The United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) of Great Britain has issued a new policy requiring UJIA-funded Jewish groups that wish to visit sites over the Green Line – including the Kotel – to request special approval.
The change apparently came in response to an incident that occurred when two participants from the UJIA-supported Birthright Israel group pulled out of the tour due to accommodation issues within Israel proper.
These issues resulted in an unplanned sojourn in Kibbutz Almog, located near the Dead Sea and bordering Jordan – and situated beyond the Green Line.
Green Line's challenges and UJIA's official statement
The Green Line poses challenges for some tour providers concerning visits to significant sites like Jerusalem’s Old City, the Western Wall, and other historically and culturally important areas for Jewish tours. The actual Green Line marked the 1948 armistice line, which ceased to exist when Jordan violated the armistice by attacking Israel in June 1967.
The Jewish News reported as well that in a statement distributed to the relevant Jewish organizations in the UK on Wednesday, UJIA said: “The development of policy in this area is legally complex and has required careful thought. In recent months[,] UJIA has been responding responsibly to legal advice received and has worked hard to develop a workable and consistent policy regarding the expenditure of charitable funds over the Green Line. [The policy] has been formulated to protect UJIA’s work in Israel, which includes its support for the Israel Experience program, run in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel and to comply with UJIA’s charitable obligations through our regulator, the Charity Commission, all while remaining neutral on the politics of the situation. As a charity, UJIA cannot promote any political position beyond its charitable purposes.”
“I have been requested by many of the American tour groups to be available over the summer to address their youth. Sadly the UJIA is operating a unilateral BDS over Judea and Samaria. Their loss.”Rabbi Leo Dee
The Jewish community responds to UJIA's new policy
This means that Jewish groups visiting the Kotel or other historical sites will need special approval from the UJIA, prior to receiving funds. A UJIA spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the policy doesn’t explicitly say that the groups can’t go beyond the Green Line, but that in order to do so “there will be an application process” for the tour organizer to vouch for a specific site for educational purposes.
“Visiting the Kotel, for instance, will be granted,” the spokesman said, adding that it is a “pragmatic solution; filling out one more form.” He added that in the UK Jewish media, this policy has been “misinterpreted as ideological,” but it actually is intended for “protecting tour groups against this kind of issue.”
The UJIA spokesperson added: “We are happy to address some of the ways that our policy has been misunderstood. The purpose of our policy is not to prevent tour groups from visiting the Old City or elsewhere but the polar opposite: it protects those visits in a way that is absolutely watertight with regard to UK public policy and charity law. "It is inconceivable that tours will not be able to visit sites of Jewish interest, such as the Kotel, facilitated by our partners in Israel. Our policy also gives considerable flexibility to the youth movements and organizations we work with to shape their own itineraries while ensuring total transparency for both participants and their parents regarding where they will be visiting and staying and why. This will help ensure that all tour groups under the banner of UJIA Israel Experience are operating in total compliance with UK charity law."It would be right to complain if UJIA were to seek to stop young British Jews seeing key Jewish sites, but given that this policy protects those visits rather than jeopardizes them, we are glad any frustration is unwarranted,” the UJIA spokesperson concluded.
As a former rabbi in the UK, Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were murdered over Passover by Palestinian terrorists on a road close to the Jordanian border, told the Post that he is “saddened at the apparent anti-Zionism of the UJIA. They seem to be ignoring the fact that Abraham’s joint grave, which he purchased for Sarah and was authenticated in the best-selling book of all time, is beyond their imaginary ‘Green Line.’”
Dee, who lives in Efrat, a settlement in Gush Etzion, compared UJIA’s ideology to that of the BDS movement: “I have been requested by many of the American tour groups to be available over the summer to address their youth. Sadly the UJIA is operating a unilateral BDS over Judea and Samaria. Their loss.”
Efrat Council Head Oded Revivi, who served in the past of the foreign liaison of the Yesha Council, told the Post that “if the reports are correct, it is disappointing that UJIA would make this change in policy that is completely out of sync with much of world Jewry, who support the right of Jews where they choose.
“Avoiding visiting Jewish communities in areas that were occupied by Jordan from 1949 till 1967 only serves to further fragment the Jewish community and denies their participants the opportunity to meet Jews who are often unfairly maligned in the international media,” said Revivi, who lived in the UK for a number of years.
UJIA's commitment to transparency
He explained that by boycotting these areas, the organization is “complying with a policy that will make traveling to popular locations like Masada and Ein Gedi very difficult. Not to mention that the lead photo on the homepage of their website is of a group at the Kotel, which was also occupied by Jordan prior to 1967. I hope they reconsider.”UJIA said on Wednesday that it was working “in the best interests of UJIA’s charitable purposes in support of the community, to ensure that Israel Tours are carried out in a manner that does not prejudice their existence, but that rather allows them to take place in a safe and compliant manner and with full transparency for all participants and their parents”.
It further added that “it was clear, from the advice received, that having no policy in place was not an option and could have risked compromising the charitable status of UJIA, as well as the youth movements and other organizations we work with, which deliver the Israel Tour. Without this policy, it is highly likely that there would have been no Israel trips taking place with UJIA’s support this summer.”
In the policy document, UJIA explained that it is looking to promote “transparency,” allowing “all participants and their parents to know where any program will be traveling. Some people are happy to travel over the Green Line, while others are not. This allows them to make informed decisions. Regarding visits to the Old City, the policy itself makes clear that programs there are very likely to meet the requirements of the policy such that visits may take place.”