Organised tours of Israel for young American Jews date back to the 1950s, shortly after the establishment of the state. In the 1950s they were organised by American Zionist groups (Young Judaea) and religiously-affiliated societies (the conservative United Synagogue Youth [USY]; the reform National Federation of Temple Youth [NFTY]) in co-operation with the Jewish Agency, which provided subsidies. Israel tended to see the tours as a means of encouraging diaspora Jews to make aliyah, but North American groups have used them primarily 'to strengthen Jewish identities in America'.
Prior to 1967 worldwide enrolment in short-term youth and young adult summer programs in Israel ranged from 1,000-2,000 a year. From the end of the Six Day War to 2000, participation oscillated between 4,000-10,000 a year, with annual fluctuation growing sharper since the 1980s and tending to move inversely with the level of violence on the ground.
From a handful, there are now over 100 organisations sponsoring trips to Israel for North American Jews. By the late 1990s USY was offering five Israel trips in additional to its classic 'Israel Pilgrimage' tour: London and Israel; Eastern Europe and Israel; Poland and Israel (emphasising Holocaust education); Italy and Israel (with a three day sea voyage to Palestine simulating 'illegal' immigration to Palestine in the 1940s) and Etgar! The Ultimate Israel Challenge. Young Judaea now offered three summer programs; B'nai Brith Youth Organisation offered 10 (including an 'Israel and Safari in Kenya') and the Orthodox Union's National Council of Synagogue Youth offered six.
Many organisations also run Holocaust-site pilgrimages, whose 'ultimate purpose', one anthropologist reports, 'is to root the sanctity of the State [of Israel] in the experience of the Shoah'.
- Michael Steinhardt is a former hedge-fund manager and the co-founding chairman of Taglit-Birthright Israel, a program, established in 1999, that pays for Jewish youths to go to Israel each year. He is friendly with Adelson, who is a fellow-contributor to Birthright. “These things are not done to make money,” Steinhardt said of Adelson’s new media initiatives. "They’re done because Sheldon’s an ideologue—he really cares about things that are of the spirit and not of the pocketbook."
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have also donated thirty million dollars a year, for the last two years, to Taglit-Birthright Israel. Before Adelson decided to make his Birthright gift, Shimshon Shoshani, the organization’s C.E.O., recalled, “He looked at every detail of the program—flight schedules, contracts, everything.” Like many prospective donors, Adelson was asked to make his gift over a number of years, but he chose instead to go year by year. He became Birthright’s single largest donor. In 2008, he provided about a third of its eighty-six-million-dollar annual budget. Birthright executives are hoping that he will donate thirty million dollars or more for 2009—but they are still waiting to hear his decision. There are hotel reservations to be made and plane tickets to be purchased for Birthright participants. “With Sheldon’s approach—and with his being the biggest donor—you literally know you have the money just in time to start spending it,” someone closely involved with Birthright said.
Taglit was established as a response to a perceived crisis in the North American Jewish community. In the 1990s the threats that had galvanised American Jews over the preceding 20 years were no longer operative: Soviet Jewry was now free, the Holocaust memorialised, barriers to advancement in America dissolved, and political advocacy for Israel increasingly contentious within the Jewish community. American Jewish activists increasingly, therefore, mobilised against a new threat: that of growing American Jewish indifference to Judaism. As the threat of antisemitism receded the threat of assimilation loomed: North American Jews, explains one of the lead designers of the Birthright curriculum, 'have, perhaps, been too successful in adapting to their host cultures'. Evidence at beginning of the 1990s of a marked rise in intermarriage and weakened Jewish religious and ethical commitment caused 'considerable anxiety' among Jewish leaders. Taglit was one of a number of measures intended to 'change... [this] tide of assimilation' among North American Jews. For those designing Taglit, 'Israel figured... largely as an instrumentality to serve diasporic needs and only to a lesser degree as an end in itself': Israel, the safe haven for diaspora Jews supposedly at perpetual risk from gentile antisemitism, was now being used as a weapon against excessive Jewish integration.
