No, There Isn’t a Split between Birthright and the Reform Movement

The Birthright organization—which provides young American Jews with free trips to Israel—partners with various Jewish groups in arranging its tours; recently, it announced that it is dropping the Union for Reform Judaism as a “certified trip provider.” Reporting the news, an article in an Israeli newspaper attributed the decision to the Orthodox infiltration of Birthright, blamed the “Orthodox, settler-aligned” Jewish Home party for abetting this infiltration, and described the decision as a split between American Reform Judaism and a major Jewish institution. But nothing could be farther from the truth, writes Gil Troy, who is the voluntary lay chair of Birthright’s education committee:

The Reform movement will indeed no longer host Birthright participants. But that’s because Birthright participants have consistently failed to choose the Reform movement’s offerings. . . . [T]he decision stems from the simple fact that the Reform movement’s trip provider, URJ Kesher, again failed to meet its recruiting quota. . . . The movement is now examining what it calls “other modalities” to continue working with Birthright.

Birthright participants choose their program providers freely, and a trip organizers’ status is determined objectively. [An institution] doesn’t stop being a trip organizer by failing to meet recruiting goals once; [it] must fall short in two of the last three rounds.

Rather than a ploy on the part of Birthright’s Orthodox components, the release of the Reform movement signals nothing worse than market forces at play. Young Birthright participants just aren’t choosing the Reform option. The Reform movement, America’s largest Jewish denomination, has been one of the smallest Birthright trip providers for years. . . .

What’s most upsetting about [the response] is the contempt for Birthright participants. Rather than treating this next generation of young Jews as the smart, savvy, somewhat cynical, often wary, perpetually meaning-seeking people they are, [it] infantilizes them, assuming they’re lemmings, easily suckered into fetid right-wing Orthodox waters. The portrait is insulting, intolerant, and inaccurate.

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More about: Birthright, Israel & Zionism, Judaism, Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism

 

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin