This year (5781) sees UJIA celebrate a century of supporting British Jewry, and bringing our community closer to Israel in every which way.
In those 100 years, it has touched countless lives – and continues to do so. All of us reading this probably have some sort of connection to UJIA. Even if we don’t realise it.
The truth is that the charity’s support runs so deep that it is fundamental to our way of life. If you went to a youth movement, were involved in your Jewish society, went to a Jewish school, went on Israel Tour, or participated on any organised Jewish communal activity – there is a high chance you were impacted by UJIA’s support.
Now, a small group of younger British Jews who formed an organisation called Na’amod have taken the opportunity to try and hijack this anniversary to question the integrity of the UJIA in a manner that is highly selective.
(Full disclosure. I worked as the Senior Fundraiser for UJIA in Manchester & the North West for 4 years until April 2019.)
Na’amod’s premise for its accusations is that UJIA has a clear bias in the programmes and activities it funds and promotes.
It focuses solely on the fact that UJIA has funded some digital programming for StandWithUs, has promoted events such as Yom Haatzmaut & speaker tours organised & hosted by the Zionist Federation (ZF) and UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) and shared educational resources on Israeli elections in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students.
It also accuses UJIA of bias because it funds Birthright tours to Israel that it alleges forbid participants from meeting with Arab citizens of Israel.
These accusations are simply not true. Before I show just how pluralistic UJIA is when it comes to Israel and its citizens let me debunk the allegation of bias.
UJIA funds all 10 of the UK’s Zionist Youth Movements. These organisations span the religious and political spectrum and include LJY-Netzer (LJY), RSY-Netzer (RSY), Noam and Habonim Dror generally on the political left, FZY, BBYO and Tsofim who sit in what could be considered the centre and Bnei Akiva, Ezra and Sinai on the religious and often political (but not always) right.
Many of these movements (LJY – Netzer, Noam, RSY-Netzer & Habonim Dror) have strong and vocal views about the Israeli – Palestinian conflict which are critical of the government of Israel. If UJIA has the inherent bias towards allegedly “pro occupation” organisations as Na’amod claims, it would not allocate hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding each year to many of these youth movements – funding without which many would cease to exist.
Na’amod also claims that UJIA delivers “pro occupation education” and a “sanitised version” of Israel. Again, this is a lie. Many of the youth movements – who take over 1,200 UK Jewish teens to Israel each summer – have been working with Yachad for over 7 years to show Israel Tour participants East Jerusalem, its Palestinian neighbourhoods and discuss options for peace.
I know that when my own son went on Israel Tour with Habonim Dror in 2016 he spent half a day with Yachad in East Jerusalem. Hardly bias.
In 2017 FZY pioneered a new conflict resolution seminar on Israel Tour that brought together Yachad and StandWithUs to provide education to its tour participants. UJIA also funds the bursaries of many hundreds Tour participants each year from these groups – you decide if this sounds like pro=occupation bias. Participants of UJIA funded Israel programs do meet Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians and Israelis who oppose the occupation. Na’amod must therefore believe that LJY-Netzer, RSY-Netzer, Noam, Habonim Dror and Yachad are “pro-occupation” – after all, they are either funded by UJIA or educate on its programmes.
Another Na’amod allegation is that Birthright participants are banned from meeting Arab citizens of Israel.
Yet had Na’amod actually bothered to ask UJIA, they would have found out that UJIA-funded Birthright trips do in fact meet Arab citizens of Israel – Druze, Bedouin, Muslim and Christian Arabs. One example in 2018 saw a UJIA funded Progressive Israel Birthright Trip that included meeting Arab citizens of Israel. Indeed, this is exactly what should be done – show both sides of the political situation to our teenagers and young adults and let them arrive at their own views.
None of these UJIA funded organisations ignore the Palestinian perspective – on the contrary they are often more critical of the Israeli government than they are of Palestinian actions such as “Pay to Slay”, institutional antisemitism and incitement. UJIA is a broad tent that reflects our community and its funding represents this.
So, we know Na’amod is wrong about UJIA bias in its educational programming.
Now let’s look at the immense good UJIA does in Israel for the benefit of its Arab citizens. Because if you believe Na’amod UJIA simply does not care about this segment of the Israeli population. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jindas, Al Sanabel & Games for Peace (https://si3.ujia.org/portfolio/) all work for the betterment of Arab citizens of Israel and to promote prosperity & peace. The Western Galilee Academic College, Zfat Medical Faculty, Zfat Academic Nursing School & the Maaseh Building all serve Israelis be they Jewish or Arab equally. ( https://ujia.org/staying-connected/ )
All of these projects are funded by British Jewish donors. During my employment at UJIA I met many Arab citizens who were part of programs funded by UJIA. They were simply astounded that British Jews were donating money to support programmes they were benefitting from. This can only bring people closer together. These are all things Na’amod wilfully ignores because it does not suit the false narrative they wish to perpetuate.
UJIA has – via its partners in the Youth Movements, Masa and Birthright – provided thousands of young UK Jews with the opportunity to visit Israel and develop a life-long connection to our ancestral homeland.
Apart from the history, culture, food and beauty of Israel many of these participants have been given an opportunity to understand the conflict and division that exist and meet Israeli citizens of all ethnicities, religions and backgrounds.
The UJIA has also improved the lives of thousands of Arab citizens of Israel. To suggest the UJIA is biased or “pro occupation” as Na’amod does is simply a lie. The facts prove it.
If the young activists of Na’amod wish to be taken seriously it would behove them to deal in facts and not falsehoods. Their attempt to besmirch UJIA is simply malicious. The real truth is, however, that with its anti-Zionist roots – one of their founders Rob Abrams read out the names of Hamas terrorists at “Kaddish for Gaza” – one feels that many members of Na’amod would object to any level of pro-Israeli education for our youth.
So I make just one ask – rather than buying into the false Na’amod version of UJIA in this centenary year, join me in celebrating the diverse work and engagement that UJIA has provided for thousands and thousands of young (and less young!) people in its 100 years, and lets all hope that its diversity continues to thrive, even in these tough times.