The American-centric focus of Taglit is evident in its stated objective to strengthen the Jewish diaspora, rather than to facilitate aliyah to Israel. As a 2001 Hillel Birthright staff manual explains,
- 'Some models of the Israel Experience seek to bring the participant to Israel permanently. Some models of the Israel Experience seek to teach the participant about Israel. Our model of the Israel Experience seeks to create a Jewish Educational Experience by means of the use of Israel. Israel is a setting, a context, an opportunity. Israel is the means, not the end.'
As Charles Bronfman put it, Taglit was about 'the selling of Jewishness to Jews'.
Indeed, only about 6% of Taglit alumni, mostly from the former Soviet Union, go on to make aliyah.
Taglit's overall 'vision', Chazan & Saxe report, consisted of 3 long-term goals:
- '1) To reach a sector of young American Jewry (popularly known as the 'unaffiliated') that had been regarded as detached or alienated from Jewish life by providing them with an Israel experience [this was a big difference from previous tours, which did not reach out to the unaffiliated but on the contrary largely appealed to those already involved in Israel and Jewish activities; in 2007 more than 60% of Birthright participants had had no contact with formal Jewish education after the age of 13].
- 2) To launch young unaffiliated Jews on a 'Jewish journey' that would lead them to a lifelong involvement with Jewish life
- 3) To create links among these young Jews, the State of Israel, and the Jewish community in the years to come'.
In November 1998, at a Council of Jewish Federations convention in Jerusalem, Steinhardt, Bronfman and Natan Sharansky (chair of Israel's Ministerial Committee on Israel-Diaspora Relations) unveiled 'Birthright Israel', or 'Taglit' ('Discovery') in Hebrew. This soon came under leadership of Israel's Ministry of Education and a former director general of the Jewish Agency. Recruitment began in 1999 for the first trips. A $3m advertising campaign promoted it (an advert in Rolling Stone contrasted an image of a baby about to be circumcised with one a young man floating on the Dead Sea: 'Sometimes it's hard being Jewish. Sometimes it isn't'). Hillel launched recruitment drives on campus. Internet-based registrations opened in early September and closed one and a half months later with 12,000 applications for 5,000 slots. The first trip was in Dec, 1999.
Between 2000-2007, more than 150,000 young Jews travelled to Israel through Taglit. The second intifada reduced numbers briefly, but they quickly recovered, and by summer 2006 the number of applications was double the number of available places (10,000). In 2007, a donation by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson through their foundation allowed Taglit to increase the number of places by more than 50%, bringing more than 30,000 people to Israel. In 2008 Taglit took 45,000 to Israel, after a large gift from Sheldon Adelson expanded the program's capacity. In 2013 it was reported that since 2000, Birthright had brought 'over 350,000 young Jews from 64 countries to Israel'.
In April 2014 Ha'aretz reported that registration by North American Jews for Brithright summer trips fell by more than 17 percent from 2011 to 2013. In response Birthright hired the Mr Youth marking agency to attract a new constituency: young Jews with 'little or no formal connection to the Jewish community'. A survey of these 'low affiliated' Jews, commissioned by Birthright and conducted by the Washington-based Benenson Strategy Group, found that they 'had not enrolled in Birthright amid concerns it would be too religious for them or push pro-Israel propaganda'. Birthright also sought to boost participation in two other 'hubs' outside North America: the former Soviet Union and France. It hired Israeli agency Tel Aviv Moscow Advertising to increase take-up in Russia and Ukraine, while funding was also increased in France, 'due to recent anti-Semitic attacks there'. The number of French participants, median age 21, was expected to increase to 1,000 from approximately 100 the year before, rising to 1,500-2,500 in the coming years.
Birthright doesn't run the tours itself; rather it hands out funding to other organisations to run them, according to guidelines (a curriculum, etc.) it draws up. It sends teams to monitor and ensure the guidelines are being adhered to.
