IfNotNow does not speak for me

As I entered my third decade, I wanted to engage more meaningfully with my own relationship to Judaism and experience Israel firsthand. And so, this past winter, I attended Taglit-Birthright.

By NEIL ST. CLAIR
April 16, 2019 01:04
2 minute read.
People organized by IfNotNow protest outside of Trump International Hotel against the new U.S. Embas

People organized by IfNotNow protest outside of Trump International Hotel against the new U.S. Embassy opening in Jerusalem in Washington, US, May 14, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

 
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My last name might confuse you, but I am, in fact, an American Jew through my mother (née Robin). My family fled the pogroms of Czarist Russia, and I am a passionate supporter of a Jewish homeland in Israel, if not a fan of all Israeli politics.

As I entered my third decade, I wanted to engage more meaningfully with my own relationship to Judaism and experience Israel firsthand. And so, this past winter, I attended Taglit-Birthright.

Soon thereafter, I became aware of some young American Jews walking off Birthright as part of the small-but-loud IfNotNow movement. Their reason was a belief that Birthright did not do justice to the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians. I felt immediately compelled as a recent Birthright returnee to offer my counter to this narrative, as it missed the point of Birthright entirely. Below is a post I made on the IfNotNow Facebook page a few months back (having now been mysteriously deleted), and which, (not so mysteriously) was not engaged with in any substantive way.

“I’ve recently come back from Taglit-Birthright Israel and I can tell you that the claims you [IfNotNow] make, and the intent of your organization, feel incorrect and misplaced.

“Firstly, we were presented with a balanced perspective of the conflict by our tour guide. Full stop. But more importantly, have you read the goals of Birthright? If you haven’t, I highly suggest you do... the idea is to create a more cohesive Jewish identity and community... this is a spiritual trip to find your Jewish roots in our historic and de jure homeland. Your intent to disrupt these trips is a straw-man argument against a point Birthright doesn’t intend to make.


“...Yad Vashem and the Western Wall are not Left or Right, they are monuments of our heritage that we have a right to explore. More fundamentally than this, I remain unsure how you claim to argue against a biased perspective on Birthright yet present a one-sided argument yourself – this is a multi-dimensional issue that (regardless of my strong personal feelings in support of Israel) deserves to have light shown on it from all sides... in the PROPER forums.

“So bottom line, Birthright is a misplaced arena for your assault. If you are intending to be a crucible for true and open dialogue, then I invite you to bring myself and other recent Birthright participants who may not necessarily share your views, into a filmed, open forum so that we may dialogue under the veil of truth and not mutual ignorance. I await your reply.”

My challenge still stands. As does the fact that less than 1% of the more than 15,000 Birthright participants engaged with the IfNotNow false narrative during the winter session. The recent attempts to protest Birthright board members and the Birthright offices in New York stand as a testament to a misguided approach to open a dialogue about an important issue. I am a strong advocate of free speech, but not when rocket-filled words are aimed at the wrong target. If a straw poll of my Birthright group is any indication, IfNotNow not only doesn’t speak for me, they do not speak for us.

The writer is a former NY1 television journalist and columnist for Forbes a serial entrepreneur in the media and insurtech spaces, and has worked as a senior executive with several venture-backed businesses. He sits on the boards of several prominent non-profits, including the Child Safety Pledge.

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