Op-ed: Whose Birthright?

This Op-Ed is written to frame the zine Whose Birthright, accessible at https://issuu.com/tuftsjvp/docs/sejda-3kl.

On the last day of Birthright, I trek through Mt. Herzl National Cemetery, accompanied by 40 other young Jewish-American peers and a handful of Jewish-Israeli soldiers. We walk past headstones of fallen Israeli soldiers, we hear of young Jews who fell in combat from 1948 into the present and we cry at the grave of a young American who sacrificed his life to the Jewish state. As we summit Mt. Herzl, we form a circle around the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism and begin to sing the Israeli national anthem. Notes twist up past pine trees into the bright blue sky hanging over Jerusalem. The tune is foreign, yet the meaning stubbornly familiar: “Ode lo avdah tikvatenu Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim: L’hiyot am chofshi b’artzenu – Eretz Tzion v’Yerushalayim / to be a free people in our land: the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” “Keep this place in the back of your mind,” our Jewish Israeli tour guide urges us. “I know you have a home in the United States, but you have a home here too, this is your homeland.”

Each year, 40,000 young, mostly white Jews from the United States and Canada participate in Birthright Israel, a (relatively) free tour of a land sold to them as an “ancestral homeland.” Over ten whirlwind days, young participants map Jewish claims onto a landscape only recently named Israel. Groups of 40 or 50 tourists, accompanied by a handful of Jewish Israeli soldiers, pile into buses that wind throughout Israel proper, dipping into the contested Golan Heights and flying over highways snaking through the occupied West Bank, highways Palestinians are barred from using. They ride camels in the Naqab Desert, hike mountains in the Galilee, lounge on Tel Aviv’s beaches, pray at the Western Wall and round out the trip with a visit to the national military cemetery. As my tour guide’s words exemplify, the central tenant of the trip is that all Jews, by “birth-right,” are entitled to a strip of territory many of our ancestors never set foot in.

My own experience on Birthright Israel made visible the erasure intrinsic to the tour. I marveled at the Golan Height’s picturesque landscape while the history of illegal annexation and Arab eviction embedded in the soil remained unspoken. I planted trees in a “biblical themed park” just west of Jerusalem, oblivious that the stones nearby were the ruins of a demolished and depopulated Palestinian village. I whirled through the occupied West Bank on a segregated Israeli highway, passed gleaming illegal settlements perched on hilltops and drove through a checkpoint while most of my peers slept soundly and our tour guide, for once, did not name the sites of occupation we were passing by.

The zine “Whose Birthright?” is written to expose the politics embedded in each site visited. By writing histories of Palestinian ethnic cleansing and Jewish settlement into my own Birthright Israel tour, I aim to show the price Palestinian communities paid and continue to pay so that American Jews like myself can unquestioningly claim a “Birthright.” Today, while roughly 5.6 million Palestinians live in exile, barred from ever returning to their ancestral lands, Jewish Americans continue to assert a “birth-right” to the same lands; since it’s inception in 1999, Birthright Israel has brought over 500,000 diasporic Jewry to Israel.

Whose Birthright?” is also an attempt to challenge the explicitly Zionist Jewish identity that Birthright Israel imparts. On Birthright, “exploring Jewish Identity” means blindly traveling over landscapes, whose Arabic names were only recently written over in Hebrew. On Birthright, “celebrating Jewish values” means glorifying wars that continue to kill, confine and displace thousands of Palestinians. On Birthright, “discovering the Jewish homeland” is predicated on the criminalization and persecution of those Palestinians who resiliently remain on their own ancestral lands. I write this zine to thus reaffirm, rather than disavow, my Jewish heritage — a heritage of migration, diaspora and generations of Jews striving for justice.

I urge any American Jew who is thinking about claiming their “Birthright” to face, rather than turn away from, the ongoing violence of colonial occupation and Zionist settlement that enable us to name Israel a Jewish homeland. “Whose Birthright?” is a small step in making this violence visible. And when this violence is made visible, is it so easy to claim a “Birthright”?

Editor’s note: If you would like to send your response or make an Op-Ed contribution to the Opinion section, please email us at tuftsdailyoped@gmail.com. The Opinion section looks forward to hearing from you.


11 Responses

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  1. Arafat
    Apr 22, 2016 - 08:44 AM

     Some Jews fought with the Greeks and Romans against their fellow Jews. Some sympathized with the crusades and the pogroms. Some Jews even supported the Nazis leading up to World War II.

