Birthright Israel participants show their love for Israel.
(photo credit: SYLVIE ROSOKOFF)
J Street has announced that it is establishing free trips to Israel for North American youth, in competition with Birthright, in order to give participants exposure to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and those involved in it.
The first trip, which will last nine days, will take place this July and applications are being taken starting Thursday.
Criticism has been directed at Birthright by the far-Left IfNotNow organization which claims that Birthright does not address the conflict sufficiently and that when it does, it does so in an unbalanced manner.
IfNotNow activists have disrupted several trips with public walkouts and J Street’s initiative appears to be a response to these claims and the demands of some North American Jews for free Israel trips to address the conflict.
The itinerary of J Street’s trip includes the kind of excursions and touring which Birthright’s trips do, but also includes two days devoted to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Day 6 is entitled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Occupation 101” and will include tours of Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages in the West Bank, a visit to Hebron and conversations with residents of the settlements, Palestinians and peace activists from both sides.
J Street U, the student organizing arm of J Street, issued a “pledge” on social media to only go on free Israel trips which deal in a structured and in-depth manner with the conflict.
“We pledge to only participate in organized trips to Israel that include meaningful engagement with key questions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the occupation, and the status of minority groups in Israel,” the group declared.
“We will only participate in trips that include meetings with both Israelis and Palestinians and that show participants how the occupation impacts the daily lives of Palestinians living beyond the Green Line.”
Birthright said in response that its trips are not political in nature and that it respects young people’s choice "to visit Israel in any way that suits their needs and interests.”
The organization added: "Our educational trips are non-partisan and have enabled more than 700,000 Jewish young adults to experience Israel over the past 19 years. We appreciate all organizations that aim to connect the Jewish diaspora to Israel and provide the gift of experiencing Israel first-hand.”
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