Keira Feldman reported for The Nation on Taglit's eligibility requirements:
- 'To apply for a Birthright trip, participants need just one Jewish grandparent—and to pass a screening interview. (Practicing a religion other than Judaism is an automatic disqualifier.) After their ten days on Birthright, participants may postpone their return by up to three months to travel in the region, and it is not unheard of for progressives to “birth left” in the West Bank afterward (as I did)—though Birthright policy is that anyone discovered to have a “hidden agenda” of “exploiting” the free trip “to get access to the territories” to promote “non-Israeli” causes can lose her spot. Birthrighters planning anti-occupation activism with the International Solidarity Movement have been dismissed'.
Each trip is staffed by, at a minimum, an Israeli tour guide/educator, a medic, a security guard and two overseas staff.
Itinerary of a Taglit trip
The Taglit curriculum was design to meet several 'proximate' goals, themselves intended to fulfil the three long-term 'visions' outlined above:
- '- The presentation of a concise, "bird's-eye" overview of Jewish history, denoted as "the narrative of Jewish history"
- - The portrayal of Israel as a modern contemporary Jewish state
- - The demonstration of the connection of Judaism to Jewish values by encountering specific examples of these values (with special emphasis on the value of Shabbat)
- - The perspective of Israel as a country of diverse views and as an exemplar of the centrality of pluralism to Jewish life'
These goals were initially presented in The Birthright Israel Handbook, a detailed manual. To ensure they were met an independent company based in Jerusalem, Moach Eser, was contracted to monitor trips and provide feedback. The itinerary is flexible, but participants have to visit:
- '- At least one Holocaust-related site: Yad Vashem in Jerusalem or Masua near Tel Aviv
- - At least one site related to Israel's political isntitutions: the Knesset or the Supreme Court
- - At least one site related to Zionist histroy: Independence Hall, Metulla (Israel's northernmost town), or Rabin Square
- - At least one site related to Jewish values, in particular Tzedek and HesedL Yad Sarah, Malben, or Alyn Hospital
- - At least one site related to contemporary Israel: a high-technology company, a scientific research facility, or a university
- - At least one Jewish historical site: David's City, Masada, Caesarea, or Bet Shean
- - At least one experience of contemporary Israeli arts/culture: museums, films, artists, musicians'
There are some sites that all tours are required to visit:
- - Masada. The Masada trip is 'the supreme example of "framing" and shaping narratives'. The guides present it in different ways, but all present it as a 'symbol of the deep commitment of Jewish continuity and survival... testimony to the Jewish will to survive'. [Note that the meaning of the Masada is highly contested and controversial inside Israel]
- - A small cemetery on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Several important pre-48 Zionist leaders are buried here: Berl Katznelson (the famous Labour Zionist); Moses Hess (a 19th century proto-Zionist thinker); Naomi Shemer (modern Israel's most famous songwriter); and especially Rachel Bluwstein (born in 1890, emigrated to Palestine in 1909, died in 1931; guides read from her book of poems about her love for the Golan Heights then point to the occupied Golan Heights across the sea). More generally this part of the trip is meant to introduce participants to Zionism as not simply reaction to antisemitism but a positive ideology of redeeming the land and building a new society.
- - The German Colony (a middle-class yuppie neighbourhood) in southern Jerusalem. Before the second intifada the German Colony was not visited by Taglit, but when it broke out, participants were, for safety reasons, restricted to that area in their free time. This setting allowed guides to portray Israel as a contemporary, Western society. (As does Sheinkin Street—essentially a big shopping mall— in Tel Aviv).
- - Israel's national cemetery, Mount Herzl and National Military Cemetery, where participants see the graves of Theodor Herzl, Yitzhak Rabin, Levi Eshkol, et al. Taglit produces special educational booklet for guides to help contextualise some of the stories of the people in the cemeteries. Provides setting for a story of 'struggle, heroism, and youth rising to the occasion'. The visit is 'emotional, touching, and sometimes aggressively presented'. Participants often feel challenged, 'What have THEY done for Israel?'
Prominent themes on Taglit trips include: Israel as both the ancient land of the Jews and a modern Western state ('[t]here is great emphasis on Israel's similarity to America in its commitment to freedom, rule of law, checks and balances, and vox populi'); and Mi-Shoah L'Tkuma ('from Holocaust to Renewal'), which presents Israel as a response to threats: Holocaust, assimilation, intermarriage.
