“We Didn’t Talk About the Conflict”: The Birthright Trip’s Influence on Jewish Americans’ Understanding of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict

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Abstract

Emerging adulthood is a time of identity exploration during which youth actively engage with beliefs and values that shape their political orientation. In this study, we examine the processes and consequences of young adults’ exploration of their Jewish identity as it is embedded in the Birthright trip (a free 10-day trip to Israel that is offered to Jewish American emerging adults). In a pretrip/posttrip survey, we found significant increases in Birthright participants’ endorsement of the Jewish root narrative on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict (Jewish people want to live in peace but must defend themselves), disavowal of the Palestinian narrative and understanding of the conflict, sense of collective victimhood, and understanding of the conflict as a zero-sum game. In a separate interview study, participants’ narratives of the trip suggested that identification with the Israeli soldiers as being “just like us” as well as border-making between safe (Jewish) and unsafe (Arab) spaces, led to an understanding of the conflict that was based on the Jewish root narrative. Our findings highlight some less examined consequences of identity exploration among emerging adults who are members of groups enmeshed in violent conflict.

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