Taglit-Birthright Israel, the group that has brought over 250,000 young Jewish
adults on free trips to Israel, has turned down an attempt to organize a trip
co-sponsored by left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street.
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officials said this week that the proposed J Street trip would “likely be out of
keeping with our longstanding policy of not conducting trips with a political
The statement came after J Street had announced it was
planning a Birthright trip that would take place this summer in collaboration
with the Israel Experience, an established Birthright
“Taglit-Birthright Israel wishes to clarify that at no time did
it approve of a Birthright Israel trip in association with J Street, nor did it
give its trip provider, the Israel Experience, any approval for such a trip,” a
spokesman for Taglit- Birthright said on Tuesday. “We did not rescind its
approval, as no approval was given in the first place.”
Last week, J
Street posted an announcement on its website informing individuals interested in
taking part in its proposed Birthright trip to register online.
several months, we worked closely with one of Birthright’s duly-authorized trip
providers, Israel Experience, to help craft a trip that meets Birthright’s
criteria,” said J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami.
“We were thrilled that
within 48 hours of telling our members that this trip would be offered, well
over 100 people expressed interest in registering.”
According to J
Street, the planned trip would have included visits to the usual Birthright
destinations, such as the ancient fortress of Masada, the Western Wall and the
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. In addition, it would have put a special emphasis
on social issues important to the organization.
caught wind of J Street’s announcement, it informed the group it had not
greenlighted the proposal.
“We were perplexed to read a press release by
J Street U [J Street’s on-campus arm] announcing it was ‘leading’ a Birthright
Israel trip, and soliciting participants to register for the trip on its website
bearing a Taglit-Birthright Israel logo,” the organization told The Jerusalem
“Aside from the fact that no such trip was ever approved, there
cannot have been any registered participants, since registration in North
America begins on February 14 and takes place only through our website,” it
J Street said in response that it had acted in good faith working
under the assumption that Israel Experience had cleared the trip with the
charity. The logo that J Street featured on its website had been put up in
response to a specific request from the Israel Experience, it said.
Street – which presents itself as a left-wing alternative to the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee, the powerful Israel lobby in Washington – also
complained of being treated unfairly, pointing to what it said were similar
trips run by AIPAC and other politically oriented organizations.
also clear that many organizations that have strong opinions from right to left
about Israel have been and are engaged in planning Birthright trips,” Ben-Ami
“These include AIPAC – which touts an ‘AIPAC Birthright trip’ –
and, in 2009, Stand With Us, and before that the Zionist Organization of
America. Even J Street U’s predecessor organization, the left-of-center Union of
Progressive Zionists, was engaged in organizing exactly such a trip in prior
Taglit-Birthright played down the role AIPAC had in putting
together the “Capital-to-Capital” trip, which it likened to a “political science
class” that was not “tilted to one side of the political spectrum.”
provider has been running this trip, with input from AIPAC, a mainstream Israel
advocacy group, long before J Street was established,” Taglit-Birthright
J Street contends that AIPAC has been covering up the measure of
its involvement in Birthright trips, citing as evidence the disappearance of
several links to AIPAC’s website from the “Capital-to-Capital” Facebook profile
and Web page in recent days.
Since 2000, Taglit-Birthright has been
lauded by politicians, religious leaders and sociologists as an effective way of
strengthening Jewish identity. During that time, the charity, which bills itself
as non-partisan and apolitical, has struggled to stay away from promoting overt
political agendas other than lending its broad support to Israel, which provides
about a third of its funds.
One Birthright trip from Australia stirred up
controversy last year when it included in its itinerary Hebron, which is home to
the Cave of the Patriarchs and is one of most politically tense areas over the
“Out of the 750 groups that we have this year, only one
went,” Taglit-Birthright CEO Gideon Mark told The Forward at the time. “If this
is possible, everything is possible.
But practically, this is the
proportion of groups until today.”
Taglit-Birthright stated on Tuesday
that it welcomed “every Jewish young adult, of every political, religious and
ideological worldview” to sign up for its upcoming summer trips when
registration begins February 14.
“The over [a] quarter-million young
adults who have been on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips have represented the
diversity of the Jewish people,” it said. “Through the trip, our participants
have found something in Israel which speaks to and strengthens their identity as
part of the Jewish people. In this we take deep pride.”