There has been a sharp decline in the number of American Jews participating in the "Birthright" trips to Israel this winter, reported Haaretz, describing "a downturn of this magnitude, unrelated to the security situation" as "unprecedented".
Since its establishment in 1999, the Birthright organisation has brought some 500,000 young Jews from around the world on free trips to Israel.
According to the paper, citing some of Birthright's key trip providers, the drop ranges from 20 per cent to 50 per cent – depending on the provider – in comparison with the last winter season (which extends from December through March).
One explanation for the downturn suggested by the trip providers is that the numbers "could reflect the well-documented fact that young American Jews are growing increasingly disengaged from Israel, and have less and less interest in visiting the country – even when the trips are free".
Haaretz noted how "recent studies have shown that Jewish millennials, who are largely progressive, feel less connected to Israel than their parents and grandparents because they perceive the country's policies as antithetical to their values."
"In particular," the paper added, "they cite Israel's treatment of Palestinians and of asylum seekers."
Just last week, a petition "signed by 1,500 Jewish students – demanding that Birthright include in its itinerary Palestinian speakers able to address the realities of occupation – was delivered to Hillel directors at over 30 campuses across the United States."
"The exclusion of voices of Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel from Birthright runs counter to our core values," the petition said.
"On a trip to Israel, we should experience the country's history and culture, but we should also learn about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and hear the voices of Palestinians living under occupation."