Last week, J Street U, the campus arm of J Street, wrapped up its inaugural free trip to Israel for Jewish college students. The “Let My People Know” trip was conceived as a response to protests against Birthright, which does not include meetings with Palestinians on its trips, or discussions about the occupation.
While the debate around Birthright has received significant national attention, there are some Israel tours for college students that are going unnoticed. These trips are led by organizations with explicit right-wing political agendas that have a dangerous potential to affect young US Jews’ understanding of Israel and the occupation in the years to come.
Groups like Hasbara Fellowships (HF) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) recruit to their tours Jewish and pro-Israel leaders on campuses. They attempt to inculcate in these leaders support for the occupation and illiberal Israeli policies, such as displacement of Bedouin Israelis from their villages in the Negev.
How do I know? I participated in ZOA and Hasbara tours for campus leaders. I witnessed firsthand their efforts to generate support for extremist policies and their attempts to brand dissent as anti-Israel.