According to the IDC Herzliya website groups including Birthright, Hillel, AIPAC, March of the Living, AJC, UJC among others have planned visits the Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy, at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications over the course of 2008 and 2009.
Taglit is officially non-partisan, in terms of Israeli politics, and it has maintained government support through Likud, Labour and Kadima governments.
In terms of American Jewish politics, Taglit's claims to nonpartisanship are less credible. The Nation reports:
- 'In January, J Street announced it would sponsor a Birthright trip. Shortly thereafter, Birthright said a miscommunication had occurred—as a “political” organization, J Street was ineligible. Yet a Birthright trip run by AIPAC, the far more conservative Israel lobby group, has been renewed for years.'
Taglit tours of Israel are 'expressly intended to generate sympathy for Israeli perspectives' on the Israeli-Palestinian and –Syrian conflicts. The tours are able, sometimes, to accommodate 'Arab counternarratives', but even when these are addressed, they lack the 'compelling emotional weight' given to the Israeli-Jewish narrative because they are not rooted in the practical experiences of the tour.
While tour organisers speak of building connections to Israel, Shaul Kelner sees the tours as a 'diaspora-building exercise', because in practice the tours' main effect is not to promote aliyah but to promote a pro-Israel and engaged diaspora. And whereas organisers emphasise ethnic or religious socialisation, Kelner sees it primarily as a mechanism for 'political socialisation': 'first and foremost, the tours are efforts to foster identification with a nation-state.' They thus 'draw on and reinforce core nationalist tropes'.
Taglit seeks to confront the Israel-Palestine (or Israel-Lebanon, etc.) conflict in a way that will both 'be credible to independent thinkers' and '[affirm] the program's ideology'. Guides generally avoid overt 'propaganda', which 'would not be very effective', but do make use of 'substantial framing'. Guides are trained to present participants with 'the range of views held by Israeli Jews'—note who is excluded here—and to present these 'discordant views' as evidence of 'the vibrance [sic] of Israel's democratic political culture'. They try to address the conflict in a way that is both fairly credible (it makes some concessions to the other side) but still fundamentally frames the issue in Israel's terms. A favourite theme is to stress complexity, as in this closing speech by a guide about the wall in the West Bank:
- 'You’re going to hear about this fence and wall again and again in the news and here and there... Just remember that the reality is pretty gray rather than black and white. There are innocent people on the Palestinian side that are totally being hurt because of this action of Israel. And Israel, it is a matter of no choice, and it is a temporary action. It is building this fence in order to try to reduce, not to fully seal or protect itself, from the Palestinian actions. Hopefully, as it [was] said, it is going to be only temporary, but we know that the temporary things are the most permanent ones. Unfortunately.'
Palestinian narratives, and any narrative of Israeli oppressors vs. Palestinian victims, are made to seem simplistic and unsubtle; they serve as a 'foil against which Israeli perspectives can be contrasted as being marked by liberal open-mindedness and reasoned moderation.' Hence strident anti-Israel positions are delegitimized on the tours precisely by showing off their own ability to deal with nuance (albeit in a highly bounded way).
Despite the often extreme right views of big Taglit funders -- Sheldon Adelson, for instance, who urged Birthright participants to 'don't let Muslim student organisations take over the campuses', or the several other big donors who also financially support Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory -- Taglit's guidelines call on the programs to 'respect the integrity and sensibilities of participants and not attempt to missionise'. Taglit monitors for political bias through compliance officers, who observe groups and survey members. There is some evidence that guides tend to avoid being overtly preachy:
- 'A post-trip survey of 2,476 Birthright Israel alumni found a roughly even split between those who felt that the trip staff were "reluctant to say negative things about Israel" and those who felt that they were not. There was a wider consensus that the guides generally avoided forcing their opinions on the tourists. When asked whether there was too much "preaching" on the trip, 70% disagreed (37% strongly, 33% slightly) and 30% agreed (7% strongly, 23% slightly). Significantly, those who felt that their guides were preaching to them tended to give the guides lower overall ratings'.
