VIDEO: Birthright’s “Take back Zionism” is an embarrassment

Following the cancellation of the J Street U-Birthright trip I reported on here, I discovered a campaign called “Take Back Zionism” initiated by Birthright alumni who feel the need to reclaim the term. From their website:

Contemporary discourse seeks to narrowly define Zionism and attack it by limiting its scope. We refuse to accept others’ definitions and misrepresentations. We seek to Take Back Zionism and define it in our own terms, as a young generation who loves Israel.

Here is their introductory promotional video:


There are many problems with this campaign, aside from the fact that it is an invested work of propaganda. First of all, they claim Zionism is too narrowly defined but then narrowly define it, using polarizing images and language in order to conclude that there in fact is a “truth” about what Zionism “really is” that one must share with the world.

Insisting Zionism is not a racist state because we have some Ethiopians here is not convincing or intelligent. Furthermore, it’s not so much that people say disturbing things about Zionism, but rather that Israel does disturbing things in the name of Zionism (not to mention Judaism).

Here is another video:

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Zionism did not send aid to Haiti, Israel, the state, did. Indeed thanks to our sad history of violence and conflict, we have excellent medical teams that did in fact do tremendous work in Haiti, Rwanda and other places. But pointing out great Israeli achievements does not excuse or preclude the destructive and inhumane actions Israel does – and any attempt to do so is just fascist in nature, in the literal sense of the term.

There are many ways to define, interpret and make a claim for the concept of Zionism. The campaign’s website even surveys some of the classic Zionist figures like A.D. Gordon and Ahad Ha’am, demonstrating that it has had multiple interpretations. But at the base of it, it is the idea that for Jews to continue to exist and be accepted as part of the modern world, they must have their own state and as such, the Zionist movement sought to create an ethno-national Jewish state in what is considered the historic Land of Israel.

One cannot disassociate Zionism from its implementation in the State of Israel, which has, from the get-go, necessitated the displacement of people to make room for people. It is highly problematic that the campaign makes no distinction between Zionism, the idea, and Israel the country, because not only is it historically and analytically erroneous, but it also allows a concept (the national liberation of the Jewish people), which at its base is an important and understandable concept, to continue to trump the day to day actions of a country, which is operating in the name of this concept.

The group of Birthright alumni has already thrown a launch party for the campaign attended by such figures as Elie Wiesel and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Here is a video of the event, which besides being nauseating, reveals that those who have been on a standard Birthright trip are not all that wise:


Finally, it is important to note that this campaign, a project of Birthright, is further evidence (in case it was needed) of the political agenda and tilt of this industry, thus debunking its claims to J Street U that it does not engage in political trips.

J Street U announced its regret at the decision and has requested that people write to Birthright leadership to protest the decision. Below is an excerpt from a letter sent to Birthright CEO Gidi Mark by a student who attended one of the trips that was coordinated by the organizational predecessor to J Street U.

Gidi Mark,

Thanks to the “Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice” Birthright trip sponsored by the Union for Progressive Zionists and provided by IsraelExperts, I was able to have a wonderful experience visiting Israel for the first time in 2008. I left Israel with a newly educated, nuanced, first-hand perspective on life in the Middle East, and yes, a newfound appreciation for Israel and the role it has played and continues to play in the lives of my ancestors and my family.

Because of my progressive values, I specifically sought a Birthright trip that invested time in investigating a pluralist approach to understanding Israel’s history. Had such a trip not existed, I may not have participated in Birthright at all. Had my first experience in Israel been on a different Birthright trip, with a less open-minded group of individuals, I can assure you I would have left having asked fewer questions and gotten far fewer answers. Worse, I may have left the country angry, further distancing myself from Israel and the Jewish cause.

The effort to reclaim or rebrand Zionism with such a gaudy campaign is evidence of the deep and fundamental problem facing a living and breathing country that engages in very real and destructive acts – and the Diaspora Jewish establishment that chooses to serve as its propaganda arm.