Revoke the “birthright”

Sheldon Adelson may be a nice guy, and he may or or may not wear pink undies. On the latter, I don’t know, because much as I’d like to ask him, he won’t pick up the phone. Nor his handlers. And anyway, any attempt at levity is probably lost on billionaires and banksters of his ilk.

Even Adelson’s detractors, of which I am not necessarily one, point to his support of Taglit-Birthright Israel as evidence of his beneficence. I disagree.

In general travel is a good thing, particularly when there is an educational component to it. But the exclusionary nature of Taglit-Birthright Israel makes it profoundly problematic: “Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the gift of educational, first-time trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26.” Bingo: age discrimination.

But that’s not the worse part. Gift? On what basis? Giving free travel away to a “young adult” because he or she is Jewish, or for any other non-merit based reason, only deepens the sense of entitlement that mars today’s youth and effectively robs it of the creative energy needed to effect positive social change.

Forget the fact that my Israeli colleague who works for El Al cringes whenever he spots a gaggle of Birthrighters beyond the edges of his drinks trolley (in any event, not too hard to spot). They may be loud and obnoxious, but most communication is non-verbal anyway: these groups exude the same tainted air of entitlement common to groups of travel writers on sponsored press junkets, such as those uselessly granted to putative journalists by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, at taxpayer expense. The prematurely entitled are on a  state-funded detour away from actual education; such is the cost of subscribing to a scripted experience.

And just whose scripted experience, anyway? For Jews between the ages of 18-26, okay, I see. But what about that other road to education, which in the days of yore was called hard work? You want to see the Eiffel Tower, youth of America? Go get a job and earn enough to buy a ticket to Paris.

But isn’t Israel different, the birthrighters might say, and Mr. Adelson certainly would (but not on the phone). Yes yes and emphatically no. Israel is the Jewish State, I don’t dispute it, but it’s not the Jewish religious state. Neither I nor my Israeli friends have the slightest thing in common with the Jewish fundamentalists otherwise known as Haredim save our shared ethnic link (even though we come from different planets).

And here’s the crux of the matter: if Israel were the Jewish religious state, it would be conceivable, though not desirable, to justify the funding of Taglit-Birthright. But on an ethnic or cultural basis, the logic doesn’t quite check out. Does every ethnic Italian living in America have an automatic birthright to visit Italy? No. Would it be nice if they could get a free trip out of their ethnic composition? Sure.

Would it be nicer if an Italian-American stuck in New Jersey demonstrated an interest in or passion for his or her cultural motherland, and worked his or her way toward a voyage of discovery accordingly? Si si, because that’s an organic genesis for a trip, and the inanity of group travel aside, it’s the way to a more enlightened experience.

Taglit-Birthright is wrong for another reason too: Israel is home to not just Jews, but Christians and Arabs too. Palestinians and Druze. Mr. Adelson may not be wild about that reality but in truth the cultural topography of the Holy Land is more textured and intricate than the Las Vegas desert where he stuffed his piggy bank will ever be.

There are Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 26 living in the United States for whom a trip to Israel could be mighty educational, and maybe even fun. Do they get a free trip anywhere? Certainly not on Adelson’s dime.

For the same reason that all marriage should be banned until anyone who wants to can be married, and have the same rights attached thereto, all Taglit-Birthright trips should stop until such time as funding is available to anyone around the world between the ages of 16 and 34 who demonstrates a bona fide interest in the history and affairs of the State of Israel.

While I question the legitimacy of the French Republic because its inception was grounded in terror, it was founded on the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and that’s what I’m driving at, even as Mr. Adelson is presumably being driven in his Bentley to some new casino construction site.

Bankrolling free trips to Israel for young Jews is essentially preaching to the choir. The light that Mr. Adelson brings is one-directional, and leaves many others in the dark. For anyone with a sense of enlightenment, as opposed to entitlement, this is not progress.

So either make the “birthright” a universal one on the basis of merit, or revoke it.