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Holocaust museum cancels Israel trip

WASHINGTON, March 26 (JTA) — In yet another case where American organizations are questioning safety in Israel, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has canceled a trip for staff members to attend a survivors´ conference in Israel next month. The museum leadership thought "very hard" about the decision, but the security concerns for staff had to be paramount, said Arthur Berger, a museum spokesman. The international conference on the legacy of Holocaust survivors is scheduled to take place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem from April 8-11. There are more than 300 participants from 27 countries who are planning to attend, according to Yad Vashem. Some members of the five-person museum delegation are still planning to participate as individuals, said Iris Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for Yad Vashem. The museum is the only institution that has canceled, she said, and she hoped the museum would reconsider. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said Israel makes a "maximum effort" to make things safe for all visitors to Israel. "We encourage people not to change their travel plans and to continue to visit Israel," said Mark Regev. Some Jewish leaders have questioned the appropriateness of institutions making the policy call on trips to Israel. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said individuals have the right to make the decision not to travel to Israel but it is wrong for institutions to decide. "It sends the wrong message," he said, calling the museum´s decision "regrettable." Hoenlein also was critical of the Reform movement´s decision to cancel youth summer trips to Israel last year and the March of the Living´s decision to hold its joint Poland-Israel trip for teen-agers without the Israel component this year. The museum in Washington is funded by the U.S. government and private donations. Institutions make decisions about people they´re responsible for, said Ruth Mandel, the museum council´s vice chair. "This is not a political statement, it´s just a decision about protecting people from harm," she said. The decision should do nothing to weaken or strain the close relationship the museum has with Yad Vashem, Mandel said. Rabbi Charles Kroloff, president of the Reform movement´s Central Conference of American Rabbis, recently returned from his group´s conference in Israel. Many times people felt uncomfortable because of the security situation but they were thrilled to be there, he said. Kroloff said he understood the decision of an individual who decides not to go to Israel because of a high risk factor. But organizations that are dedicated to Israel and have a commitment to Jewish history have a responsibility to be there. "We can´t leave our brothers and sisters alone at this time," he said.