JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Reform movement criticized Birthright Israel for stopping meetings between Jewish participants in the free trip and Arab Israelis.
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 on Wednesday. The program first began adding such meetings into its trip itineraries two years ago, in order to provide participants with a wider view of Israeli society.
“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,” the statement also said.
“We believe that young people can fall in love with the real Israel that has so many inspiring aspects while also seeing up close the struggles for religious pluralism and for better ways for Jewish and the Arab citizens of Israel to live together,” Jacobs wrote.