Birthright Israel
There are few international educational trips that can boast a higher participant rate. In just under 10 years, Birthright Israel has flown over 200,000 young Jews to Israel for a 10 day adventure of touring, partying and a good dose of Zionist indoctrination.

Despite a significant drop in funding this year, that number is sure to grow by the thousands again in 2009.

How do they do it? For starters, it's free. So long as you identify as Jewish, have never been on an organized tour of Israel, and are between the ages of 18-26, you qualify.

What's the catch? Well, there really isn't one. Participants are not required to buy anything or move to Israel and join the army, nor are they force-fed with political lectures and religious tirades. All they need to do is accept an all-expenses-paid "gift" of a seemingly apolitical, non-religious tour. Who wouldn't accept?

I did.

Beneath the surface, however, these "gifts" are indeed politically motivated. Funded by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and wealthy Zionist philanthropists like Charles Bronfman and Sheldon Adelman, the trips are intended in large part to foster support amongst Diaspora Jewish youth for the continued existence of Israel as a "Jewish state" and to ensure a new generation of Israel supporters who can take over the reins from their parents and grandparents.

The logic goes like this: Jews in the Diaspora are more likely to feel a strong attachment to Israel, and therefore support and defend it, if they have travelled there.

This theory was given further credence after a study entitled Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and their Alienation from Israel was released in 2006. "Absent any trip to Israel," say the document's authors, "most Jews score on the lowest rung of Israel attachment, and only a few manage to harbor warm feelings toward Israel."

Furthermore, "as important as Israel travel may be for fortifying commitment to Israel and preventing alienation," the document's authors stress that "it is even more important and most important, for younger Jews."

Birthright Israel therefore plays a significant role in the infrastructure of Zionist indoctrination in the Jewish Diaspora, which includes Zionist schools, camps, youth groups, and so on. Most significantly, what Birthright Israel trips are able to do is bring more young Jews, regardless of their level of affiliation with Jewish institutions, into the Zionist fold.

Whether it's to make aliah (move to Israel), give money to Zionist organizations such as the Jewish National Fund, become lobbyists in their respective communities and countries, or at the very least, give tacit moral support for Israel, ensuring that as many young Jews as possible become supporters of Israel in one way or another is extremely important for the future of the Zionist project.

Yet given the growth in public consciousness around the world regarding the Israeli government's ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people, boosted considerably by the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza, the Zionist project is facing somewhat of a crisis.

As Israel is becoming more and more difficult to defend, a growing number of young Jews are expressing staunch opposition to the Israeli government and Zionism, shouting "not in my name!" for all the world to hear.

Hannah Mermelstein is one of these young Jews. Together with co-founder Dunya Alwan, Murmelstein created an organization called Birthright Unplugged in 2005, in part to counter Birthright Israel and the skewed picture it paints in the minds of young Jews.

Open to both Jews and non-Jews, Birthright Unplugged takes participants to see the devastating effects that Zionist colonization and occupation have had on the Palestinian people in the West Bank and within what is now the state of Israel.

"Zionism is failing. It's on the decline." says Mermelstein. "Our role is to speed up the fall of Zionism," she added, "while at the same time standing in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to survive and resist Zionist policy."

Rosi Greenberg, alum of both Birthright Israel and Birthright Unplugged, agrees. "To me, Judaism is about ethics and values... about human rights," says Greenberg.

Upon witnessing the suffering of the Palestinian people first-hand and understanding more about Israel's abhorrent human rights record, Mermelstein and Greenberg's opposition to Zionism and involvement with the Palestinian solidarity movement are hence not surprising.

Crucially, as an increasing number of young Jews like Mermelstein and Greenberg are standing in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and working to separate Judaism and Zionism, one of the most important tactics of the Zionist movement, namely the unreflective charge that all criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism, loses much of its weight.

So while Birthright Israel continues to bring thousands of Jews around the world on their "birthright" each year, the mounting frequency of Diaspora Jews to unplug from Zionism and emotionally divest from Israel is emerging as a serious challenge to the Zionist project and its infrastructure of indoctrination.