Earlier this month, Ramsey Alsheikh, the President of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition of Dartmouth Students published an article in the student newspaper The Dartmouth titled Alsheikh: Hillel, End Birthright. 

Alsheikh’s article is an unscrupulous diatribe riddled with falsehoods about Birthright Israel, a nonprofit organization that offers young Jews a once-in-a-lifetime ten-day heritage trip to Israel.

Alsheikh appears to not have any firsthand experience with Birthright, instead relying on a twisted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict to draw his conclusions.

“The Birthright trip is far-right, anti-Palestinian, and anti-peace.” Alsheikh writes in the subheading.

Alsheikh seems to throw everything except empirical evidence to try to make his case.

For instance, he cites an off-color remark from philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, who died in 2021 and was one of Birthright’s most prominent benefactors.

Alsheikh conveniently does not mention that the Birthright Foundation has a diverse pool of over 40,000 donors from across the political spectrum. He also fails to disclose that investigations into Birthright’s ability to maintain political neutrality have turned up no evidence of “right-wing influence”.

A 2014 study conducted by researchers at Middlebury College and Brandeis University concluded that:

The present research generally finds that Taglit achieves its declared aim of fostering forms of homeland attachment that are politically neutral in the Israeli context.

A 2017 report also drew similar conclusions as the 2014 study finding that “The majority also felt that they heard authentic accounts of the conflict and that diverging opinions were respected.”

Alsheikh’s assertions that Birthright, its funders, and the State of Israel are “far-right” are likely attempts to excuse his bigotry, veiling his antisemitism to his readers as political grievances. This is a common tactic pulled from the Soviet anti-Zionist playbook.

As Izabella Tabarovsky, Senior Advisor at the Kennan Institute writes:

One of the lessons that the late Soviet anti-Zionist campaign teaches is that anti-Zionism and antisemitism have historically been deeply and, possibly, inextricably intertwined. True to their ideological tenets, the Soviets never attacked the Jews in purely racist terms. Accused of antisemitism, they indignantly claimed that they were simply anti-Zionist. But wherever and whenever they employed anti-Zionism for their political purposes, antisemitism blossomed.

Furthermore, Alsheikh’s condemnation of Birthright is based on alleged “war crimes” and “dispossession of Palestinians” by the State of Israel. These libelous charges do not reflect the reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict which has persisted as a result of Palestinian rejectionism, antisemitism, and government-sponsored terrorism by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The State of Israel on the other hand has made numerous peace offers. It takes defensive measures to protect its citizens from terrorism including security barriers along sections of the West Bank and surrounding the Gaza Strip. This Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets fired by Hamas into Israel’s population centers.

Concerning the claim of “dispossession of Palestinians”, Alsheikh fails to mention that the War of 1948 was a direct result of Arab aggression. While Jews accepted the 1947 Partition Plan that proposed the establishment of a Jewish and Arab state, Arab leaders did not, choosing instead to invade and displace 550,000 Palestinians in the process, in some cases giving them explicit instructions to leave.

Furthermore, while the Arab world has chosen to exacerbate the refugee crisis, Israel has integrated and offered citizenship to the 1.8 million Arabs residing within its borders.

Alsheikh seems to count on his readers to take his unsubstantiated accusations at face value.

Perhaps his condemnation of Birthright is because it exposes students to the reality on the ground.

When I staffed a Birthright trip last year, my students had time to experience Israel and the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict through their own eyes. Our students came from a variety of backgrounds and political perspectives and my co-staff actively encouraged them to think for themselves. We did not shy away from “controversial” topics or try to limit students’ speech.

Along the way, students also candidly interacted with Israeli-Arabs, an inevitable scenario given that over 21 percent of Israel’s population is Arab-Israeli, this is true of every Birthright Trip, and any trip to Israel for that matter.

Alsheikh’s assertion that “trips don’t make contact with any Arab citizens of Israel” is a fabrication. Furthermore, we also met with representatives from the Druze and Bedouin communities.

Finally, Alsheikh’s proposal to replace Birthright with other tour groups is glaring in hypocrisy. Each tour he lists is more biased than the last. Let Our People Know is organized by the anti-Israel organization JStreet. Birthright Unplugged is pro-BDS and calls Israel an apartheid state when that is not the case. Green Olive Tours plainly states a political agenda on its website. Last but not least, Breaking The Silence is an organization that depends on unverified, anonymous testimonies by former IDF soldiers to promote an anti-Israel agenda and is regularly exposed as propaganda. Any tour run by them can not be objective.

Alsheikh consciously chooses to gaslight the Jewish community on campus by claiming to speak on behalf of Jewish students in telling the Hillel that their sponsoring Birthright “serves to alienate liberal Jews on campus and implicitly prioritizes the politics of some Jews over others.”

He pleads that “for the sake of Dartmouth, morality, and our Jewish students, Hillel must end its association with Birthright.” Alsheik’s claim of Birthright being an amoral program that must be canceled for the sake of Jewish students is bold considering that the majority of American Jews support the state of Israel and likely have no interest in canceling Birthright on college campuses.

As an arm of Hillel International – the largest Jewish campus organization in the world – Dartmouth Hillel’s association with Birthright reflects Hillel’s mission of “enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.”

Who is Ramsey Alsheikh to say that “to participate in Birthright is to stand for the opposite of the values that Jewish culture teaches.” Birthright provides a first-hand experience where trip-goers get to see the realities of Israeli society on the ground. Surely, they are intellectually capable of confronting their biases and looking into the matter themselves.

The point of attending university is to inspire discourse where students can explore a variety of views and have meaningful experiences. Any Dartmouth student who deems Birthright to be a problematic organization has every right to not take part in the trip or to go on another tour. As for being the opposite of Jewish values, this Jewish person is entirely unconvinced.

Alsheik’s article serves as more than just a criticism of Birthright. It is a shamelessly manipulative attempt at conning Dartmouth students into vilifying Hillel and Zionism. Any student at Dartmouth who is concerned about antisemitism needs to stand up and condemn this article.

A slightly edited version of this editorial was featured in the Algemeiner.

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