Birthright Applicants vs. Peter Beinart

Last May, I began a post this way:

Peter Beinart has written a scathing indictment of organized American Jewry’s “conservative” views on Israel. He claims that “right-wing” Israeli policies, combined with American Jewish groups’ unflinching support for Israel, are alienating young American Jews, and reducing their attachment to Israel.

Beinart’s essay has received a remarkable amount of attention, especially considering that its underlying premise is simply false.

You can read that post for a detailed explanation of why Beinart was wrong, but here’s some new evidence in the form of a press release:

A record 40,108 eligible Jewish young adults in North America applied to participate in a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip this summer. Registration for the trip, which closed this morning (Feb. 22) after only seven days, represents both the highest number of applicants from North America and the shortest registration period for summer trips.

The number of applicants still far outpaces the funding capacity of Taglit-Birthright Israel for the free, 10-day educational trips for Jewish young adults ages 18 through 26. Taglit-Birthright Israel estimates it currently has funding to send 15,000 young adults of the 40,000 registered from North America for trips between May and August.

The best I can come up with in defense of Beinart is that when he wrote about the alienation of “young American Jews,” what he really meant was the small fraction that could be categorized as “young, politically active, American Jews with relatively weak religious ties to the Jewish community who identify themselves as strong political Progressives.” Even there, I’m not sure the data supports Beinart, but at least it’s a plausible position.

FWIW, I went to Brandeis University, then with a large majority Jewish population, in the 1980s and my best friends were relatively conservative politically, and, to generalize, from reasonably observant (by low American Jewish standards) Conservative (in terms of religious “denomination”) Jewish homes. With the exception of one Orthodox friend, we talked about Israel just about never, except that my friends immediately ruled it out as a place to spend junior year abroad because they thought Europe would be much more interesting. If anything, Beinart is precisely wrong: thanks to Birthright, along with modern technology and the rising population of Orthodox Jews, young American Jews are much more engaged with Israel than their predecessors, though assimilation and intermarriage (and not Israel’s purportedly “right-wing” policies) are acting as a counterweight.

Interesting aside: Last year, Beinart took the trouble to email me to inform me that contrary to what I asserted, he never meant to claim to be “courageous.” I duly corrected my post. But yesterady he accepted an honor as a “hero” from J Street.

I’ll repeat what I wrote last year: Contrary to the argument that Beinart is exhibiting “courage,” or is a “hero”

nothing is more trite, and better for one’s career in left-wing circles, than to be a Jewish liberal/left intellectual publicly attacking Israel. Exactly how many pro-Israel left-leaning organizations and periodicals are there right now, beyond the New Republic?

UPDATE: Not around today to moderate, so comments are now closed.

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