LOS ANGELES, Feb. 21 (JTA) – YMCA and Jewish leaders in the United States are protesting a report by an international YMCA affiliate that urges the group “to take the side of the oppressed Palestinian people” in their conflict with Israel.
The report, titled “A Shattered Peace” and “A History of Oppression,” was issued quietly in December by the World Alliance of YMCAs in Geneva.
The report accuses Israel of using “massive force against unarmed protesters and completely innocent people” during the violence that has raged in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since late September.
The authors acknowledge that they made no attempt to hear the Israeli side of the issue, ostensibly for lack of time.
Leading the criticism of the report is Kenneth Gladish, national executive director of the YMCA of the USA, headquartered in Chicago.
The report “can serve only to inflame the long-standing tensions in the region,” Gladish wrote to Nicholas Nightingale, a Briton who serves as secretary-general of the World Alliance.
In a sharply worded follow-up letter, Gladish slammed the “prejudicial, political and polemic rhetoric” of the World Alliance, and warned bluntly that Nightingale “put at great risk the financial and organizational support” of the American YMCA.
His criticism was echoed in California.
“I am appalled by the report, which is dramatically unbalanced and fails to recognize the suffering on all sides,” Larry Rosen, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It undermines the quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts by YMCAs to achieve a peaceful solution in the Middle East.”
Rosen noted that the World Alliance, despite its name, has no governing or policy-making role for the YMCA organization, and functions mainly as a facilitator in arranging conferences and interchanges among self- governing YMCA branches.
In its report, the World Alliance also claims that the world media has a pro-Israel bias, blasts the “increasing brutality of the Israeli army and settlers” and charges Israel with “systematic and widespread human rights abuses.”
The report also calls for the creation of an “international protective force” to shield Palestinians from Israel’s supposed ferocity.
One curious aspect of the report is that it seems to have been issued with the goal of attracting minimal attention, even from YMCA branches.
The 3,000-word report was released in the December issue of the World Alliance magazine and posted on its Web site – neither of which, apparently, enjoys a wide readership.
“We didn’t know of the existence of the report for nearly a month after it was posted, and then learned about it through a call from an Israeli reporter,” said Arnold Collins, spokesman for the national YMCA of the USA.
Collins said the World Alliance had not formally responded to Gladish’s critical remarks, but that a “dialogue” on the issue was under way.
Acknowledging the widespread criticism, however, the World Alliance has posted a defense of sorts on its Web site, at www.YMCA.int. The rebuttal states that the investigating team was unable to visit Israel “for reasons of time and circumstances.
“Our position is not against the Israeli people,” the rebuttal continues. “We condemn all violence and reaffirm that Israel has the right to exist within safe and secure boundaries.”
The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center are among the Jewish organizations protesting the report.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, scheduled a news conference for Feb. 26 and said he would demand that YMCA branches around the world cease funding the World Alliance unless the report is rescinded.
Cooper spoke on Tuesday from Washington, where he discussed the matter with members of the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee.
Earlier, he visited Canadian YMCA leaders in Toronto.
“If we ignore this matter, there is the danger of a disastrous domino effect, in which other nongovernmental organizations will gang up on Israel to justify the behavior of the Palestinian Authority,” Cooper said.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that “to release a report that does not mention Palestinian violence or concern for Israeli victims, under the auspices of the international YMCA, provokes the situation more than it subdues it.”
The YMCA has branches in 130 countries, with 2,372 centers in the United States alone.