thanks for your letters and FAQs

Every couple of months I get an e-mail from someone considering going on a Birthright trip. I'm actually happy to get the mail (and will respond), but I thought it would be helpful to readers to post some FAQs and answers so that they don't have to wait for my responses:

I'm having doubts about going on a Birthright trip. Should I go at all?

I recommend taking advantage of the trip while you have the chance, but you might have a lower tolerance for these kind of experiences than I do. If you feel extremely uncomfortable in situations where most people disagree with you, you may not want to take the trip, but going with a good friend or family member might make the rough parts more bearable.   

I have not regretted making the decision to go.  I took the trip with my brother, and since we agree on a lot we could share our feelings of frustration with one another. In addition I have one friend that I made on the trip, whom I still see on occasion.  

 If you feel uncomfortable going on principle (ie. the hypocrisy of a Jewish "birthright" to the state of Israel while not extending a right of return to Palestinians) I'm not sure what to recommend, as I set those principles aside for the purpose of accepting a free trip.  

I'm not convinced that abstaining from a Birthright Trip is making a coherent political statement.  If you're on the trip you may have some perspective to add to the conversation while you and your peers are experiencing the same things. At least they won't be able to say "you wouldn't understand, you weren't there."  

You will have the opportunity to bring up discrepancies and points of criticism during what might be an otherwise placid session of propaganda. In some cases, speaking up may encourage others who agree with you to share their opinions. There are also ways to extend your trip, and others have used this extension for their own political purposes (see my post on "Birthleft").

Are all the other people on the trip going to be right-wing zionist assholes?

Almost certainly not. On my trip most people considered themselves politically liberal and had minimal exposure to organized Judaism and most knew very little about Israel, much less Israeli history (granted most of them had pretty conventional views on things, mostly cribbed from American media coverage on Israel). Most were also willing to listen, even to ideas that they didn't agree with. Young American Jews are also increasingly ambivalent about the state of Israel and its policies (see this article). The proportion of political radicals on your trip will be exceedingly low if there are any at all. Among the Birthright participants I didn't feel any more out of the place than I do in the larger American society.

The trip leaders, guest speakers and soldiers were another story as documented in this blog. Don't go in with any illusions about convincing everyone on your trip of your beliefs and you'll be fine. 

Can you recommend a specific trip organizer?

Since I only went on one Birthright trip, I cannot recommend any specific trip organizer. The number of trip organizers is overwhelming and they tend to obscure their politics in vague language. The trip I went on was with Livnot and they do not lead Birthright trips anymore.  The trip Heeb 'n Vegan went on (mentioned in the comments of the blog) was with the Union of Progressive Zionists in conjunction with Israel Experts. Many of the trips cater to secular Jews, but the organizers do try to inject religion into the mix. I didn't express this in the blog, but after the Birthright trip I actually became a stauncher atheist than before. 

Could you recommend some books or websites for me to read or look at before my trip?

Here are the books I recommend:

1. Beyond Chutzpah by Norman Finkelstein - You can skip the first section about antisemitism if pressed for time. I think Finkelstein overstates his case in this section. The real meat is in part two and the appendices where Finkelstein demolishes Alan Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel (a book Brithright recommends on their website)This is significant not because The Case for Israel is a great book, but because it serves as a stand-in for many of the myths people believe about the state of Israel, many of which you will hear on the trip.

Finkelstein's main thesis is that Israel's human rights record put forth by supporters of Israel (like Alan Dershowitz) does not match independent reports from several mainstream human rights organizations (including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem).

2. The War for Palestine: Revisiting the History of 1948 Edited by Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim -- This book examines the 1948 war from the perspective of the "New Historians" who want to challenge the conventional story of Israel's founding.

3. Fateful Triangle by Noam Chomsky -- An examination of Arab-Israeli conflict and the role of the United States in this conflict.

4. Uri Gordon's Thesis chapter 8 -- Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon presents his thoughts about anarchist solidarity with the Palestinian nationalist movements.

I also suggest you look at Anarchists Against the Wall website:  if for nothing else to show you there are radical Israelis putting their bodies on the line to challenge the military occupation of the West Bank. Their actions short-circuit the argument: "You wouldn't think that way if you actually lived here."

If you want to see the kind of conditions that Birthright wouldn't take you anywhere near go here:

Let me know if you have any other questions or you want clarification on any part of this FAQ. You can send e-mail to:

I am happy to personally respond to e-mails.

No comments:

Jewish Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf