Birthright Israel

The Birthright Israel Foundation was established in 1999 by Jewish philanthropists to provide young Jewish adults with a free guided tour of Israel. Birthright’s mission is to motivate young Jewish adults to form a strong bond with both Israel and their Jewish heritage. Birthright’s 35,000 donors have given this opportunity to 650,000 young Jewish adults.

Several Jewish groups oppose Birthright. These groups have used different tactics to express their opposition. At one extreme, IfNotNow, which wants Israel to unilaterally end the occupation of the West Bank, has sent activists to disrupt Birthright tours. Birthright has responded by warning prospective participants that disrupters may be ejected from the tour. A moderate group, J Street U, has campaigned for Birthright to present the Palestinian perspective on its trips.

Recently, Birthright has experienced a drop in attendance. If Jewish groups opposed to the mission of Birthright want to foster a diversity of American Jewish feelings toward Israel, these groups will not try to end the free Birthright trips to Israel. Instead, they may establish a rival foundation that will sponsor free trips to the West Bank. Jewish young adults who will participate in both a Birthright tour and a hypothetical rival tour will be exposed to a broad spectrum of views regarding Israel and the Palestinians.

Jewish groups which support the mission of Birthright but want the Palestinian narrative added to the agenda can donate to the Birthright foundation to become stakeholders. As stakeholders, they will be eligible to diversify the Birthright board of directors by nominating their own candidates to serve on the board. If their candidates are selected, they may be able to insert the Palestinian point of view into the itinerary.

About the Author
Ted Sheskin is an emeritus professor of industrial engineering and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, and Jewish Voice.
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