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On the surface, it seems like the sort of organization that every Israeli mayor would want in his town. The Israel Youth Award program works through schools and community centers to promote youth leadership, self-development, character, initiative and self-confidence. It focuses on community volunteer efforts on a national and international scale.
But Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, a former supporter of the initiative, has withdrawn his support for the project, which is a part of the International Youth Award Program sponsored by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
According to a letter of resignation that Bar sent to Nathan Wolloch, first deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and co-chairman of the IYA, Barâ€™s opposition to the project is â€œbecause of the threatened wave of arrests waiting for officers of the Israel Defense Forces arriving at the British realm [sic].â€
In September, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, former OC Southern Command, evaded arrest at Heathrow Airport in London after he was warned not to disembark from an El Al flight because British detectives were waiting to arrest him for alleged war crimes. The arrest warrant was issued at the Bow Street Magistrateâ€™s Court at the request of a pro-Palestinian Muslim group.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw later apologized to Israel, but the legal risk still remains for high-ranking IDF commanders visiting the UK, where the judiciary permits private citizens to file requests for arrest.
In his letter to Wolloch, Bar wrote: â€œIt is strange and outrageous that we have arrived to a situation where our officers, arriving in Britain, are liable to arrest because of false accusations... In light of this, I am not interested to be involved in mutual efforts such as this, with representatives of the British kingdom, which are liable to arrest our commanders.â€
â€œThis was a cheap, self-publicizing act by a man who hasnâ€™t got the intelligence to attack a legitimate target,â€ said Michael Gross, Wollochâ€™s co-chairman. â€œClearly the two have nothing to do with each other.â€
He said Barâ€™s action was a â€œcheap stupid misdirected political stuntâ€ that, rather than punishing the UK, â€œpunishes Israeli young people for the actions of a renegade yored [an Israeli living overseas] Israeli lawyer,â€ referring to London lawyer Daniel Machover, who represented the plaintiffs in the case against Almog.
Gross said the IYA part of the biggest youth development program in the world, with 500,000 participants in 125 countries serves Israelâ€™s interests by performing â€œa lot of unseen but important and effective public relations work for Israel.â€
As part of the program, members of Israelâ€™s Beduin, Druse, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Circassian communities attend international conferences, where, according to Gross, they present a human and positive face of Israel to youth from other countries.
In response to Grossâ€™s comments, Memi Peâ€™er, the spokesman for the Ramat Gan municipality, said that the actions of the British legal system and not the mayorâ€™s withdrawal of support for the IYA were damaging to Israeli youth.
"Anyone who knows Zvi Bar knows very well how much his resignation comes as a result of true, deep protest which is entirely based upon maintaining the honor of Israeli youth, which make up the Israel army.â€
Relations between Bar and the IYA were not always strained. More than a year ago Bar agreed to become the chairman of the Forum of Mayors of the Israel Youth Award. According to Aviva Ben-Rafael, the national director of IYA, Bar participated in organizational activities at the house of the British ambassador in Ramat Gan.
Gross questioned Barâ€™s motives in deciding to withdraw his support, alleging that his move was â€œtypical of Israeli politicians who will do anything to grandstand.â€
â€œIf he wants to attack British people for the actions of a yored, heâ€™s wasting his time and making a public fool of himself,â€ he said.
The mayorâ€™s office denied the charges of political stuntsman ship, saying that â€œBar is not typical politician and distances himself as much as possible from the media as he employs himself entirely with actions Anyone who would respond [Gross] responded is simply engaging in self-flagellation order to stick out through such pronouncements.â€
The umbrella organization which IYA is a part was initiat ed 50 years ago by Prince Phillip, who had personal over sight of its administration until last year, when his son, Prince Edward, took over. It draws on youth between the ages of to 24, and is monitored by vol unteers.
In the IYA, the volunteer counselors include teachers retirees and students at Ben Gurion University of the Negev who work under the auspices of the Project Perach scholar ship program.
The IYA was formerly over seen by the Education Min istryâ€™s youth department but, a result of budget cuts, is now funded by private donations The Education Ministry contin ues to sponsor it, enabling it operate school programs many communities.
â€œI donâ€™t understand why he [Bar] would choose to attack us,â€ Ben-Rafael said. â€œWhen there is so much violence our society, you donâ€™t hear about the good things. So many programs are designed prevent things drugs, vio lence. We arenâ€™t trying to pre vent anything. We are promot ing good things instead.â€
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Lior, London, UK
: Would you like to have Daniel Machover back? You're welcome to him. We've a seemingly endless supply of Jews in England who are quite prepared to participate in the "new" anti-Semitism which is anti-Israel sentiment in disguise. A veritable Fifth Column of them. Only recently Rabbi John Rayner finally left us to be with his ancestors. "Life President" of Liberal Judaism - making the "movement" sound like a Third World country - he made it his life's work to conflate the pulpit with leftwing politics, sneering from the dizzy heights of his self-appointed superiority at Israel and fuelling anti-Semitism. For far too long, left-wing Jews in this country have behaved thus and I have every sympathy for the stand taken. Anyway, The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme has just turned round and announced that the Duke's name should be removed from the organization's title - as irrelevant. The politically right-on have suborned that now. And Jack Straw can apologize as much as he likes. He was Foreign Secretary who allowed Gen. Pinochet
to be arrested at midnight, in hospital, on an incorrectly drawn up Spanish warrant and kept under house arrest for over a year. Pinochet may well deserve to stand trial. But we don't arrest people at midnight in this country, we are not allowed to do so on false documentation and "house arrest" is not a legal option for magistrates in this country. He was our first political prisoner. Hence the Law Lords released him. A real danger exists for Israelis traveling to this country. You're best out of it if you ask me.
Guran Walker, Brisbane, Australia
: I sympathize strongly with this good Jew and the stand he takes.
The simplest answer is that the UK must inform Israel comprehensively of the names of all Israeli citizens that are currently held under Orders for Restraint or Arrest and the grounds under which they are proposed to be held. To do less is an affront. To simply lie in wait for official passengers to innocently disembark while traveling, with the intent to 'bodysnatch' them is despicable, un-British and low.
The Duke of Edinburgh Awards, through the decades, have done much good. However, I feel as strongly as the Mayor, to stand idly by while justice is turned on its head is very wrong. Here we have the war instigators accusing the defenders of 'war crimes', indeed.
May the youth of Israel continue to be mentored to excel and to serve in defence of their nation. And may the world respect them for their honour and diligence, for if not, the enemy is with us and we are blind to his presence. Well Done, Mr. Mayor!
: Wow! A politician in Israel prepared to stand up for their ideals! Fantastic!