The board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America has voted to allow at least some trips operated under its auspices to visit Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The October 26 vote overturns a longstanding policy under which JFNA missions were barred from visiting Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank.
It was not immediately clear whether the vote creates a narrow exemption for certain trips, or constitutes a wholesale change to JFNA policy.
The JFNA’s attitude towards the West Bank settlements is particularly fraught, as the organization functions as an umbrella group for dozens of local Jewish charities with a range of political views.
The JFNA’s board vote on settlement visits came days before the scheduled departure of an interfaith clergy mission to Israel run by the Israel Action Network, a JFNA subsidiary. The Israel Action Network became part of the JFNA this past year; it was previously a subsidiary of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Last year, the Israel Action Network’s interfaith clergy trip visited a coexistence program called Shorashim in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, which was permitted under the rules of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. This year’s trip, the first under the JFNA’s auspices, would have been barred from making a similar visit.
The interfaith clergy group also visited Jewish and Christian sites in Israel proper, met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah, and visited a church in Bethlehem.
“Today, the JFNA Board of Trustees approved a number of appropriate and necessary protocols to support the advocacy and education trips of the [Israel Action Network],” the JFNA said in a statement. “This vote ensures that IAN will continue to travel to Israel and the surrounding areas, not historically visited by JFNA staff.”
The scheduled vote was first reported October 25 by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, which obtained a copy of an email announcing the vote sent by JFNA president Jerry Silverman.
The board would vote on whether to “authorize the entry of JFNA missions, including federation community missions planned through JFNA, into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line (e.g., Ariel or Gush Etzion, etc.),” Silverman wrote, according to the Jewish Journal.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.