The “Hebron” account at WeJew.com (a kind of Jewish YouTube wannabe) has just (July 5 2010) uploaded a video purportedly documenting a visit of this month of an Australian Birthright group to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. This site is the stated raison d’être of the extremist Jewish Settlement in the the West Bank city and its cultural center.
Watch the video (if it’s been taken down, my recording is embedded at the bottom of this post): Towards the end, “Daniel”, the apparent trip leader, is interviewed. He seems to know exactly what he’s doing.
What’s the problem?
Well, for starters, in its Safety and Security rules, Birthright makes an explicit commitment to participants, parents and, presumably, insurers:
Our tours do not travel to or through areas of the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem, other than the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
In addition, Birthright has been repeatedly criticized for providing young Jewish-Americans a skewed perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some of the most scathing criticism has come from within the Jewish-American community. For example,here is a remarkable piece of soul-searching from a Hillel campus organizer:
So what am I doing behind this Birthright table, trying to rally Jews and only Jews to go to Israel with a program whose agenda is to make them rabid, unquestioning supporters of its actions?
Birthright has a response to this kind of criticism, which is particularly interesting in the context of the Hebron visit video:
“The conflict bubbles up,” said Barry Chazan, a professor emeritus of education at Hebrew University and education director for Birthright Israel.
“But it’s not a seminar in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. … The fact that they don’t meet the head of the Palestinian Authority doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing issues of the conflict.”