The ideology underpinning the tours attempts to 'create space for a liberal critique from within a Zionist framework, but not a radical one based on delegitimisation of the state's existence'. It promotes a 'conversation'—but a 'bounded' one. It is also lopsided:
- 'when Palestinian and Syrian perspectives are conveyed, they are conveyed only through discourse, not through experience. Some groups’ itineraries do include a presentation by a Palestinian speaker, but, more typically, such voices are absent and any Arab perspectives that are conveyed are mediated through the voice of Israelis who assume the right to speak for them... Palestine and Syria are discussed, but Israel is experienced—cognitively and emotionally, personally and interpersonally, with the senses and the body fully engaged'.
This has an important ideological function:
- 'The fundamental asymmetry in the experience of Arab and Jewish narratives helps to accomplish the important ideological work of the tours in securing diaspora Jewish support for Zionism’s claim of a right to Jewish self-determination in the ancestral land. By making these claims subjectively compelling and experientially self-evident, the tours work to win Jewish hearts and minds in the face of global campaigns to delegitimize Jewish assertions of national rights in Israel.'
Another de facto political function the tours perform is 'decentering the conflict' (i.e. associating the Golan Heights, Israel, Jerusalem, etc. with things other than violence and conflict). This itself is 'a significant political achievement'.
Another of Taglit's purposes appears to be to transform young American Jews into advocates for Israel upon their return:
- 'In the words of CEO Gidi Mark, Birthright trains participants to “go back to anti-Zionists on their campuses and say to them, ‘Don’t tell me what you saw on CNN—I was there.’” In May 2010 Hillel president Wayne Firestone denounced campus divestment campaigns for seeking to “delegitimize and demonize Israel,” declaring Birthright alumni to be “the only way to combat these efforts.” In November, at an assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Bronfman shared the cheerful news that half of all pro-Israel activists on college campuses had been on Birthright. “Many of our Birthright alumni come back and are ready and eager to be advocates for Israel,” Susie Gelman, a Birthright board member and funder, told me. “In the current atmosphere, it takes on even more of a significant role than could’ve been anticipated when Birthright began.”'
Examples of speakers who have presented to Taglit groups include: Natan Sharansky; Dov Weisglass; Colette Avital; Yossi Beilin; Tzipi Livni; Michael Melchior; Benjamin Netanyahu; Ehud Olmert; Yossi Sarid; David Horowitz; David Landau; Akiva Eldar, Aharon Barak; Prof. Gadi Wolfsfeld.
Case Study: Lebanon War, 2006
Kelner quotes a 2006 email to a North American Birthright group from an Israeli soldier returning from the Lebanon war:
- [To: North Americans in Birthright Israel group #4386
- From: Yoni Lefkovich, Corporal, Israel Defense Forces]
- Sent: Thursday, August 17, 2006 2:59 pm
- Subject: letter from yoni
- hi i came home from the war in lebanon. i was on the front line 1,5 month. I wuld have been happy to find news from you but never mind i am writing now. the fight was very hard. but thank god, me and my friends are fine. during 6 weeks i wehad three showers and the first two weeks we didn’t take off any clothes. we slept 2 or 3 hours every night whch was physically very hard. it was also hard not to see home all that time, seeing bombs fall around you. you know that to defend yourself you kill some innocent people because the terrorists hide among them and you feel very bad about it. I hope that you know that all what you see in CNN is very onesided. they only show the destruction in lebanon, and not what HIZBOLLAH did to israel. it is very hard to fight against terrorists. i hope to hear soon what you think about the situation, how you are and what is going on in your life. i miss you, yoni lefkovich, your israeli friend and soldier.
Taglit program evaluators found that, compared to a control group,
- 'those participating in the trips were "more likely to have actively sought news of the war, to have sought news from an Israeli source, to have supported Israel’s position in the war, to have felt connected to Israel and Israelis, and to have taken action on Israel’s behalf"'.
However, 'a far stronger predictor of support' for Israel in the war was not tour participation but general political orientation.
