A UK charity funding trips to Israel has triggered a backlash following revelations that participants in tours to the occupation state stayed at accommodations in illegal settlements in the West Bank.
The United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), which is a registered charity, is the leading British sponsor of what’s known as the “Israel experience programs”. Needless to say, the experience offers very little insight into Israel’s ongoing domination and subjugation of non-Jews in the territory controlled by the Apartheid State.
The backlash follows revelation by Jewish News that two participants in a Birthright tour quit last month after being told they were expected to spend several nights in Almog, an illegal West Bank settlement near the Dead Sea. It later emerged that other teenagers also objected to being put up in illegal settlements.
Last week, a group of British Zionist youth movement activists drafted a letter protesting the decisions to bring Israel trip participants on overnight stays in the West Bank. “The U.K. government considers Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and a threat to the two-state solution,” the letter reads. “Sending U.K.-based programs to the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories runs contrary to the very principles and values we teach in our youth movements. It 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. Our support for Israel does not include support for the occupation and the settlement enterprise.”
The letter, which was also sent to the UJIA charity, adds: “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.”
UJIA has confirmed that it has launched a probe into the matter. A registered charity, UJIA handles all Birthright trips from the UK. In its most recent financial statement, it noted that all funds it allocates “are restricted to projects within Israel’s internationally recognized borders,” which is territory within the 1967 Green Line.
In a statement sent to the Haaretz, a UJIA spokesman said: “We understand that this is a sensitive and divisive issue and are taking it very seriously.” In addition to the investigation, the spokesperson said that the organisation was “carrying out a thorough and rapid review of our existing policies and procedures as they relate to this issue, seeking relevant advice and liaising with our partner organizations.”
It’s unclear if the UK Charity Commission will also launch a probe into UJIA. Registered charities are not permitted to raise money or carry out projects that are deemed political.