Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Had Twenty-Nine

I had just finished sharing a meal with a friend when he said, “What you don’t realize is that there are not two people in this whole town that give a rat’s-ass about what happens to the Palestinians.” Right away, I caught on that he did not care about what was happening to the Palestinians, but I could not accept that he was right about the more than 5000 other people who  lived in  our small community. It was not that I needed to prove him wrong. It was more like I felt that I had to try and do something to make known the pain and suffering of those living under occupation.

I drove up to a state park, met with the banquet manager and signed up for a one day rental on their largest conference room. I came home and planned a six hour seminar on Israel/Palestine and sent out invitations.  I called on a lot of friends for leadership, especially those who had been there and had seen first hand the violence of Israel’s occupation.  Much to my delight, we had 82 to come, including 29 college students.

Why bring this up now? That was seven years ago. So, let me say it again, out of eighty-two people who attended our seminar, twenty-nine of them were college students.  I was thrilled. Young people are more sensitive to justice issues than most of us old birds.  Many expressed surprise at what they had learned. Some announced that it was an “eye opening experience.”   I thought to myself.  Wow, now we are on our way. I just knew that with so many new peace activists things would soon change for the human rights of the suffering people of Palestine, most of whom are also young people.  What I did not know was that my twenty-nine would be going back to college campuses and encountering “Birthright kids”.  I had never heard of Birthright Israel.

According to Wikipedia, Israel has, since 1999, invested $660 million in a program to bring young Jews on a free ten day trip to see Israel from the inside.  Since that time, more than 400,000 kids from 64 countries, 80% from U.S. and Canada, have been treated to a very sanitized view of their “birthright home.”  They never travel into the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem. They are not allowed to visit and talk with the Israelis on their own.  One Birthright participant wrote:

Can blind support of a nation that has disobeyed international law ensure and strengthen your Jewish identity? Not necessarily. Does being Israeli mean to be Jewish? Not necessarily… Modern Zionism is a political movement that calls for a “Jewish” state, not a nation for all its citizens. .. If we take a closer look at Zionism’s goals, it is a movement of ethnic cleansing of an indigenous people. .. On my free trip to Israel, I did not find my long lost Judaism. What I did find was a hotbed of racial discrimination and a skewed view of Palestine.[1]

It is clear that Israel is panicked.  More Jews are leaving Israel than are moving to Israel.  No wonder they are courting young people even to the point of trying to entice them with erotic advertisement and the promise of a “Sexual Playground.” Jonathan Katz, referring to Birthright ads featuring smiling, shirtless, muscular Jewish men, writes:

The goals of these ads are to present Israel as a sexual playground… If this voyage is one intended to arouse all the senses, then it makes sense to speak of beach beauties of Tel Aviv and Eilat.  And if one goal is to prevent young Jewish men and women from shacking up with those goyim, then it is thus a natural progression that Israel is marketed as a romantic dreamland. A sexual playground.  Two messages surface: firstly, “You will have fun on this trip”; secondly, “you will meet some really hot people that make you happy in that very special way.”[2]  

Lawrence Davidson, history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania writes:

There have been studies originating both in Israel and abroad that show “as many as half of the Jews living in Israel will consider leaving…if in the next few years the current political and social trends continue.” This finding is in addition to the fact that yerida or emigration out of Israel, has long been running at higher numbers than iliyah, or immigration into the country.[3]

I am convinced that there is more Bible based Judaism in Atlanta than there is in Tel Aviv.  Why? because suddenly younger American Jews are learning about Israel’s history and ambitions and are finding Israel in huge conflict with their values.  Norman Finkelstein wrote, “The current Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has become a source of embarrassment to many liberal American Jews.”

If Israel brings Birthright kids over to learn to love the state of Israel, in many cases, it is clearly not working  American Jews are not turning their backs on Israel because they don’t know enough of what Israel stands for, but, according to Finkelstein,  “If the romance of American Jews with Israel is coming to an end, it is because they now know too much.”[4]

Birthright kids are backed by Israel’s most powerful propaganda machines. My twenty-nine can’t even count on being backed by the U.S. media, their own political leaders or even their church.  All they have is a small group of dedicated people who do give a rat’s ass about what is happening to the Palestinians. Standing up for justice is worth standing up for even if you are in a vast minority. I’ll bet on my twenty-nine.

                                                                                    Thomas Are
                                                                                    November 5, 2014

[1] Hannah Friedstein, An Open Letter to Birthright Participants Past, Present and Future.  Mondoweiss, October 22, 2014.
[2] Jonathan Katz, Is My Birthright a Sexual Playground?  March 4, 2014.
[3] Lawrence Davidson, Israel’s Jewish Exodus.,  June 15, 2014
[4] Norman Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much,  Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End. (OR Books, New York., 2012) p. 15,17.

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