Nonetheless, the personal contact with Israeli combatants engineered by Taglit creates an identification with the Israeli side of the conflict. Indeed this is the principle political purpose of the mifgash experience (in which Israeli soldiers join the Taglit group for a short period and hang out with their American counterparts): as one American participant explained, 'I will never again be able to hear about the Middle East without thinking of my new friends'. During the intifada, Chazan & Saxe contend, 'the mifgash became, perhaps, the best advocacy workshop possible to explain and justify Israel's position". All trips 'presented advocacy sessions that made the case for Israel's military actions', and, in addition, the informal contacts with Israeli soldiers provided by the mifgashim were very powerful.
In the 1990s local Jewish fundraising federations had become increasingly active promoting Israel tours, but the key institutions advocating their expansion were independent family foundations 'that were eclipsing the federations as the primary agenda-setting power' in North American Jewry. By the end of the 1990s, more than 4,000 foundations were giving over $1bn a year to Jewish causes, roughly $300m of which came from about 20 donors known as the 'the megadonors' (Charles Bronfman, Edgar Bronfman, Morton Mandel, Lynn Schusterman, Steven Spielberg, Michael Steinhardt, Leslie Wexner, and others). While community-based federations still raised twice as much as foundations, their fundraising campaigns were plateauing (in real terms, declining). Taglit thus reflected a change in American Jewry's fundraising: it was relying 'less on consensual decision-making and more on entrepreneurial initiative'.
Two foundations took the lead with presenting Taglit as a solution to the problem of attenuated Jewish identity in America: Charles Bronfman's CRB Foundation, established in 1986 to enhance Israel-diaspora relations and the Jewish Life Network (JLN), established in the early 1990s by hedge fund operator Michael Steinhardt to 'revitalise Jewish identity'.
In the early 1990s CRB undertook research into Israel experience programs, and found that Jews who'd been on Israel trips were likely to be more committed to a Jewish identity. Barry Chazan, then a consultant for CRB, argued based on the research that the Israel experience was 'one of the most powerful resources that the North American Jewish Community has at its disposal to face the challenge of adult Jewish identity and involvement'.
At a 1994 Jewish Federation convention, Israeli deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin proposed that 'every young Jew [should] receive a birthday card from the local Federation on his or her seventeenth birthday with a coupon for travel and accommodations in Israel during the next summer vacation'. Such a visit would be considered every Jew's 'birthright'. Beilin suggested American Jewish Federation funds being spent on social services in Israel be reallocated to fund the tours. Federations were opposed, but the megadonors were interested.
In 1996 the CRB unveiled Israel Experience, Inc. (IEI), a partnership between diaspora and Israeli NGOs and the Israeli government, to market programs to potential participants and funders.
In 1998, JLN and CRB reconceived the IEI along the lines proposed in 1994 by Beilin: they would fund 10-day trips to Israel for college-age Jews, according to prescribed standards. Any organisation judged to have met those standards would be eligible for funding to run the trips, which would be presented to participants as a 'gift from the Jewish people'.
The total cost of the program was initially estimated at $210m over five years, to be split between philanthropists, the Israeli government and local Jewish communities via their central fundraising bodies. Bronfman and Steinhardt contributed over $10m each and recruited other philanthropists to commit at least $5m each. They worked to convince Israeli government and diaspora Jewish federations to follow them. Taglit has continued to rely on this three-way funding base -- a small number of American Jewish megadonors, the Israeli government and local American Jewish federations.
In the early years, at least eight of Taglit's big funders, including Steinhardt and Bronfman, were also trustees of AIPAC's think-tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Other donors included: Lev Leviev, Marc Rich, Roger Hertog and S. Daniel Abraham.
Bronfman and Steinhardt, as well as Lynn Schusterman, personally visit and address many of the Taglit groups and are reportedly known of by all participants. Schusterman, head of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, is 'one of the most powerful and influential philanthropists to emerge recently on the Jewish scene'. After experiencing a Taglit event in winter 2001, Schusterman became a major figure in Birthright Israel. Schusterman was one of a larger group of philanthropists that contributed millions of dollars to Taglit. She comes along to all the trips, where she is 'treated like a rock star'.
