Birthright Israel co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Charles Bronfman said on Wednesday that young Jews are free to criticize Israel, but not while enjoying a free trip, JTA reported.
“If people want to call Israel names and say bad things about the country, they certainly have the right to free speech. But they don’t have the right to do it on our nickel,” he was quoted as having told Haaretz in an interview.
His comments came after at least two groups of American Jews visiting Israel on the 10-day trip left the tour to join leftists groups on visits to Palestinian Arabs. The walk-offs reportedly were encouraged by the leftist American-Jewish group IfNotNow.
The young Jews who walked off the trip and some others who remain on them are critical of what they say is Birthright’s failure to deal with Israel’s alleged “occupation” of Judea and Samaria. Some have complained that maps handed out to participants do not draw a proper distinction between Israel and Judea and Samaria.
Bronfman said in his interview with Haaretz that participants on Birthright can extend their trip and join any kind of group they want or travel on their own to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
“If they want to go to the West Bank or Gaza, they are certainly free to go,” he was quoted as having told Haaretz.
“What is not fair is making a big tzimmes while the trip is on. Frankly, I just don’t think that is fair to their fellow participants,” added Bronfman.
He noted that the Birthright experience includes four hours devoted to discussing the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as impartially as possible.
“I don’t see the issue not being addressed,” he said.
Before one of the walk-offs from the trip, far-left anti-Israel activists from the IfNotNow organization attempted to recruit Birthright participants departing from New York’s Kennedy Airport.
Birthright-Taglit aims to connect young Jews to the state of Israel and their Jewish identity through a free ten-day tour of the country.