J Street: Playing Birthright for Self-Promotion

Is J Street playing the Birthright card strictly for self promotion? In my opinion, yes.

As we wrote last week, on January 25th J Street sent a press release stating “we will be leading” a Birthright trip this summer. On January 31st, J Street indicated Birthright canceled their trip.

Birthright issued a statement saying, in part, “Taglit-Birthright Israel wishes to clarify that at no time did it approve of a Birthright Israel trip in association with JStreet, nor did it give its trip provider, the Israel Experience, any approval for such a trip. We did not rescind its approval as no approval was given in the first place.”

While the media, and especially the Jewish blog-o-sphere, dissected whether J Street was being singled out for their political agenda, a look at how trips are actually put together, including by provider Israel Experience, shines light on the issue. And the light does not shine favorably on J Street.

Israel Experience (IE), a subsidiary company of the Jewish Agency, is one of the larger providers of Birthright Israel trips – fielding over 300 buses this past year. Many organizations work closely with them to help fill buses, and make program suggestions, but IE is not a provider of branded trips. For anyone. So, there is no way J Street can claim they “will be leading”. In fact, J Street’s self-serving media team obviously recognized this glaring error and in their so-called cancellation announcement backed off the “we are leading” and substituted “J Street U was facilitating.” A change of words most of us missed.

If one defines facilitating as helping to find participants, this is not only acceptable, but encouraged, by IE and by Birthright Israel. Even for J Street. But, of course, then the latter couldn’t turn a “so-called cancellation” into a big PR event to attack, not only Birthright, but the agendas of other organizations.

In the eyes of many, J Street just blew it. For what they should have done, is “facilitate” – refer as many as possible to IE – and allow the core demographic of J Street U to experience Israel up close and personal. And when the students returned to their campuses, J Street could then engage in all levels of post-Birthright programing. Designing and implementing on their own. In fact, the void is so large in this regard, they probably would have the field largely to themselves.

As the dust begins to settle and disappear from view, we can clearly see that J Street turned a non-event into a media story. Though, in looking forward, perhaps the J Street media team should read Aesop’s fables – you all know which one – because one day, real soon, they may actually have a real story and no-one will listen.