(photo credit: AP [file])
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has condemned a recent article in a British current affairs magazine comparing IDF youth programs to Islamic jihadi "summer camps."
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Board accused the New Statesman, a weekly journal published in London, of again demonstrating its "hostility to Israel" and of being "mischievous" and "irresponsible."
In an article published on September 3 entitled "The British children who train to fight in Israel," journalist Matthew Holehouse asked what would happen if these were young British Muslims who had trained in Yemen or Pakistan. "Would we not have them all arrested at the airport?"
The Board described the article "about the [IDF's] Marva program" as "yet another example of the New Statesman's disturbing hostility to Israel... It besmirches the reputation of decent, law abiding British teenagers."
Rebutting the allegations Holehouse made in his article, the Jewish community organization said the piece was "clearly designed to draw hostile equivalence between British Jewish youth movement activities in Israel and jihadi terrorist training camps.
"That spurious assertion simply cannot go unchallenged," the statement said. "British Jewish youth movements, committed to encouraging young Jews to explore and deepen their Jewish identities, offer trips to Israel. These involve a host of activities - educational seminars, voluntary work for charities, teaching English and, on occasion, participating in Marva. The nature of these programs would be recognizable to anyone in this country who has been in a college cadet force or the sea scouts.
"In direct contrast to jihadi camps," the statement added, "Marva is in no way designed to train young Jews to become murderers. It doesn't teach them that it is a religious obligation to hate others, or how to make suicide bombs, or how and why it is incumbent upon them to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. In contrast, it teaches them about Israeli history and society, the country's self-evident need for defense, its continuing struggle for peace and the importance of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish People."
Describing the comparison as "utterly absurd," the Board said: "A rather disturbing number of jihadi camp recruits go on to commit atrocities like 9/11, 7/7, and the recently reported attempted attack on American targets in Germany. In complete distinction, no Marva graduate has ever even been accused of terrorist activity."
Responding to Holehouse's description of the Federation of Zionist Youth as "one of the largest and most hard-line organizers of gap year programs," the Board said the assertions "almost beggar belief. If Holehouse had taken the trouble to do any research, he might have encountered an article written by an FZY member in its latest magazine which describes the plight of the Palestinians as 'horrific' and 'tragic,' describing their existence as 'akin to limbo.' Alternatively, he might have read about FZY's remarkable program to raise money for under-privileged children in Israel to help them celebrate a bar or bat mitzva.
"At the very least, he could not have failed to have been struck by FZY's tolerant, open-minded and pluralist nature that encourages dialogue, diversity and debate, and makes no attempt whatsoever to brainwash any member to believe or do anything. Given these facts, the merest hint of equivalence is an utter disgrace, deeply hurtful, and the linkage endangers ordinary British youngsters now labelled as fanatics."
In response, John Kampfner, editor of the New Statesman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he sees the magazine as "encouraging vigorous and controversial debate on all manner of difficult issues."
He continued: "The piece in question was commissioned for our Web site. As with on-line and off-line stories that arouse controversy, we are keen to encourage rights of reply, which in this case we gave to the Israeli Defense Forces, and posted prominently.
"While we are robust in our condemnation of what we regard as the occupation of Palestinian territories, we refute suggestions that we have any hostility to Israel. During my more than two years as editor, I have a commissioned a number of pieces taking a variety of positions."