Why we had to bring in our ‘Green Line’ policy

UJIA decision on Israel Tours was pragmatic, not political and allowed us find a solution that would satisfy the compliance requirements


This Monday, Israel Tour 2023 got under way: 1,255 British Jewish 16-year-olds, led by 131 British and Israeli leaders.

They will have felt the excitement as they stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion, many for the very first time, before embarking on the trip of a lifetime.

I am proud that these formative experiences are made possible by UJIA’s many years of funding and supporting youth movements. This year one in six young people is receiving a UJIA bursary to make their participation possible.

The connection to Israel and the Jewish people that Israel Tour fosters is integral to the future of our community.

Therefore, UJIA has a responsibility to work with our movement partners to identify potential issues that, if ignored, could risk the future of Israel Tour or the charitable status of UJIA and the movements.

One such issue arose last summer after a UJIA-supported group had an unscheduled stay on a kibbutz over the “Green Line”.

The level of negative coverage was sufficient for us to report the incident to the Charity Commission. Some people even initially suggested that UJIA should unilaterally end all visits over the “Green Line” — a situation that was totally unacceptable to us.

We pushed back, determined to find a solution that would satisfy the compliance requirements and ensure our charitable status, but also, critically, to safeguard the ability of youth movements to travel to the sites vital to an understanding of Jewish history and belief, including the Kotel.

So we developed a simple policy that did just that: a short form for movements to fill in, confirming where they wanted to go, and endorsement from UJIA that they are legally protected in doing so.

With both sides of the partnership following this basic procedure, Israel Tour would look unchanged to any participant. From our perspective, it was so uncontroversial that there would be no need for public debate, inaccurate accusations or a political split in the community.

Did we manage this process perfectly? No. We should have consulted our partners much earlier. But was this, as some who do not understand the background have claimed, an attempt to control the movements?

No. It was the opposite, ensuring their freedom to develop their own itineraries. Or was it a political statement about the limits of Israeli sovereignty? No. It was the opposite — an apolitical policy that ticked the regulatory boxes.

I am grateful to our partners for their open-mindedness and understanding as we work through these technicalities.

We are also grateful to those who have respectfully reached out to us with their concerns. So, why has a simple administrative matter been whipped up into a storm?

Many commentators have actively misrepresented something designed to protect key milestones of many young Jews. And, to my profound regret, this has demonstrated why, if we are not careful, we will continue to tear ourselves apart as we become increasingly polarised.

UJIA is not a political organisation. I say this because many on both sides of the political and religious spectrum seem to think this policy is an ideological move by UJIA. Respectfully, this is not true. It was pragmatic and necessary.

However, as is too often the tendency in our community, the policy has become politicised.
We must stop rushing to conclusions and assuming the worst of others.

We must be willing to have sensible conversations, to hear out the other side, understand the issues and then reach a conclusion, which can still involve respectful disagreement.

I urge those who feel upset to engage with us. We are on the same side. But my request is also this: stop making issues such as this a political division between left and right when our relationship with Israel is so much more important and can still unite us.

If we continue down this path of self-destruction, we will splinter the community and we will have only ourselves to blame.

Louise Jacobs is the UJIA chair

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