UJIA is the UK’s leading Israel-focused charity. Since its founding in 1920, it has supported critical projects in Israel and played a leading role in developing and deepening the bond between the UK Jewish community and the Jewish homeland. As British readers of this newspaper will know, Israel is at the heart of everything UJIA does. It is our passion.
But following an op-ed in this paper last week, Jerusalem Post readers from other parts of the world could be forgiven for thinking that, contrary to over 100 years of evidence, UJIA is a political pressure group, determined to drive a wedge between Jews and some of our most important religious and historical sites.
The future of any Jewish community is its youth, and in the UK, the vanguard of our youth – our pride and joy – are the youth movements. We are blessed with amazing, energetic, successful, youth movements of every type and hue. Left-wing, right-wing, Orthodox, progressive and secular. And UJIA supports them all. But those successes do not come cheap.
UJIA provides direct financial support in the form of core funding and bursaries, as well as other support, such as training, logistical, and safeguarding assistance. This support is central to the fantastic and ongoing success of the Israel summer programs and gap year programs, of which our whole community is rightly proud.
UJIA’s support of the youth movements, and all our other work, is carried out irrespective of the particular shade of Zionism or Judaism a particular organization might prefer. We are a truly cross-communal body. Our staff, trustees, committee members, donors and grantees share a love of Israel, and we firmly believe that this is more important than any different opinions they may have about Israel. It will come as no surprise to anybody, that this has been an increasingly challenging space to occupy over the past few years, but it is one we are committed to maintaining.
New UJIA green line policy
I SET this all out because it provides the context for the recent press coverage of UJIA’s “Green Line policy.” This policy arises from the requirement for all British charities, including UJIA, to comply with the British laws relating to charities, which do not recognize anywhere beyond the Green Line as being part of Israel. There will be many people, including those who support and work for UJIA, who vehemently disagree with this, but that does not mean that we can ignore the laws relating to it.
The idea that UJIA is a group of anti-Zionist radical leftists (and we have been called worse over the past days) is risible. Our love for, and commitment to Israel is non-negotiable and has not changed.
Contrary to what many believe, the Green Line policy was implemented to protect UJIA and the community’s youth movements from those that wish us harm. It was designed to ensure that our work complied with the rules and regulations relating to all charities, thereby ensuring that the organization was not vulnerable to attack.
In short, the policy requires the organizations we support to be transparent about when they spend time over the Green Line. Further, when they use UJIA funds over the Green Line, they must have a compelling religious or educational reason.
We do not anticipate that this requirement will be difficult to establish for the vast majority of the programs we support. The only difference is that now they will be able to run the programs with fewer legal risks. As ever, UJIA acted in the interests of the whole community and will continue to do so.
We understand, of course, that this is a sensitive issue for many. It’s clear that the communication and PR related to the Green Line policy did not go as we had hoped. It is regrettable that some felt the need to air their concerns in public, in such intemperate terms, without taking the time to speak to us first in order to better understand what we are trying to achieve. We do not think that such steps will help the causes to which we are all committed.
In the following weeks, thousands of young Brits, supported by UJIA, will travel to Israel for what will be formative, life changing experiences, many for the first time in their lives. They will travel with many different inspiring youth organizations, all with different backgrounds and philosophies. And we will be there to support them all. On their trips to Jerusalem and the Old City. On their trips to Masada and the Dead Sea. And across the full breadth and length of Israel.
Our work at UJIA is more important now than ever. We look to the future with confidence, and to working with our partners to develop informed, passionate young Jews with a lifelong commitment to Israel and the Jewish People.
This mission remains vitally important today, in 2023, and we invite all of those in the British Jewish community to be part of it.
The writer grew up in the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY), where he led as mazkir. He has remained a supporter of UJIA and Zionist youth movements for over 30 years and now serves the British Jewish community as a UJIA trustee.