The American Reform movement became the primary target of Israelioutrage after leaders last week decided to call off the movement'sentire summer youth program in Israel, the oldest and largest teenageyouth program operating here for high school students. The decision tocancel the high school program was made just after the bloody June 1suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv discotheque in which 22 Israeli teenagerswere killed.
"Our religious and Zionist commitments run deep and are known toall. But this movement never uses other people's children to make apolitical or ideological point," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president ofthe Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in announcing thecancellation of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY)summer program that last year brought 1,500 students to Israel.
Yoffie's statement prompted an immediate backlash in Israel, wherepoliticians ranging from Yossi Sarid, leader of the left-wing secularMeretz Party, to Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, of the centristLabor Party, condemned the Reform decision.
In particular, critics said Yoffie's statement would harm the Reformmovement's search for religious equality in the Jewish state.
"Jews in the diaspora have become complacent. They have forgottenthe meaning of the expression, 'Every Jew is responsible for oneanother,'" said Bambi Sheleg, a liberal Orthodox Jewish publisher andcommentator.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem's hardline Mayor Ehud Olmert announced he was"suspending all contacts with the American Reform movement" in the wakeof Yoffie's announcement.
"For years the Reform movement has been demanding full equality inthe country even though the movement hardly exists in Israel," saidOlmert in a statement. "Yet now, in a moment of need, when the State ofIsrael needs more than ever a show of Jewish solidarity, this movementrises up and decides to cancel its trips to Israel."
The American Reform movement decision also left Israel's tiny,homegrown Progressive (Reform) Movement in a corner, as local officialssought to distance themselves from the moves of their Americanaffiliate.
"We are very angry at the decision. We denounce it completely," saidRabbi David Ariel-Joel, director general of the Progressive Movement inIsrael. "It has created a lot of image problems for us and lowered themorale of the communities here."
But Reform movement leaders here said their group unfairly caughtthe flak for what was in fact a broader trend of cancellations.
This summer's scheduled Maccabiah Games, an international gatheringof Jewish sportsmen and women, also is likely to be postponed for a yearfollowing widespread cancellations by young athletes.
"We have to be honest in recognizing that the picture is much morecomplex than it seems," said Rabbi Uri Regev, who heads the Progressivemovement's Religious Action Center in Jerusalem.