Birthright and the Middle East – Part I

Been working on this ridiculous essay on my trip to the middle east for over 4 months. Well, not working that hard. Anyways, here it is in installments. Part I:


“The difference between involvement and commitment is like a ham and egg breakfast – the chicken was involved, the pig was committed” – Unknown

Israel Historically

Religion is carved into the human psyche. From the ancient tribes of Africa, the Americas, and Asia-Pacific to the vast empires of Rome, Egypt, Persia and Babylon we see the commonality of religion. The only aspect which varies is the complexity of the belief structure.

Most traditional and eastern religions share a common trait: the concept that the gods are all powerful and humans are spectators to history. In which lies a fundamental belief that we are powerless to change anything.

The monotheistic Abrahamic religions; Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, maintain that humans can change their destiny and the destiny of others. This optimistic perception propelled monotheistic religions around the globe. Having only one god concentrates attention – and power – in one church, driving expansion and wealth creation.

The Ten Commandments, which were in fact distilled out of much more vague guidelines, set clear basic rules for a functional civilization. You shall not murder, though shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, house, slave, ox, … and you shall not bear false witness form the pillars of civil societies.

The dramatic shift from luck and happenstance to power and self-determination marked the turning point towards sustainable civilizations. The hope instilled through belief empowered the people to improve their families, businesses and societies. Israel is the birthplace of Hope. And hope is the mother of commitment.


Birthright, a non-profit organization, provides free organized tours of Israel for young Jews. In the late 90s, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt decided the greatest benefit their wealth could have for the Jewish community was to inspire the future generation of Jews.

In contrast to new community centres, better schools or promoting Judaism, Birthright creates an emotional bond that exponentially increases Jewish community involvement. Though not Zionist by name, its purpose is to commit the Jewish Diaspora to the land of Israel.

Zionism remains a charged term. As defined by Wikipedia, “Zionism is a political movement among Jews, although supported by some non-Jews and not supported by some Jews, which maintains that the Jewish people constitute a nation and are entitled to a national homeland.”

In my mind, there is nothing particularly controversial in that statement and because I believe in a Jewish homeland, I consider myself a Zionist. Quebec is a nation, so a Jewish Nation does not seem to mandate a Jewish state. Though many will argue that you cannot have one without the other.

As a liberal citizen, I initially hesitated to fully give into the birthright experience. My reluctance was reinforced at the orientation meeting when a representative spoke about the trip and how great it was going to be. After he explained that it was not a Zionist trip or a brainwashing experiment, he introduced the guest speaker, Mr. Gil Troy.

Gil Troy is an American history professor at McGill University, a fervent Zionist and publicly past supporter of George W. Bush. His presentation promoted “greater” Israel. That is, a biblical interpretation of the boundaries of Israel and therefore much larger that today’s or 1948 Israel. He explained how amazing Israel was, its people the best, history the greatest and technology the most advanced.

His right wing views and neo-conservative overtones led me to believe that Birthright may indeed be a plot to convert the liberal Jewish Diaspora to Support the Troops-bumper-sticker-wielding-SUV-driving-Zionists.

Two weeks later, I arrived at the Toronto Pearson Airport with my reliable backpack, an open mind and a commitment to new experience.

Published on August 26, 2007