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Israelis Are Angry Over Trip Cancellations By U.S. Jewish Groups

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2001

What The Forward (June 15, 2001) describes as "a crisis in Israel Diaspora relations" is "looming as growing numbers of Israelis vent rage over the American Reform movement's decision to cancel youth summer trips to Israel."  

In announcing the trip cancellations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of Reform's Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), declared: "...this movement never uses other people's children to make a political or ideological point."  

Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, who previously characterized the Reform movement as representing an "insignificant minority," said: "The fact that he (Yoffie) uses that argument, saying that a visit to Israel and Jerusalem in the summer constitutes using children for political ends, is proof that Mr. Yoffie is not worthy of being a rabbi and is not worthy of being a Jewish leader."  

According to The Forward, "Despite the criticism, many Israelis expressed sympathy for Americans reticent to send their children to Israel, or visit themselves. They noted that a travel advisory from the U.S. State Department warning U.S. citizens `to defer travel to Israel' remains in effect A Channel Two Television poll, meanwhile, found that 36% of Israeli viewers said they have considered leaving the country or moving abroad in recent months, compared to some 10% in polls taken before the intifada."  

Editorially, The Forward notes that, "Civilized societies customarily evacuate children from danger zones. Londoners, for all their vaunted bravery during the Nazi blitz, sent their children to the countryside. Israelis fighting for independence in 1948 evacuated their children from border kibbutzim to the relative safety of Tel Aviv. Adults may choose to stand firm and risk death for the sake of a particular national or political goal. Most wouldn't choose to make their children pay the price."  

Writing in The Jerusalem Post (June 22, 2001) Yosef Goell provides this assessment: "I must part company with much of the Israeli press (including this publication) and express my full understanding of Jewish parents and Diaspora organizations, such as the U.S. Reform movement, who have expressed apprehension over permitting their children to visit Israel this summer. Some parts of Israel have indeed become dangerous places...and it is perfectly understandable for responsible parents and organizations abroad to be wary of consciously placing their children in harm's way...A good part of the criticism of the Diaspora cancellations has been motivated by a desire to prevent the total collapse of our tourism sector...But the way to compensate that sector is not by encouraing teenage tourism in this period of troubles."  

Doron Krakow, chairman of the North American Alliance for Jewish Youth, an umbrella organization of youth groups, said that overall participation in teen trips was down 70% this year. In San Francisco, for example, the Bureau of Jewish Education announced that it and three Bayarea federations and the Koret Foundation, all decided to cancel their teen programs to Israel.  

Criticizing the UAHC's decision to cancel the youth trips, Rabbi Marc Gelman, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said he was "ashamed to be part of this movement." In response, Rabbi Yoffie said that while the Reform movement was planning to send an adult mission to Israel, "sending minors, children for whom we are responsible, raises special questions and made this particular decision necessary."  

To those American Jewish groups, such as the Rabbinical Council of America and Americans for a Safe Israel, which have been outspoken in their criticism of the UAHC, The Forward stated that American Jewish organizations "should think twice before committing themselves in the debate. Their mission is not only to advance the cause of Israel, but to protect the interests and wellbeing of their constituents, the Jews of America."  

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