MONTREAL (Nov. 24)
Members of the Jewish community here are incensed about a T-shirt that lists YMCAs around the world, except for Israel.
On the front of the black YMCA shirt is a quote from Gandhi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” On the back is a list of countries that host YMCAs worldwide.
Curiously, Palestine — a country that does not exist — is listed, while Israel is not.
The shirts, meant to promote world peace, have been handed out at YMCAs throughout Canada to mark World Peace Week, Nov. 17-23.
Sandy Kogut, a music instructor at the YMCA in the Montreal suburb of Westmount, and several colleagues have refused to wear the shirts.
“To go out of the way to eliminate Israel and include Palestine was over the top,” Kogut said. “How could someone not know that would be objectionable?”
The list is comprehensive enough to include countries like Madagascar, Malta and Zimbabwe, Kogut noted.
“The T-shirt could have mentioned Israel as a place trying to have peace,” Kogut said. “The International YMCA is located in Jerusalem.”
Besides that YMCA, located across from the King David Hotel in western Jerusalem, there are Y’s in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
A spokeswoman for the YMCA organization said the decision was made to include “Palestine” because the Y’s in Palestinian-held areas identify themselves that way.
Silvana Anania, director of international development for the YMCA, said in a news release that the Y in western Jerusalem is a branch of the YMCA movement in the United States.
Anania was unavailable for an interview with JTA last Friday.
“We’re not trying to make a political statement, except to say we are trying to promote peace, not conflict,” Anania said. She expressed surprise that people were offended.
“This is the first time we have had someone question this,” she said. The list simply represents countries with YMCA organizations, she said.
While the YMCA has been issuing these T-shirts for years, Anania said, this is the first year Palestine has been included as a country.
But Kogut noted that a similar T-shirt last year mentioned the YMCA in “Gaza, Palestine.”
Chris Craig, youth program coordinator at the Westmount Y, decided not to wear the shirt because it offended some of his co-workers.
“The Y is supposed to be impartial, and I think they made a mistake,” Craig said. “If they had put Quebec instead of Canada, I would have been ticked off, too.”
There have long been political efforts to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada.
Mary Stobbe, YMCA Canada’s manager of communications, expressed regret over the incident.
The Ys in Palestinian areas “recognize themselves as being inside Palestine, and that is how we determined how to list them,” she said.
Yet she said she understood the argument that YMCAs in Montreal would not be listed under the “nation” of Quebec.
“Our whole purpose is to build a civil society with family values, and this is a very unfortunate situation,” she said. “We don’t want this to detract from our message of peace.”
Next year’s T-shirt, she promised, would be more accurate.