    The story is no different today. There is still a very small – but vocal – minority of Jews who sympathize with those who want to kill us. There is still a fringe sect of Jewish society that finds it necessary to love those who seek to kill us and blame us for our enemies’ baseless hatred.

    These views include comparing the Jewish state to the Nazis, calling for the isolation of the only Jewish state and holding it to an impossible standard, and calling for the annihilation of Jewish self-determination.

  2. Arafat
    Apr 22, 2016 - 08:44 AM

    It is often said, for example, that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal under international law. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. Under the original partition plan advanced in UN Resolution 181 in 1947, Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza was permitted, just as Arab settlement in Israel was permitted. The law has not changed since then.

    In 1948-49, Egypt illegally occupied Gaza, and Jordan the West Bank, as a result of a war of aggression against Israel. Those were illegal occupations, yet nobody complained or demanded the removal of Egyptian or Jordanian troops.

    In 1967, acting again in a war of defence, Israel displaced the aggressors Egypt and Jordan from Gaza and the West Bank. The occupation was recognized as fully legal by UN Resolution 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). According to the UN today, “Security Council resolution 242, adopted on 22 November 1967, and resolution 338, adopted on 22 October 1973, are considered basic instruments in all subsequent discussions of a Middle East peace settlement.”

  3. Arafat
    Apr 22, 2016 - 08:50 AM

    For something like 3,000 years people have been telling Jews where they can live. (Or, more accurately, where they cannot live.)

    The noble Brits wouldn’t let one Jew live in England – and this for over 200 years. Now, of course, the holier-than-thou Brits are at the forefront of anti-Semitic propaganda.

    The Germans didn’t tell the Jews much of anything other than take action to end their existence in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and elsewhere. Of course so many others helped in this effort with special mention going to the always holier-than-thou French.

    I guess Jews cannot live in Europe.

    The Romans wouldn’t let Jews live in the Jewish homeland.

    Russians would only let them live in ghettos, as did the Spaniards, Italians among others.

    And so it goes.

    Today Jews are not allowed to live in most Muslim nations and those where Jews are allowed to live we find Jews living in fear of their Muslim masters and their crippling taxes and animus.

    Now the world is telling the Jews once again where they can and cannot live. They cannot live in the West Bank some tell us. Gaza? No way. Israel? It depends on who you ask.

    Nobody tells Muslims they cannot commit genocide and “occupy” Sudan or Somalia, or Nigeria because, I guess they are Muslims and not Jews and not subject to the same rules. But let’s not dwell on the hypocrisy, the double-standards and the obscenity of it all, for they, the Jews that is, are just Jews: Victims of hatred from the weak, the stupid and the maladjusted for thousands of years.

  4. Arafat
    Apr 22, 2016 - 08:51 AM

    What then is anti-Semitism? It is not a coherent set of beliefs but a set of contradictions. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung tenaciously to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

    Anti-semitism is a virus that survives by mutating. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, Israel. Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.

    The legitimization has also changed. Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. Today it is human rights. It is why Israel—the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East with a free press and independent judiciary—is regularly accused of the five crimes against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide. This is the blood libel of our time.

  5. santacruzin
    Apr 22, 2016 - 01:34 PM

    “40,000 young, mostly white Jews from the United States and Canada” participate in Birthright. What’s the purpose of saying “mostly white”? Jews are mostly white, just as Palestinians, Saudis, and Syrians are “mostly white”. The difference is that Israel, and (more broadly) Judaism welcomes non-whites, as evidenced by Israeli efforts to rescue black Jews from Ethiopia and elsewhere.

    You also miss the fact that many nations have a Law of Return (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_return). Countries as diverse as Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Armenia all welcome as citizens those who are of that ethnicity; Israel is no different. And if you believe that “our ancestors never set foot” in Israel, you’re contradicting genetics: multiple studies provide evidence that both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are more closely related to each other and Middle Eastern peoples than to the surrounding populations.

    But go ahead and continue to feel liberal guilt if you want. There’s no shame in being Jewish, and the drive for justice is important. But is it just to reward a people (the Palestinians) that teach their children that Jews (not Israelis, *Jews*) are evil and that reward suicide bombers’ families? When (not if, when) Palestinian society controls violence, conditions get better. When they don’t, conditions become worse, as would be expected from a neighbor that wants to protect its own citizens.

    Ask yourself this: how would you (as an American) feel if the Mexicans in Tijuana decided that they wanted California back (it *was* Spanish / Mexican 200 years ago), and started lobbing missiles into San Diego to accomplish this goal? Would you support the Mexicans and say that the American families in San Diego had it coming to them? Would your answer change if *you* had family in San Diego?

