JERUSALEM (JTA) — Birthright Israel has stopped meetings between its participants on the free trip and Arab Israelis, sparking criticism from the Reform movement.
Birthright’s education department in recent days ordered its trip providers to stop including the meetings with the Arab citizens of Israel, Haaretz first reported Wednesday. The program added the meetings to its itineraries two years ago to provide the young adults participating with a wider view of Israeli society.
In a statement to Haaretz, Birthright explained that the “results of the initial evaluation have shown that there is a need for further analysis of this module in the context of the educational trip as a whole,” and therefore was suspended for the winter season of the free trips.
“The fact that Birthright Israel has decided to halt their outreach to Arab citizens of Israel shows just how out of touch Birthright is becoming,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said in a statement issued Wednesday, noting that Arabs make up 21 percent of Israel’s population and receive millions of dollars in Jewish philanthropy.
“Birthright has been a transformative experience for over half a million young Jews, 40 percent who self-identify as Reform, but many are now questioning whether the ten-day trips are exposing participants to a too-narrow slice of contemporary Israel.”
Jacobs said that cutting out the meetings “will communicate loudly and clearly that these are trips with a narrow political agenda that is out of step with today’s young Jews and most of their parents as well.”
On Thursday, Israeli lawmaker Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party contacted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in writing to find out why the meetings were halted, Haaretz reported, and how he intended to ensure that Birthright participants become acquainted with all segments of Israeli society.