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May 18, 2018

Birthright Israel Co-founder and Major Donor Michael Steinhardt Gave the Finger to anti-Birthright Protestors

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Birthright Israel recently set a new fundraising record of $125 million at their annual gala, raising money from over 650 people. At the same time, a group of protestors shared their anti-Birthright message outside of the venue. Their target was specifically one of the donors at the gala and one of the original founders of Taglit Birthright, Michael Steinhardt. After hearing their chants, Steinhardt gave them the middle finger. And flashed a smile while he did it. Take a look below:

Immature response

It goes without saying that this is a really, really immature response to protestors. And it’s also a reaction that doesn’t help empathetic dialog and building relationships across groups with different views on the world. Instead, it makes Steinhardt look cruel and drives a wedge between well-meaning people and organizations.

We’re really disappointed with this approach. He had many better options, including simply ignoring the protestors. Even better, he could have approached the group to let them know that their voices were heard, but that he respectfully disagreed. Engagement is often a better option.

Protestors miss some critical nuance

At the same time, we find fault with the protesters too. Their organization said “We think Birthright offers a Disney-fied portrayal of Israel,” and we disagree. This is a simplistic view of a complicated topic, and Jewish Voice for Peace need to accept the nuance in the world. Taking people to visit Israel and see the land first-hand is a powerful way to empower young people to form meaningful and educated views.

Sure, food, fun, and adventure will always be part of Birthright, but that doesn’t mean that the program ignores the serious issues at play in the middle east. We recognize that the conflict in Israel, including between Israel and Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, is incredibly complex and far from ideal. And if there are trips that gloss over this reality, organizers should make changes. Birthright trips take young Jewish adults out of their comfort zones to learn about the world around them. A combination trip of fun and meaningful learning is far from perfect, but a good start towards building empathy and understanding.

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