By Alex Kane
Kiera Feldman’s July 2011 investigative piece in the Nation on Birthright Israel exposed the program for what it is: a racist, settlement-promoting propaganda organization that is trying to raise the next generation of American Zionists. Sheldon Adelson’s recent comments to young Jews on a Birthright trip shine an unflattering light on the organization’s ethos.
Addressing a Hanukkah celebration for hundreds of youths visiting Israel as part of the Taglit Birthright program on Sunday, Adelson said, “Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why [Newt] Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people. There are a number of Palestinians who will recognize the truth of this statement.”
Adelson also appealed to the hundreds of Jewish youth in the audience to study history and be “goodwill ambassadors” for Israel.
“When you return to your countries of origin, speak in support of Israel – don’t let Muslim student organizations take over the campuses. Learn history, go back to the Ottoman Empire and the First World War, and know the issue under discussion, and when you return to our homes you will remember that you are goodwill ambassadors for Israel,” Adelson said.
Adelson was joined at the Birthright Hanukkah celebration by Israel’s Minister of Information and Disapora, Yuli Edelstein, who fittingly enough is also in the news for saying that Arabs are a “deplorable nation.”
Birthright won’t have anything to say to Adelson, who contributes millions of dollars to the program. And why would they? Adelson’s comments merely express the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim values that undergird the program.
Here’s Feldman with more:
Our guide was Shachar Peleg-Efroni, a second-generation secular kibbutznik. Several times a day he said things like, “Arabs are those who originated from Saudi Arabia.” Everything we saw out the tour bus window was “in the Bible,” reinforcing Zionist claims to the land. He used “Palestinian” interchangeably with “terrorist.” Driving through northern Israel, Shachar gave a lesson in “Judaization,” the government’s term for settlement policy. Passing through an Israeli-Arab town, he called our attention to a litter-strewn road (perhaps the result of inequities in municipal funding, which escaped mention) and then pointed to a neat ring of state-subsidized Jewish towns. “Judaization,” he explained, was necessary “to keep them from spreading.” My American crush and I exchanged a knowing look.
From my notes on Day 8: “Israel just went in and cleaned Gaza,” Shachar said of Operation Cast Lead, which had taken place a year earlier, as we drove south to an organic farm along the border. There, the Israeli proprietor explained that his low-hanging trellises were Thai worker–sized and invited us to nibble the dangling strawberries. “Thank you, Thai worker!” he instructed us to say when a laborer walked by. En route to the next stop on the itinerary, Shachar pointed to tin shacks—Bedouin villages—and jovially detailed the government’s Bedouin home-demolition campaign, saying the IDF needed to “kick them away.” We arrived at our far more picturesque “Bedouin Dessert [sic] Village Experience” and rode camels into the sunset. A man named Mohammed served coffee and played a familiar tune on the oud: “Hava Nagila.”
To varying degrees, Birthrighters from an array of other trips have recounted similar experiences. “Don’t go to the Arab Quarter, because they will throw acid on your face,” Max Geller recalls his Birthright guide saying in 2006. Geller’s trip also featured AwesomeSeminar.com’s Neil Lazarus, a pro-Israel advocacy trainer who says he’s delivered presentations since Birthright’s inception. (“When the Palestinians kill Israeli men, women and children,” Lazarus says in one online video, “they celebrate, and they give out sweets in the streets.”) Lazarus’s take-home was, according to Geller, “Arabs want to kill you.”
Adelson’s comments are only the tip of the iceberg.
Alex Kane is a staff reporter for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.