Reform Jews Warn Netanyahu: Travel Ban Threatens Young U.S. Jews' Ties to Israel

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Birthright: The travel ban has some participants worried, Jacobs wroteCredit: Taglit-Birthright
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

The Reform Movement, the largest stream of Judaism in North America, has warned that a new Israeli law that bars entry to foreign citizens who have called for boycotting Israel or the settlements could harm support for the country among young North American Jews.

In a letter that was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote that the law is concerning for young adults coming to Israel on Birthright tours.

The law, which was passed in March, is causing upcoming participants from North America to be “worried that based on their opposition to settlement expansion, they will be stopped at the border when they land in Israel,” said the letter.

Jacobs wrote to Netanyahu that he was “look[ing] forward to a clarification on this matter at your earliest convenience.”

Rabbi Rick JacobsCredit: Ian Spanier

“These are young people raised in our Movement who are active in a range of Jewish organizations on their campuses," wrote Jacobs, "where they face nearly daily situations where they are put on the front line of defending and explaining Israel. Now, they find themselves in this very difficult and troubling situation.”

Jacobs noted in the letter that he has “been a fierce personal opponent” of boycotts against Israel and of the boycott, divest and sanctions movement, as has the Reform Movement.

“However, the new law ... is, I believe, counter-productive to Israel’s interests both as a democracy and as a vibrant nation worthy of exploration and engagement by countless Jews and others around the world," he wrote. "I am frustrated that by passing this law, the Israeli government has, in essence, posted a giant sign by the door of the Jewish state saying, ‘Don’t come unless you agree with everything we’re doing here.’

Jacobs reaffirms the Reform Movement’s commitment, despite the new law, to welcoming “all young people who qualify for the Birthright Israel trips that the Reform Movement runs to join our trips and to experience Israel for themselves.”

In closing, Jacobs asks Netanyahu and his government to specify “what message we should be sending to these young people regarding what ... they should expect when they arrive.”

The law prohibits the issuing of an entry visa or residency rights to a foreign national who calls for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlements.

Recently, more than 500 Jewish American students challenged Birthright, the biggest sponsor of trips to Israel in the world, to take a stand against the law. 

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