This connection is not a mirage

By Nathan Jeffay, July 31, 2014
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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.

Benedikt can't accept the bond with Israel

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 diaspora-Israel 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.

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

    Last updated: 12:15pm, July 31 2014