    • Arafat
      Apr 22, 2016 - 04:50 PM

      Better still how would she feel if the Pueblo, Hopi and other Indian tribes demanded their land back from the aggressive Navajo warriors who conquered these tribes and many more. My head hurts just thinking about it.

    • mxm123
      Apr 22, 2016 - 10:30 PM

      “You also miss the fact that many nations have a Law of Return (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. Countries as diverse as Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Armenia all welcome as citizens those who are of that ethnicity; Israel is no different”

      Does that apply to Palestinians. Oh wait. Never mind.

      “Ask yourself this: how would you (as an American) feel if the Mexicans in Tijuana decided that they wanted California back (it *was* Spanish / Mexican 200 years ago), and started lobbing missiles into San Diego to accomplish this goal? ”

      Except there is a UN resolution that clearly states so. Why do you justify theft.

      • Dude
        May 20, 2016 - 08:54 PM

        If Abbas accepted Olmert’s 2008 Palestinian statehood proposal, there would be a Palestine. There would be a Palestinian right of return. But he rejected the offer.

  6. Arafat
    Apr 22, 2016 - 04:56 PM


    I feel sorry for you when I read your so called moderation. With due respect, you have the typical historical Jewish minority, “PLEASE LIKE ME” complex and it is so pitiful to read.

    Throughout Jewish History especially in Nazi Germany there were those Jews who begged to be accepted and liked by the host
    country’s people. “Like me and I will eat ham for you on Yom Kippur. Like me and I will put up a Christmas tree and call it a Hanukah Bush, like me and I will only pray one day a week, Sunday if you wish (the early German Reformed Jews), etc.” The first Jews to be gassed by Hitler were those Reformers (“please like me…”) who were viewed as a major threat by Hitler and his Jew hating Nazis.

    Fast forward to today: Here you are apologizing for Israel who is expected to live a double standard. Never mind the rockets and atrocities implemented by the Palestine people. If you read your history parts of Jordan are supposed to include part of Palestine–the
    world has convenient amnesia with this one. In the meantime here you are with your “please like me” attitude and no matter what you do they are NOT going to like you. You can stand on your head, eat ham and cheese sandwiches and they are still going to hate you because you are a Jew, period!

    Look in the mirror and accept that you are a Jew. Say it to yourself over and over and perhaps YOU can accept YOURSELF.

    Remember, if Israel disappears (the Jewish Host country) there IS NO place for American Jews or the World Jewish community to go in the event of another pogrom, anti-Semitic uprising or Holocaust. If there is another anti-Semitic uprising you are a Jew to these people no matter how much you apologize or try to appease them.

  7. Willie Sam
    Apr 25, 2016 - 02:03 AM

    What a shocker that Sophia is an American Studies major at Tufts, a discipline built on reflexive leftist jargon and ideologies. To be sure, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is complex and tragic. Add to that, it takes place in an area of the world that filed with daily violence and instability. Unfortunately, viewing the situation in an ahistorical, simplistic, and naïve manner doesn’t help matters. Nor does it help anyone except those who are looking to score points with their likeminded friends and professors.

  8. ImmuneToBS
    May 09, 2016 - 11:57 AM

    There are far too many falsehoods, distortions, biased slants, and examples of outright bigotry to list all of them in a simple response, so I’ll just pick one issue that really jumped out.

    The author claims that approximately 5.6 million “Palestinians” live in exile. That, of course, is complete and utter nonsense. I presume that the number comes from unverified estimates of the number of descendants of the approximately 700,000 (generous estimate) Arabs who left Israel in 1948 (and, perhaps, in subsequent Arab-initiated wars against Israel). The notion that these individuals are “exiles” is, of course, untrue. Rather, the vast majority of those who left the region in 1948 did so voluntarily, or at the urging of the Arab nations who, along with the Palestinian Arabs, rejected the Partition Plan and attacked the newly-formed modern State of Israel. Having CHOSEN to reject the Partition Plan, CHOSEN to attack Israel with the intent of destroying the Jewish State, and CHOSEN to depart during the hostilities that they initiated, these individuals cannot rightfully call themselves exiles.

    P.S. The Arabs who stayed and became citizens of Israel enjoy far greater civil rights and freedoms than their counterparts in the Arab nations surrounding Israel.

    P.P.S. Did you know that approximately 850,000 Jews were exiled from Arab lands during the first half of the 20th century? Of course, rather than choosing an existence of perpetual victimhood as the Palestinian Arabs have, these individuals became citizens of their new countries (Israel, the U.S., and others) and embraced their new homes.

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