This con­nec­tion is not a mi­rage

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Nathan Jeffay

WE THOUGHT we had seen it all: ev­ery warped ar­gu­ment from Is­rael’s haters in re­la­tion to its self-de­fence op­er­a­tion in Gaza. But ap­par­ently not. For one Amer­i­can-Jewish jour­nal­ist, it is not enough to point fin­gers at Is­rael; the Jewish di­as­pora also has blood on its hands. Or more pre­cisely, Birthright does. Al­li­son Benedikt, best known in the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity for her 2011 ar­ti­cle about how much her hus­band de­spises Is­rael, de­clared in the on­line magazine Slate, where she is a se­nior edi­tor, that Birthright shared the blame for the death of Max Stein­berg, a 24-year-old sol­dier killed by ter­ror­ists on July 20. Why? Be­cause it was on one of Birthright’s Is­rael tours for di­as­pora young­sters that Mr Stein­berg, who was born and grew up in Amer­ica, fell in love with Is­rael. He sub­se­quently moved there and joined the army.

Un­for­tu­nately, so­cial me­dia has given this ar­ti­cle mas­sive ex­po­sure, and so while the ideal would be to ig­nore it, a re­sponse is needed.

The writer con­tends that Birthright pushes aliyah and army ser­vice as the pin­na­cle of the re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael which it pro­motes, which is, fac­tu­ally-speak­ing, non­sense. Most Birthright grad­u­ates never feel a calling to live in Is­rael or fight for it. But Mr Stein­berg did. This was his per­sonal re­sponse to his visit to Is­rael.

So what? If a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary had in­spired him, would its pro­duc­ers have his blood on their hands? If a his­tory book led to his de­ci­sion, would the au­thor be cul­pa­ble?

What is re­ally trou­bling about Ms Benedikt’s tirade is that it is ac­tu­ally an at­tack on the en­tire di­as­pora-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship through the guise of con­cern about this boy’s fate.

Through­out his­tory, peo­ple have, with­out much pon­tif­i­ca­tion, signed up to fight for causes they be­lieve in.

Does Ms Benedikt want to in­ves­ti­gate the cir­cum­stances in which nu­mer­ous Jewish im­mi­grants to Amer­ica took part in its World War Two ef­fort? Of course not.

Ms Benedikt’s is­sue is that she doesn’t be­lieve in the very real bond that binds di­as­pora Jews to Is­rael. “What makes an Amer­i­can kid with shaky He­brew and no ties to the state of Is­rael [ sic] sud­denly de­cide he is ready to make this sac­ri­fice?” she asked.

And there we have it. She sneaks in her real point via the back door. It is that, by de­fault, di­as­pora Jews have “no ties” to Is­rael, and when a young man falls in love with the coun­try — and yes, peo­ple fall in love sud­denly — we must look around for dark forces at play.

To Al­li­son Benedikt, it is so in­con­ceiv­able that a straight-think­ing di­as­pora Jew could make this kind of com­mit­ment, that it must be the work of a crafty pub­lic re­la­tions out­fit that hood­winked him, namely Birthright. If she were hon­est, she would have stopped beat­ing around the bush and said what she meant - the con­nec­tion be­tween di­as­pora Jews and Is­rael is a mi­rage, even if it’s the very idea on which the Jewish state was es­tab­lished. That is why she thinks that Mr Stein­berg was brain­washed all the way to his death by Birthright.

The ul­ti­mate irony is that, if Mr Stein­berg’s death showed one thing, it was that the di­as­po­raIs­rael con­nec­tion is far from a mi­rage. More than 30,000 strangers at­tended his funeral to en­sure a good turn-out de­spite his lack of fam­ily in the coun­try.

The em­brace that the real Is­rael gave him was more than any­thing that Birthright could have ever —to adopt Benedikt’s cyn­i­cal tone — fed him.

Benedikt can’t ac­cept the bond with Is­rael

Nathan Jeffay, an Is­rael-based jour­nal­ist, will be speak­ing at Beth Hamidrash Ha­gadol Sy­n­a­gogue, Leeds, on Tues­day Au­gust 5 at 8.40pm.

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