Birthright Israel’s education department has announced that all trip providers must end meetings with Israeli Arabs in their programming.
The decision comes just two years after the mandatory educational module on Arab Israelis was established by the organization. While many applauded the idea of providing meaningful encounters for diaspora Jews with Arab Israelis, others believed that this seemingly progressive decision was actually created in order to control the narrative of the conflict.
While this could be seen as a problematic aspect of the organization, as it allowed Birthright to filter the experience of Israeli Arabs in a positive light, the program has remained a celebrated aspect of US diaspora relations.
Gil Troy, the chair of Birthright’s educational committee has responded to criticism of the end of the educational module by stating that the decision was based on evaluative feedback rather than the organization’s rejection of the values of a shared society.
21.6% of Israel’s population is Arab and leaving their voice out of the Birthright programs means that their story is not heard. Writing for Forward, ALLMEP executive director Joel Braunold stated that he believes Birthright has a unique opportunity to address this issue and provide a valuable learning experience about the reality of Israel to visiting Jewish people.
One such option is to create an educational module crafted after the Interagency Task Force on Arab Israeli Issues, which for years has been bringing together major forces in the diaspora Jewish community to address and understand the realities of the situation of the Arab minority in Israel. Or, Birthright could focus on connecting their groups to programs supported by the U.S. government to fund and support shared society programs.
A Birthright educational meeting set for Wednesday will consider ways to improve the module. The meeting will include Birthright’s chief executive Gidi Mark who has been in the U.S. meeting with donors and attending a Birthright alumni event. Jewish-Arab relations in Israel are complex, but the organization has an opportunity to address this complexity and work to bridge differences and build a shared future within Israel’s borders.
In his article for Forward, Braunold stated:
While the aim of Birthright is to connect unconnected Jews to themselves, there is an ethical question of whether or not one can one ignore the impact the Jewish nation state has on its non-Jewish citizens. To what extent does the efficacy of the Birthright experience trump the ethics of editing Israeli Arabs out of Israeli society?
Yet rather than abandon the hard educational challenge, this crisis can be converted into a showcase of how the U.S., both as a country and a Jewish community, are tackling this complexity in a ways that can both educate and connect the most unconnected among us.
Read more about Birthright’s decision here:
The Jewish Week: Birthright’s Arab Visits Now Under Scrutiny
Photo Credit: Flickr
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