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Opinion

Readers React: Birthright Israel isn’t trying to hide anything about political realities in the Middle East

Israel travel program seeks to strengthen Jewish connection
Participants on a 2014 Birthright Israel trip swim in the Dead Sea.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: It is gratifying that Judd Olanoff’s experience on a Birthright Israel tour was “enriching and memorable,” but his assumption that its educational approach has not evolved since his 2008 trip is incorrect.

Birthright Israel regularly adjusts its educational framework. Also, it strives to build a traveling community of young Jews whose members exercise mutual recognition, tolerance and trust, without undermining their diversity. This open culture promotes meaningful dialogue.

Birthright Israel includes a mandatory geopolitical module about addressing the complex political realities in Israel and the entire region. This module has been integral to the experience of close to 200,000 participants to date.

Birthright Israel constantly reflects on its work and remains committed to seeking venues to sustain educational excellence. It is regrettable Olanoff omitted these facts to advance a narrow-sighted political agenda.

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Zohar Raviv, Jerusalem

The writer is Birthright Israel’s executive vice president of educational strategy.

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To the editor: I agree completely with Olanoff’s view that that by not exposing participants to a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Birthright “fails to educate and prepare the moderate, pro-Israel center.”

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However, participants should go into the program with their eyes open. They are accepting a free trip from an organization funded in part by Sheldon Adelson. Accepting this free gift comes with strings attached.

If Birthright participants want to hear more nuanced points of view, they should extend their trip at their own expense and expose themselves to Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and left-leaning Israelis. Or, maybe someone should fund a competing program to Birthright. George Soros, are you listening?

Maya Levinson, Los Angeles

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To the editor: I don’t know what Olanoff is complaining about. He voluntarily signed up for a Birthright trip, knowing that the organization’s purpose is to connect participants with Jewish values, identity, narratives and contemporary Israel. By his own admission, Birthright accomplished that mission for him.

It is not Birthright’s mission to disseminate Palestinian narratives, values or propaganda. Plenty of other outlets promoting this are available to Olanoff if he is curious about that. He can also arrange his own trip to Palestinian areas, if he can gain admittance.

If Olanoff wishes to learn how to defend Israel against unjustified criticism, there are organizations that can help do that. Joining one would help him reach that goal; complaining about Birthright will not.

Daniel H. Trigoboff, Williamsville, N.Y.

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To the editor: Olanoff writes that Birthright “must reconsider its approach, or it risks failing the next generation of American Jews.”

That generation fails itself if it relies exclusively on such organizations for information. Secrecy is obsolete. Google happens.

Jim Johnson, Whittier

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