Israel’s lobby and other programs organize trips to take Jews only to Israel hoping to “educate” them on the country, such as Birthright, while closing doors to the reality of the Israeli government’s and military’s brutal oppression against Palestinians, including the discrimination against Palestinian “citizens” of the State
By Dezeray Lyn
It was 5:30am when American national Diana Lazowitz stepped off the NY originating plane in Tel Aviv. She was sure their travel guides were going to let her and her fellow travelers, recipients of the Taglit birthright program to Israel, rest before the program began. She was wrong.
Over the next ten days, sleep would be scarce while propaganda was served at a constant pace to the group of young Jews. This is Israel’s birthright program.
The trip lasts ten days. The memories last a lifetime.
Birthright Israel’s Taglit organization makes this proclamation atop its web page, keenly noting its 500,000 some odd international participant Jews to the settler state for a ten day propaganda campaign, which includes exposure to Tel Aviv’s night life and late nights watching documentaries lionizing dead Israeli military personnel.
The program was lambasted by Harvard student Sandra Korn after she endured the ten day venture into what is essentially, for purposes of the trip’s agenda, a depoliticized Israel as being ‘firmly entrenched in right wing rhetoric, from racism to militarism.’
The stunning golden thread that weaves through tales told by what Diana calls ‘open-minded Jews,’ is how systematically wistful-eyed Zionists can stare into the abyss of Israel and so boldly portray the ‘land with no people for a people with no land’ as a refuge for victims. As though a people so intimately associated with persecution can simply ignore the refugees, the oppressed, the murdered and those existing in suffocation under siege and occupation as a direct consequence of the crash landing, forced mass displacement that is the opening scenes to Israel’s creation.
One doesn’t need to observe the mirror for quite so long before realizing that the reflection doesn’t fit.
While Israel’s agenda based campaign of propaganda isn’t surprising, some of the tactical stratagems being utilized are. From two young Jews who toured into Israel with Taglit’s Birthright Israel- a name meant to invoke a sense of ethnic entitlement to the land, as well as the March of the Living program, I was given a more intimate peek at what it means to be the subject of one of history’s most ominous public relations campaign to date.
Sleep deprived, Diana eyed with discomfort the display of young Jewish males being instructed by their Taglit guide to lay on top of one another in such bizarre formation on the ground that “they basically made them molest each other.” The stated purpose of the exercise was to physically demonstrate what the Middle East looked like before Israel’s campaign of colonization.
The demonstration ended with the boys spreading out to exhibit how Israel shifted the land into good order with their forced inception of statehood.
During the ten days, talk of Palestinians was non-existent. Seemingly one would sense that discussion of Palestinians on the soil of historic Palestine would be critical to the historicity of their program. Intertwined with the constant barrage of encouragement to join the Israeli military were visits to the graves of dead Israeli soldiers where they were instructed to do grave rubbings in awkward silence.
All of this in a sleep-deprived state and with a guide cursing and yelling at their every protestation that “We paid a lot for you to be here! You will all behave or I will make sure that you have no fun!” These threats were only thinly less inappropriate than the guide’s suggestions that they marry Israeli soldiers or the fact that he became openly intoxicated during his tour guiding.
Kay Rabon would venture to Poland as a part of the March of the Living program and began her lamentations on the junior year high school trip she took with the sentiment that she wanted to open up her experiences “to dismantle the idea that these trips are normal.” The program would first take Kay and her fellow students to the well-maintained sites of the Third Reich’s notorious concentration camps; engaging them in a two mile march from Birkenau to Auschwitz to re-live the forced marches of the Jews who were caged and persecuted there as one target group of the Nazi’s campaigns of eradication. A campaign which was also waged against homosexuals, gypsies, mentally and physically disabled and others. In a sense, they became these persecuted Jews, just before being whisked off to Israel “showing without explicitly saying, ‘look at what happened to our people, aren’t you happy we have our own land now?'”
Jesse Nevel, an American who looked into venturing a birthright trip decided against it, “These programs are particularly insidious because they bring young Jews to the concentration camps in Europe and then take them to Israel; this is how they draw the connection between Jewish victimization by Nazi Germany and the supposed need for the creation of a Jewish settler state as a defense against the false specter of anti-Semitism.”
He isn’t alone; many Jews, post-program, have spoken out about the indoctrinating nature of the trips. For instance, being brought by Israeli birthright guides to look out over the disputed Golan Heights and, in more eloquent terms, being affirmed that Israel’s theft of the Syrian plateau in 1967 by force was fortunate for the subjugated Jews, mindful not to mention the subjugated Syrians. Sometimes words unspoken speak louder than those that are. In this case, sensitizing the very people they seek to desensitize to the plights of those they would dream forgotten.
Kay’s trip through historic Palestine held the similarity of neglect to mention the Palestinians themselves; obscured by in-state segregation laws and legal system, occupied in one region – besieged in another. Although, “the term dirty Arab was thrown around quite a bit.”
One of her travel companions, currently an aspiring rabbi and strict orthodox Jew living inside of Israel remarked on how “he wished all the Arabs would just die,” and is the author of more current materials, writing “some very disturbing things utilizing Haftarah and other Jewish doctrines to legitimize attacking Palestinians.”
If his aspirations come to fruition, he will be joining the ranks of what Israeli journalist David Sheen calls, Israel’s system of “incitement to racism.” His contention was the subject of a presentation bearing the same name which pointed out rabid, disturbing racism among the upper echelons of Israel’s religious and political spheres, bleeding out purposefully into the streets where their words drive social rage, hatred and violence against Palestinians as well as black African migrants and Ethiopian Jews, all who are kindred in their suffering of violent persecution.
Meanwhile, Birthright and March of the Living continue walking Jews from every global corner through nightclubs in Tel Aviv, repelling down mountain faces and meandering within eye shot of Israel’s apartheid separation wall without so much a word about the Palestinians forcibly suffering economically and socially on the other side of it. They are merely ghosts in the machine.
Both Diana and Kay mentioned the happenstance of bar and bat mitzvahs at or nearing the conclusion of their respective journeys. Diana recalled how “at the end of the trip, during the group debriefing, every single person talked about how the trip changed their identity.” She talked about the peer pressure, about those who proclaimed that being in Israel solidified their identities as Jews. Kay “left the trip not having any stronger of an allegiance than I had before, but I bet that most of the other people who went did, having a greater sense of Zionism.”
“The system works,” Diana says. Meanwhile, the heavy cost of Israel’s advertised gratitude for their violent land procurement rises with each passing day. The mingling of two realities; one suppressed so strongly that even its heavy, though silenced, countenance holds presence – the song of victimization, sung by the creator of victims, allows for millions of all-expenses-paid travelers to pass directly through it without so much as knowing they were there.
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