectful and equitable connections within Israeli society far harder for us to make.

And for those of you who are Birthright participants, organizers, supporters, funders: if you actually think Israel has any future in the Middle East, you should think very hard how you're responding to these shameful reports.

No birthright gives us a right to be superior, oppressive or racist. Think if this is really the "Israel experience" that Jewish teens deserve, and what kind of social and political engineering and propagandizing of the Israeli state you're now part of.

Noam Shuster Eliassi is a peace activist, public speaker and comedian and has managed a range of peace-building initiatives. She is a Brandeis University graduate and was awarded the Davis Peace Prize for developing peacebuilding programs for HIV positive youth in Kigali, Rwanda.

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