In the above video, posted yesterday by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, BJPA Director Seven M. Cohen says that “Birthright is making a mistake” by not allowing a J Street trip.
Cohen recommends, in brief, that Birthright provide “value-oriented trips to Israel”–a range of trips that provide space for students with diverse values or beliefs. Birthright, therefore, should include a J Street trip to accommodate students with progressive (and perhaps critical) views on Israel just like it provides trips for Orthodox or Reform participants. He added that he would also support a trip for people who “support settlements in the West Bank” and even advocated adding a non-Zionist trip.
“All of these trips are based on Jews getting together with certain values, and if we’re going to have young Jews engaged with Israel, they’re going to come to that engagement with certain values,” Cohen said. “They could be Zionist values, they could be non-Zionist values, they could be Diasporist values, they could be Bundist values.”
Cohen, who is a renowned Jewish sociologist, adds that this generation of Jewish young adults “has moved from… people to purpose.” In contrast to his generation, Cohen says that his children’s generation bases its Jewish identity on values like social justice, culture and learning rather than on the feeling of belonging to a group. Birthright must cater to those values, he says, because they are what bring young Jews to invest themselves in Judaism or Israel. Because of that, Cohen advocates not just for a J Street trip but rather for a variety of value-based Birthright trips.
In other J Street-Birthright news, Birthright has confirmed to New Voices that Israel Experience, the would-be trip provider for the J Street U trip, is an independent company that is not beholden to Birthright’s restrictions and standards. Rather, it enters into a contract with Birthright for the Birthright trips it provides. What this means for the Birthright-J Street controversy is that:
a) Birthright’s statements do not come in lieu of statements from Israel Experience, which still refuses to comment.
b) It is possible that Birthright declined permission for the J Street U trip last year, and Israel Experience proceeded with it anyway without keeping in frequent contact with Birthright. In other words, just because Israel Experience gave J Street U final approval to send out the press release on Jan. 13 does not mean that Birthright knew about the trip at that point (or close to then).
Stay tuned for further updates.