Open Hillel condemns Birthright’s decision to censor Palestinian citizens of Israel

Nov. 6, 2017

Since its inception in 1999, Birthright Israel has brought over 600,000 young diaspora Jews on trips to Israel. However, the program has come under criticism in the past for showing participants a one-sided and exclusively right-wing view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response, Birthright implemented different activities on the trip to provide a more comprehensive education, including “encounters” between participating students and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Birthright's education department recently instructed its trip providers to suspend these sessions, thereby erasing a significant segment of Israeli society (21%) from a trip aimed to introduce diaspora Jews to Israel. Ha’aretz reported that this decision likely reflected the wishes of Birthright’s donors and some soldiers who felt uncomfortable during the visits.

Open Hillel is deeply disappointed by Birthright’s decision to remove these encounters from its itinerary. By doing so, Birthright has silenced Palestinian citizens of Israel, and robbed Jewish students of the opportunity to develop a complex and reality based understanding of Israeli society.

As a major Birthright provider, Hillel International has sent over 16,000 Jewish students on Birthright trips with Hillel over the past three years. For many Jewish students, Birthright is their first trip to Israel, and possibly the first time they have felt connected to Judaism and their Jewish community. Hillel and Birthright therefore have a responsibility to these students, and to the larger community, to set a high bar for the program.

Hillel cannot claim that Birthright will provide Jewish students with the opportunity to explore Jewish history, Israeli history, and current Israeli life, if it continues to exclude and censor Palestinian voices and narratives. By bending to the narrow, ideological demands of their donors, Birthright and Hillel International are compromising the interests of Jewish students, and undermining their stated commitments to pluralism and education.

Open Hillel condemns Birthright’s decision to exclude Palestinian citizens of Israel from their trips and urges Hillel and other Birthright providers to reject this directive.