Words are being hurled quite freely at the institutions that have canceled tours in the midst of the ongoing unrest and terrorism. Their decision to cancel is being depicted as handing a victory to terrorism and is being portrayed as a mark of the Diaspora's abandoning of the Jews of Israel.
But even at this moment of anger, another truth is coming through: The State Department has issued a formal warning that Israel/Palestine is a zone of disquiet. One ramification of this warning is that the normal insurance policies that apply to summer programs in Israel are now much harder to buy or are not available at all. Most important, enrollees have dropped out of Israel programs in such numbers that in some cases, only about 20% of original applicants are left.
So what, indeed, are the rights and wrongs of the situation? My own judgment is clear and unequivocal: Individuals who are afraid to go--or to send their children--have a right to cancel without being criticized, while institutions have an obligation to go forward with their programs, especially at this difficult time, provided they make it very clear to every participant that no absolute guarantees can be given that they will be safe from risk.
These conclusions are not based on my individual opinion, but rather they come directly from biblical teaching. We are taught in the biblical laws of war that when a Jewish army is about to go forth to battle, those who declare that their heart is too weak to take the risks of combat are excused from duty. There is no mention in this rule of numbers or proportions; those who opt out may be few or very many. They are to be excused from service, but the army as a whole will go forth to battle.
The most powerful argument that has been advanced to justify cancellations by groups and institutions is what would happen if, God forbid, just one of the young visitors to Israel comes to some harm. Underlying this argument is the fear that American Jews' connection to Israel would be irreparably harmed by such an incident. On the contrary, though, I think the more likely reaction would be mass anger and mass resolve to make peace--or try to force peace--between Jews and Arabs.
My own bottom line is that individuals may do what reflects their courage or their fears, but institutions must hold their heads high, in courage and loyalty.
Having said all this, I must add that Israel cannot content itself with hectoring the Diaspora, as so many Israeli leaders have done recently. The discomfort between Jerusalem and New York will not vanish until war in the streets has ended. In recent months, more than ever before, many Israelis have come to the view that an end to the conflict can be made by force. This is simply not true. The conflict will only end through diplomacy and compromise.
The quarrel may not even be amenable to resolution, but it can be dampened down and made much less violent. The end of violence will not come at the point of a gun. It can happen only if both sides talk their way toward stopping the shooting. Then, and only then, will tourism and study missions from the Diaspora to Israel resume in their proper strength and numbers.