Taglit-Birthright Israel trips are a bizarre concept. Since the organization’s inception 10 years ago, Birthright has sent over 230,000 Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 on 10-day all-expenses paid trips to the Holy Land. But what would drive wealthy donors to give away their money toward the gift of free trips to Israel for a bunch of random Jewish college students and young adults? The answer, simply put, is that Birthright is a public relations tool for the State of Israel. With tomorrow’s 11 a.m. registration for the upcoming summer Birthright trip quickly approaching, it’s important to examine what Birthright is all about.
Edward Bernays, the late father of modern public relations, would be proud if he knew how well his tactics have been employed by Taglit. The trip has an underlying purpose of coercing American Jews with blind and biased Zionist sentiments through the mastery of Bernays’ teachings.
Full disclosure for the looming lynch mob: I went on a Birthright Israel trip in the winter of 2009 with our university’s Hillel and had the time of my life. I signed up for the trip totally detached from the Jewish community and Israel, yet somehow came back a full-fledged supporter of Israel, pledging to return to campus and “stand by” Israel under all circumstances. To go from feeling one extreme sentiment to the other is a testament to the public relations ability by Taglit.
But, back to business. In his essay titled “Engineering Consent,” Bernays describes people as “fundamentally irrational.” Sounds about right. He also states, rightfully so, that people lack intellectual or definite moral principles and are vulnerable to unconscious influence, achieved by linking ideas to unconscious desires. Birthright has mastered this art and does so by ensuring Israel will be associated with nothing but great memories spent with peers partaking in partying, drinking and debauchery — all of the stuff college students enjoy most. Oh, and that all of this is provided on someone else’s dime doesn’t hurt, either.
The trip does not exist to portray the complex history and situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine and to give a deep understanding of a rather complicated issue. Instead, its goals are completely to the contrary. The lens through which Israel’s history is taught by the tour guides is always that of the small guy defying the odds, with Palestinians or other opponents always portrayed as the evil villain. Indeed, an honest and objective look at Zionist history will show it’s far from always being a tale of David vs. Goliath. And Israel certainly hasn’t always been the good guy.
Two tangible examples: First, the Zionist moving into Palestine is not taught by tour guides as a form of colonialism mirroring many other colonial movements throughout history, in which the colonizer displaced the indigenous population. Rather, the guides teach that Palestine was a “land without people for a people without land.” Second, the 1948 war through which the Zionists gained statehood is taught as a Moses-parting-the-Red Sea miracle by Birthright tour guides, when, in fact, roughly 750,000 Palestinians were forcefully evicted from their homes at the threat of Zionist guns.
The bottom line is that public relations are never completely honest — Bernays created public relations as a tool to deceive, not to tell the truth. Taglit doesn’t teach anything relating to Israel and Zionism objectively and hopes that when you return home after the trip, you won’t fact check anything they taught you. Taglit wants you to go home and advocate for Israel, to return to Israel and, if they’re really lucky, you might even consider “Aliyah” — Hebrew for “to ascend” and better known as immigrating to Israel. Funny that the original indigenous population doesn’t have that right, but hey, that controversy won’t be discussed on the trip either.
So, by all means, go to Israel and enjoy the unquestionably unbelievable trip. But enter and exit with an open mind and realize that Birthright is a PR tool used by Zionists to promote their own biased political agendas and skewed worldview. Birthright should be the start of your exploration of the Israel/Palestine issue, not the end. Every tale has multiple sides. Learn both and form your own conclusions from there.
Steve Horn ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and legal studies.