NEW YORK (JTA) — Birthright Israel has launched an effort to reclaim the word Zionism from Israel’s detractors.
The effort, launched last week in New York with speeches by Israeli U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren and Birthright funder Michael Steinhardt, drew several hundred alumni of Birthright Israel, the philanthropic effort that has brought hundreds of thousands of young Diaspora Jews on free trips to the Jewish state.
"The idea for the event came from a consistent experience we hear from young people once they get back from their trip to Israel," said Rebecca Sugar, executive director of the Birthright Israel Alumni Community. "They feel lied to — all this time they were told on campus and in much of the media that Zionism is racism and apartheid. But when they see Israel with their own eyes, there is no apartheid and it is not a country characterized by racism."
The project aims to reclaim Zionism from negative associations with conflict and to broaden popular understanding by emphasizing Israel’s humanitarian contributions around the world.
The kickoff event, held Feb. 1 in Times Square, included a slick media presentation with actors describing the assistance "Zionism" had made available in disaster zones around the world.