The recent decision of the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) to institute bureaucratic hurdles for its Israel tours to areas within the so-called ‘Green Line,’ and to risk excluding areas such as the Old City in Jerusalem, marks a striking instance where historical awareness seems conspicuously absent from the shaping of policy.
One cannot emphasise enough the significance of the Old City, Temple Mount, and the Western Wall to Jewish history and identity. These sites stand as living testament to Jewish people’s historical connection to Jerusalem and the region. Making visits to these sites contingent on approval on a “case-by-case” basis undermines the very essence of Jewish identity. It is akin to visiting London while bypassing the Tower, or Rome without glimpsing the Colosseum. It amputates an essential part of the historical narrative, one that is intrinsic to the Jewish sense of self.
The UJIA’s decision, justified as compliance with UK public policy and charitable purposes, seems rather to acquiesce to a political agenda that disavows the legitimacy of Jewish historical connection to these areas. History should not, however, be treated as the mere plaything of contemporary politics. In consigning Jewish communities living beyond the Green Line to a state of unmentionability, this policy devalues their experiences, their struggles, and their very existence, implicitly branding them as interlopers on their own ancestral lands.
The NJA acknowledges that the UJIA may have made its decision regarding Israel tours in response to pressure from the Charities Commission. We sympathize with the UJIA if they felt compelled to take such actions due to regulatory obligations and compliance requirements imposed on charitable organisations. We understand the challenges faced by charitable entities in navigating the complex landscape of political sensitivities and legal frameworks. While we express our concerns about the potential consequences of the decision, we recognise that external factors may have influenced their course of action. It is our hope that constructive dialogue and engagement can lead to a resolution that upholds both the charitable mission of the UJIA and the preservation of Jewish heritage.
It is instructive to note that the decision comes in the wake of pressure from left-leaning youth movements and after a handful of isolated incidents of protest during a UJIA-supported trip. Such appeasement creates a worrying precedent, effectively allowing a small minority to dictate terms for the majority. The need to maintain social harmony within the Jewish community is understandable, but at what cost? When it leads to the truncation of Jewish history, it may be worth questioning whether the cure is worse than the disease.
Moreover, the UJIA’s decision seems to accord with and reinforce the efforts of Israel’s detractors. It echoes the controversial stance of organisations like BDS and UNESCO, which have been widely criticised for its repeated attempts to undermine the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem. Policies like the one UJIA has enacted do not promote peace and understanding about the conflict, but rather they feed into a narrative that delegitimises the Jewish historical claim to their most sacred sites. In this context, the insistence on neutrality sounds rather hollow.
The UJIA’s policy document acknowledges that there are educational and religious sites of the highest importance to members of the Jewish community beyond the Green Line. Yet, it erects unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to visiting them, thereby tacitly discouraging such visits. This concession to political expediency threatens the very educational mission that the UJIA purports to uphold.
The crux of the issue, of course, is not just about the logistics of an Israel tour. It is about the message we send about the importance of our historical and cultural heritage. It is about whether we stand by our convictions, or allow them to be diluted in the face of political pressure. The NJA believes that it is our duty to maintain a steadfast commitment to the truth of our past, and to resist attempts to whitewash or reconfigure it to suit the political climate of the day.
The UJIA’s new policy may be seen by some as a pragmatic adaptation to current circumstances. In a broader perspective, it represents a troubling compromise on Jewish identity and heritage. We must recognise the long-lasting implications of such a decision and consider whether we can afford to surrender our history in pursuit of political correctness. Because once surrendered, our connection to our past may prove much harder to reclaim.