Home » ‘Birthright’ in a time of genocide | Israel War on Gaza

‘Birthright’ in a time of genocide | Israel War on Gaza

by Marko Florentino
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In January, the Birthright Israel programme resumed operations following a brief suspension of activity. The hiatus was triggered by the October 7 Hamas attack and the ensuing Israeli-perpetrated genocide in the Gaza Strip, which has thus far killed well over 30,000 Palestinians.

Since 1999, Birthright has treated some 850,000 Jewish young adults from around the world to 10-day, all-expenses-paid trips to Israel, jointly funded by the Israeli government and private donors. Participants ride around on buses, see the sights, enjoy “hormonal encounters” with Israeli soldiers, and otherwise bond with stolen Palestinian land.

Rather than being a coincidental byproduct of the whole experience, hormones in fact serve a calculated purpose in Birthright expeditions. Consider a 2013 Haaretz article on the frequency of romantic hookups and marriage resulting from Birthright trips, which quoted a 24-year-old Israeli soldier assigned to accompany one of the groups: “We come in uniform and they make a big deal out of us… [T]hese Jewish programmes are very well thought out. They really know what to do to get Americans emotional and excited.”

And the more “emotional and excited” young American Jews get, to be sure, the better for the Zionist project, given the key role of the United States in abetting the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Of the more than 400 Birthright trippers who descended upon Israel in January 2024 – a drop in the bucket compared with the 23,000 individuals the programme had reportedly envisioned sending this year – the majority were from the United States.

Obviously, Birthright Israel has always been heinous in its premise, endowing as it does anyone with one Jewish parent – and in some cases even converts to Judaism – with a “birthright” that is categorically denied to Palestinians, including those literally born on the land in question.

In light of the present genocide, however, the Birthright programme accrues even more horrifyingly sinister implications, as Israel denies Palestinians the very right to live – much less to be born in peace. With much of Gaza’s medical infrastructure bombed to ruin and with hospitals continuously targeted, Palestinian mothers are now forced to give birth in tents and other improvised spaces.

Having completed their gestation under relentless bombardment, these Palestinian newborns presumably enter the world already traumatised. Meanwhile, as Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, recently told the United Nations Security Council, the “psychological injuries” being inflicted on the Gaza Strip “have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die”.

Genocidal panorama notwithstanding, a February article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) proclaims that “Birthright trippers find visiting Israel during war is a unique and invigorating experience”. The Birthright itinerary has been modified slightly for wartime, and now encompasses excursions to “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv as well as Schneider Children’s Medical Centre in the city of Petah Tikva, where, according to the JTA article, 23-year-old Alon Fishman of Rockland County, New York was moved by “seeing how much people cared and understanding that this is what Israel is about”.

Never mind that the mass slaughter and starvation of Palestinian children in Gaza is actually what Israel is currently “about”. Anyway, the point of the Birthright programme has never been to convey reality but rather its exact opposite: a landscape free of any hints as to the fraudulent nature of the Jewish “birthright” narrative or the criminal behaviour of the state of Israel.

To that end, the resumption of Birthright tours not only constitutes a “powerful symbol of a potential return to normalcy for Israel”, as The Times of Israel put it, but also helps to shift the focus away from genocide and onto other matters – such as an alleged surge in anti-Semitism on US university campuses.

In a recent burst of anti-Semitism-centric propaganda penned for The Jerusalem Post, Gidi Mark – the International CEO of Birthright Israel – cited a survey by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) according to which, prior to October 7, 67 percent of Jewish college students in the US “felt physically safe on campus”, while 66 percent “felt emotionally safe”. After October 7, as per the survey results, the numbers dropped to 46 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Try finding anyone in Gaza who feels physically or emotionally safe.

Of course, “anti-Semitism” is a conveniently charged accusation that is often disingenuously deployed against, for example, folks merely opposed to Israel’s genocidal policies. And, in Mark’s view, it is also a good reason young Jews should go on Birthright – because “[r]esearch has shown for years that no other immersive, relatively short experience is as impactful as a group experience in Israel”.

Mark concludes: “There is no better way to ensure Jewish students feel safer and more secure in their skin in hostile university environments than by visiting Israel”. What he doesn’t say is that the hormone-heavy Birthright curriculum is also a pretty good way to ensure continued support for Israeli military efforts to annihilate the Palestinians.

Shortly after the onset of hostilities in October, journalist Alina Dizik took to the pages of Tablet Magazine to declare that “Birthright worked” – and to describe how her own Birthright trip nearly two decades earlier now enabled her to “feel connected” to the conflict in a way that would not have been possible if she had not “spent time ‘on the bus’”.

In Dizik’s words, she “suddenly realised what Birthright’s founders knew all along: When a tragedy of this scale happens, the in-person connection to Israel is critical to preserving the country’s existence”.

In the end, though, it is not Israel’s existence that is at stake; instead, one people’s usurped “birthright” has been weaponised into another people’s death sentence. And that diabolical tradeoff should not be allowed to “work”, at all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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