Left-Wing ‘Alternative’ to Birthright Has Participants Questioning Belief in Jewish State

J Street takes 28 college students to Israel, West Bank

An Israeli flag is pictured near the minaret of a mosque at an Israeli settlement in the old city of the West Bank town of Hebron / Getty Images

A J Street-sponsored trip last week billed as an alternative to Birthright Israel had two of its participants questioning their belief in the Jewish state.

The left-wing advocacy group took 28 college students on a trip called "Let Our People Know," which it said embraced Birthright's goals of connecting American Jews with their roots. However, the J Street tour also took the students to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, the Palestinian city of Hebron, and Susiya, an Israeli archaeological site from which Palestinians were evicted.

During the trip, they were briefed by members of anti-Israel organizations Peace Now and B'tselem. The New York Times narrative told a story of the wide-eyed students—many of whom, according the report, were already J Street activists—being shown the light and even reconsidering Zionism:

As the day grew long, the facial expressions more pained and the questions more anguished, the J Street tour seemed increasingly incompatible with Birthright’s goal of hooking young American Jews on Israel.

By dinnertime, two participants said they were reconsidering their belief in a Jewish state. Jesse Steshenko, 19, of Santa Cruz, Calif., who has a Star of David tattooed on his right wrist, said he was "disgusted" with Israel’s government.

"I came in here a very ardent Zionist," he said. "You never know when a Holocaust might happen again. Yet, coming here, I’m starting to doubt whether a two-state solution is possible — and whether Zionism is even worth pursuing anymore."

J Street claims a desire to find a "two-state solution" to the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which means, in its words, a "secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel."

The Times did quote a Birthright spokesman who said the purpose of its trips, which offer young adult American Jews a free tour of Israel, is "to strengthen Jewish identity and foster a love for the land, people and culture of Israel." Some progressives and anti-Israel activists protest the trips as pro-Israel propaganda.

J Street's top official in Israel, Yael Patir, said the trip was a success.

"We knew that their days in the West Bank would be the most challenging and difficult," she said. "But we also know that it’s the reason they came for the trip."