In "The Romance of Birthright Israel", Kiera Feldman synthesizes her 2010 Birthright experience with a series of interviews with past participants, as well as Birthright funders and staff. She comes away seeing the Birthright excursion as a shallow, feel-good but purposely-mind-numbing exercise, whose ulterior motive is no longer Jewish heritage or continuity, but pro-Israel advocacy of the right-wing kind.I'm disturbed by this Nation article, not because there isn't some truth in it, but because it's written with the same mostly one-sided anti-Israel slant that The Nation and the Nation Institute has taken for years. The most egregious of their actions was the Institute's decision a couple of years ago to actually sponsor Philip Weiss's Mondoweiss online publication, which is relentless in its hostility toward Israel. (It's not clear to me that this sponsorship has continued, but Weiss and his co-editor, Adam Horowitz, still frequently write for the magazine.)
This piece would have had more credibility if written as straight fact, without the obvious anti-Zionist innuendos. (If Birthright has largely become a right-wing and anti-Palestinian, pro-occupation enterprise, we need to know this.) But Ms. Felman even implies that it's wrong for American Jews, part of a historically persecuted people, to support a sense of connection with Israel and their fellow Jews.
In her zeal for the Palestinian cause, she neglects to mention that some major Birthright funders are liberals. This includes Charles Bronfman and S. Daniel Abraham. Abraham is a major contributor to the Democratic Party and a dove who founded the Center for Middle East Peace.
If the writer had done more of her homework, she'd know that Yossi Beilin, an originator of the idea of Birthright whom she cites as a Labor Party "stalwart," left the Labor Party and headed the very dovish and left-wing Meretz Party for most of the past decade. He was and remains a stalwart for peace and a Palestinian state: a prime-mover of the Oslo Peace Process and of the Geneva Accord/Initiative, a detailed informal peace agreement hammered out between prominent Israelis and Palestinians dedicated to a two-state solution.
Feldman does report that J Street's effort to organize a Birthright trip was rejected, but she does not say that it was meant as a continuation of the kind of progressive trip that had been permitted under Birthright to a campus-based youth group called the Union of Progressive Zionists. The UPZ became a part of J Street two years ago, and was renamed J Street U, J Street's campus affiliate. It has just conducted an independent tour, fully in line with its progressive pro-Israel agenda.
With the assistance of Eric Alterman, the one regular staff writer for The Nation with a progressive pro-Israel viewpoint, I was able to reach out directly to The Nation's editor and publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel. She in turn cordially encouraged me to distill my concerns into a 300-word letter to the editor, which I hope to see printed in the magazine shortly.