Steinhardt often encouraged Taglit participants to hook up with each other, to the point where a myth emerged—'partially true' — that he would pay for the honeymoon of any couple that met as a result of a Taglit trip. 'Birthright boasts that alumni are 51 percent more likely to marry other Jews than nonparticipants'.
Taglit had an annual budget of $86 million in 2008, $76 million in 2010 and $87 million in 2011.. Much of this is provided by the billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who donated $5 million to Taglit in 2006,, $36 million in 2007,, $27.5 million in 2008,, $21.35 million in 2009, $9 million in 2010 and $8.8 million in 2011. In 2013 Adelson pledged $40 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation, bringing the overall donations to Taglit by him and his wife Miriam Adelson to a reported $180 million.
When the Adelson Foundation announced that it would halve donations to Taglit in 2009 and 2010, Taglit cut the number of Jews it sent to Israel to 30,000, from 42,000 in 2008. In response the Israeli government announced that it would increase its contributions, from $26 million in 2011 to $40 million in 2013. As part of this arrangement the Birthright Israeli Foundation also had to increase its fundraising, which it sought to do not only through large individual donations - which make up 60-70% of the total raised by the Foundation - but by expanding its smaller donor base. 14,000 individuals gave to Taglit in 2010, compared to 2000 in 2008. In 2011, Jewish Federations of North America CEO Jerry Silverman estimated that the Federations give about $13 million a year to Birthright, some of which is channeled through the Jewish Agency.
In the first ten years of Taglit, the Israeli government funded it to the tune of $100 million.
In April 2013 Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid met with Sheldon Adelson. According to Lapid, Adelson requested the meeting 'to ensure that the government would continue its matching grant of about $40 million to Birthright'.
Steven M. Cohen is the leading pollster of American Jewish public opinion. His polls, in recent years, have found growing 'distancing' of young American Jews from Israel. But his most recent poll bucked that trend, finding increasing attachment to Israel among young American Jews. His speculative explanation for this was that it was a 'Birthright bump'—though he noted that increased emotional attachment to Israel did not translate into increased support for Israel's policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. An October 2012 Taglit-funded study, which compared survey responses from people who had been on Taglit trips with responses from those who had applied to but didn't, concluded that the program had a significant impact on people's 'Jewish identity' and 'relationship to Israel'. It found, inter alia, that
- 'Taglit participants are 42 percent more likely to feel "very much" connected to Israel compared to individuals who did not go on the program'
- 'Participants are 22 percent more likely to indicate that they are at least “somewhat confident” in explaining the current situation in Israel as compared to those who did not go on Taglit'
- 'Taglit participants are 45 percent more likely than nonparticipants to be married to someone Jewish. Taglit’s impact on inmarriage was constant across all levels of childhood Jewish education.'
- 'Taglit’s influence extends beyond participants themselves: seven percent of nonparticipants are married to Taglit alumni (25 percent of participants are married to other participants, who they did not necessarily meet on the trip).'
- 'Taglit participants are more likely to have heard of and have an opinion on AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) as compared to nonparticipants'.
- Michael Steinhardt - co-founder
- Charles Bronfman - co-founder
- Sheldon Adelson - major donor
- Shimshon Shoshani - CEO
- United Jewish Israel Appeal runs UJIA Birthright, which recruits participants for Taglit Birthright, referred to as a 'gift from Taglit-Birthright Israel'. The UJIA note that Taglit-Birthright Israel is 'an innovative partnership between the people of Israel through the Government of Israel, private philanthropists through the Birthright Israel Foundation and Jewish communities around the world (North American Jewish Federations through the United Jewish Communities (UJC); the Jewish Agency for Israel; and Keren Hayesod).'
Contact, References and Resources
- www.birthrighisrael.com,About Us, Accessed 13-March-2009
- Taglit-birthright celebrates 10 year anniversary, Jerusalem Post, accessed 8 August 2012
- Shaul Kelner, Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright Tourism (New York University Press, 2010), 33.
- Jewish Agency figures, cited in Kelner 2010, 35
- Kelner 2010, 35
- Jackie Feldman, cited in Kelner 2010, 36
- Connie Bruck, The Brass Ring: A multibillionaire’s relentless quest for global influence, New Yorker, 30 June 2008.
