Dozens of UK Israel tour leaders sign letter condemning use of rooms in settlements

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Dozens of UK Israel tour leaders sign letter condemning use of rooms in settlements

Online letter, sent to 'Israel Experience, Jewish Agency, Tlalim and other relevant bodies' objects to decision to send 'several' groups 'to stay in accommodation in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. '

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

A sign points to Israeli tourists sites and activities in the Jewish settlement Shilo, West Bank. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
A sign points to Israeli tourists sites and activities in the Jewish settlement Shilo, West Bank. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

Dozens of young Israel tour leaders from the UK have signed a letter expressing anger at the decision to send “several” Birthright and Youth Movement Israel participants “to stay in accommodation in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. ”

The online letter, published on Wednesday, is addressed to “organisers of Israel Tours for UK Participants (Israel Experience, Jewish Agency, Tlalim and other relevant bodies).”

It states the decision to accommodate groups in the settlements “not only upends our nuanced education about Israel and the conflict, but ultimately forces us to be complicit in a system we fundamentally disagree with.”

The signatories of the letter, which was also sent to the UJIA charity, adds:”Our support for Israel does not include support for the occupation and the settlement enterprise.”

Those signing the letter include RSY-Netzer, LJY Boger, Noam Masorti tour leaders, along with FZY Tour madricha.

At least two young Board of Deputies representatives also appear as signatories.

Jack Lubner, an RSY-Netzer Israel Tour Leader, told Jewish News: “The backlash coming from Israel tour leaders and madrichim across the community shows that opposing settlements is not the same as being anti-Israel.

“The next generation of the Jewish community leaders will not tolerate the normalisation of settlements as part of their Israel engagement.

“Truly supporting a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict means that sometimes it is necessary to criticise things Israel does.

“This isn’t because we take any joy in criticising but because sometimes being a good friend to Israel means calling out certain policies, so that the country that we all feel connected to, can be better.”

The letter begins by stating:”We are writing to you as committed young leaders who value comprehensive Israel education and are concerned by the turn it has taken in recent months.

“We are Israel Tour Leaders, camp madrichimot and movement workers – leading the British Jewish youth of tomorrow.

We have recently become aware of several British Jewish tour groups from Birthright and Youth Movement Israel tours being sent to stay in accommodation in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“These decisions have been made without the consent of the participants nor of the leaders on the programmes themselves.”

It continues:”The UK government considers Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and a threat to the two-state solution.

“Sending UK based programmes to the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories runs contrary to the very principles and values we teach in our youth movements.”

It also demands:” We want to ensure our future programmes are not at risk of being sent to stay in settlements. To that end, we ask that you publicly clarify your position and commit not to bring future UK tour groups to stay in Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line.”

Jewish News revealed last month how two participants in a British Birthright tour quit after beig moved to a settlement for three nights.

Although the free trips are facilitated in the UK by the British Jewish charity UJIA, Birthright Israel is run by a subsidiary of Israel’s Jewish Agency.

Organisers said the influx of visitors to Israel due to the Maccabiah Games and President Biden’s visit meant no other rooms could be found at the last minute.

Jewish News understands other bookings of tour participants were handled in Israel, with opposition to the decision to putting young people in settlements not expected.

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