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    Yair Weinreb, Channel 1 | June 29, 2011

    Yair Weinreb: After years of Israeli brainpower performing impressively in the U.S., a Birthright Israel project is trying to steal some young American-Jewish brainpower and bring it to Israel. This morning they opened the day’s trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, and here are the pictures. They’re all outstanding students, and this is just the beginning of the road and the start of a beautiful friendship. Let’s say hello to Gidi Mark, the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel.

    Gidi Mark: Good evening.

    Yair Weinreb: Good evening. So are these people from the US better than sabras? I’m already on the defensive, you know, stealing Jewish brains from the US may be a good thing, but it immediately puts a lot of young Israeli Jews on the defensive. We saw this before at the height of the economic crisis when Israelis came back, they said they’d be taking jobs away from sabras.

    Gidi Mark: First of all a small correction, up to now Birthright Israel has brought 300 thousand young Jews to Israel from 55 countries, not just from the States.

    Yair Weinreb: Yes, okay.

    Gidi Mark: Over the course of these 10 years we’ve totally changed the way young Jews visit Israel, and we’re trying to do it now with people who have business potential, who will be in a position one day to help Israel. This is a step intended to help young Israelis so they’ll have markets and a place to sell to in 10-20 years’ time. These are the people who are arriving today and they’ll be developing the markets in the future. The aim is not for them to come and live in Israel.

    Yair Weinreb: Why not?

    Gidi Mark: If only they would.

    Yair Weinreb: Ah, okay.

    Gidi Mark: But that’s not...

    Yair Weinreb: I thought you’d given up on that.

    Gidi Mark: No, but it’s not a basic condition. Our basic condition for the 9000 people who came for interviews or expressed interest in the project, we chose 20, unfortunately we had to say no to people from Harvard, from Yale, from prestigious American universities, and we’re trying to create a situation in which at least 1000 young Jews from around the world will take part in some kind of process of support for Israeli industry and for Israeli exporting in the future.

    Yair Weinreb: If for example they come to occupy key positions in the American economy, I imagine that’s the idea. By the way, you mentioned the universities that these young people are coming from. I just have to digress a bit from the topic we’re discussing. There’s a lot of talk about our status and image on American campuses, is that something that concerns these American Jews who are coming here? Do they talk about our situation there?

    Gidi Mark: Definitely, it’s very worrisome. That’s one of the reasons why participating in Birthright Israel has become very competitive in the U.S. Unfortunately we don’t currently have the means to bring to Israel everyone who wants to come. 10 years ago only 2000 young university-age Jews came to Israel, today we manage, with the means available to us, to bring in 33 thousand. The government helps us a lot and is making it possible for us to reach a situation, two years from now, in which most young Jews around the world can come to Israel. We’ve managed to turn the situation around on a great many campuses, thanks to the huge numbers that we’re successfully bringing to Israel.

    Yair Weinreb: Turned the situation around in what way?

    Gidi Mark: Much less anti-Israel propaganda.

    Yair Weinreb: Yes.

    Gidi Mark: Many more young people who go back there and say we were there, we saw how things really are, you can’t pull the wool over our eyes.

    Yair Weinreb: And it’s working?

    Gidi Mark: Much better than if nothing were going on.

    Yair Weinreb: I have to tell you, my impression based on YouTube clips of American campuses is that the situation is catastrophic. But the question is whether things are that bad there in real life.

    Gidi Mark: The situation in the States is still much, much better.

    Yair Weinreb: Than in Europe.

    Gidi Mark: Than in other places around the world. We’re very strong in the U.S. When we started out only 12 percent of young American Jews had come to Israel. We’re now approaching 50 percent. That totally changes the situation on campus, it changes things because wherever people turn they see friends who were with them.

    Yair Weinreb: Yes.

    Gidi Mark: They remember the Israelis. You know that on every bus we put eight Israeli soldiers who tell them how things really are.

    Yair Weinreb: Yes.

    Gidi Mark: And they’re able to say that things aren’t as you see them on television, the truth is what we saw in Israel.

    Yair Weinreb: Because they also come with questions?

    Gidi Mark: Yes, yes. Unfortunately.

    Yair Weinreb: Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, thank you very much.

    Gidi Mark: Thank you very much.

    Yair Weinreb: Good luck.

    Gidi Mark: Thank you very much.