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Leftist Orgs Take Taglit Youths on Pro-Arab Tours

Makor Rishon: NGOs take Taglit youths to Palestinian Authority villages, provide anti-"occupation" narrative.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 8/21/2012, 5:00 PM

Birthright group arrives in Israel
Birthright group arrives in Israel
Israel news photo: Birthright PR

Pro-Arab NGOs have been taking advantage of the Taglit-Birthright program that brings young Jewish people on tours of Israel – to take the tourists on their own tours and provide them with a pro-Arab perspective on Israel, according to the Makor Rishon newspaper.

Taglit-Birthright brings thousands of young Jews to Israel every year, for 10-day tours in which they learn about Israel, meet Israelis and strengthen their Jewish identity. Many of the participants choose to lengthen their stay in Israel and use the time to visit relatives, hike or just have fun before they take the free flight home.

Makor Rishon's Tzvika Klein reported that several leftist NGOs take advantage of this situation to connect with the Taglit youths and take them on tours serving their political perspective, before they fly back home with the ticket paid for by Taglit.

A senior Israeli educator told Klein that some of the NGOs use techniques intended to mislead. "Taglit participants are very confused," he said. "They are sold 'continuation programs' some of which even use the word 'Taglit'. But these are pro-Palestinian organizations with an extreme agenda that present the conflict in a one dimensional and biased way."

"Encounter," one of the "continuation programs," according to Makor Rishon, offers two day tours of the "West Bank" that include meetings with Arab politicians, businessmen and media personalities, as well as "peace activists" and educators. Its website explains that "most American Jews have never met a Palestinian, nor seriously encountered Palestinian narratives or perspectives."

Another organization, "Birthright Unplugged", explains on its website that, "Our early mission was built around the rejection of the notion of a 'birthright,' as embodied in fully-funded trips to Israel designed solely for Jewish people. We sought to contest this view, insofar as Israel has denied Palestinian people’s internationally recognized right of return for refugees, but has created a 'Law of Return' that extends citizenship benefits to any person of Jewish heritage."

It appears that Taglit guides sometimes encourage participants to take the "continuation tours." Klein quotes an article in a publication put out by Wesleyan University, which quotes a student named Micha Weiss who took part on Taglit in 2010, as a guide. Out of 40 youths who were in his group, 9 joined him in an additional four-day tour in which they met Arab activists and radical Jewish ones, including members of an NGO that advocates an influx of Arabs to pre-1948 borders.

Klein also quotes from a piece that appeared in Tablet magazine this year, in which a young Ameican named Akiva Gottlieb recounts how his guide, Yoav, suggested an additional tour after the Taglit program in which Gottlieb and his friends "got to know the occupation from up close."

Taglit told Makor Rishon that it has no political agenda and that instructors who do have such an agenda are "rare cases" that are dealt with individually. Minister of Diaspora Yuli Edelstein said he will have his office look into the allegations.

"Encounter" gave a lengthy response in which they explained, among other things, that they do not target Taglit tourists specifically, and that there is no attempt to deceive anyone. They prefer, they said, to work with Jews who have more mature perspectives on Judaism and Israel than most Taglit participants have, such as rabbinical students and educators. The tour mentioned by Tablet, they said, was for a unique group of journalists who took part in Taglit as bloggers and who asked to participate in the "Encounter" program.