- Kelner 2010, 39-40
- Leonard Saxe and Barry I. Chazan, Ten Days of Birthright Israel: A Journey in Young Adult Identity (New York: Brandeis UP, 2008), 26
- Kelner 2010, 39-40; Saxe and Chazan 2008, 27-28
- Saxe and Chazan 2008, 27-28
- Kelner 2010, 39-40
- Cited in Kelner 2010, 33
- Cited in Kiera Feldman, The Romance of Birthright Israel, The Nation, 15 June 2011
- Kelner 2010, 196
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 98, 100
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 104
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 13-14, 190n55
- Kelner 2010, 5-6.
- Benji RosenAdelson joins 900 Birthright participants in celebrating Israeli entrepreneurship, Jerusalem Post, accessed 27 December 2013
- Judy Maltz, 'As numbers drop, Birthright targets candidates with little or no Jewish connection', Ha'aretz, 23 April 2014; JTA, 'French Birthright expected to increase tenfold this year', JTA, 11 June 2014
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 12-13
- Feldman 2011
- Saxe & Chazan 2010, 65
- Saxe & Chazan 2010, 42-49
- Saxe & Chazan 2010, 49
- Groups and Missions, Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy, Sammy Ofer School of Communications, IDC Herzliya, accessed 22 June 2009.
- Kelner 2010, 194
- Feldman 2011
- Kelner 2010, xix
- Kelner 2010, xx
- Kelner 2010, 48; cf. Saxe & Chazan 2008, 98-103
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 50
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 49-50
- Cited in Kelner 2010, 59
- Kelner 2010, 81
- Alex Kane, Gingrich’s backer Adelson outdoes ‘invented people’ smear in address to ‘Birthright’ youth, Mondoweiss, 27 December 2011
- Feldman 2011
- Kelner 2010, 63
- Kelner 2010, 64
- Kelner 2010, 65
- Kelner 2010, 79
- Kelner 2010, 195
- Kelner 2010, 76
- Feldman 2011
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 103-104
- Cited in Kelner 2010, 47
- Kelner 2010, 48
- Kelner 2010, 194
- Cited in Saxe & Chazan 2008, 91
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 92
- Kelner 2010, 40
- Kelner 2010, 40
- Kelner 2010, 40
- Cited in Kelner 2010, 41
- Chazan, cited in Kelner 2010, 41
- Cited in Kelner 2010, 41
- Kelner 2010, 42
- Kelner 2010, 42
- Jacob Berkman, Birthright tries to fix its Adelson 'problem', JTA, 6 February 2009
- Feldman 2011
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 67-68
- Saxe & Chazan 2008, 69; cf. Feldman 2011, who reports directly witnessing Steinhardt make the offer
- Feldman 2011
- Connie Bruck, The Brass Ring: A multibillionaire’s relentless quest for global influence, New Yorker, 30 June 2008; Josh Nathan-Kazis, Government of Israel To Give More to Birthright Program, Forward, 21 January 2011
- Ynet, Adelson family donates $30 million to Taglit-birthright Israel, 12 August 2007
- Adelson Family Foundation tax filing (2007), p. 11
- Adelson Family Foundation tax filing (2008), p. 11
- Adelson Family Foundation tax filing (2009), p. 11
- Adelson Family Foundation tax filing (2010), p. 11
- Adelson Family Foundation tax filing (2011), p. 11
- JTA, Adelsons donate $40 million to Birthright, Ha'aretz, 23 May 2013
- Josh Nathan Kazis, Government of Israel To Give More to Birthright Program, JTA, 21 January 2011
- Feldman 2011
- Judi Rudoren, Fresh Israeli Face Plays Down Dimming of Political Star, New York Times, 19 May 2013
- Marc Tracy, A 'Birthright Bump' Among Young Jews?, Tablet, 9 July 2012; Simi Lampert, Young Jews More Interested in Israel: Poll, Forward, 9 July 2012
- Leonard Saxe et al., The Impact of Birthright Israel: 2012 Update (Brandeis, 2012)
- UJIA UJIA Birthright. Accessed 16 February 2014.