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Y Troubles

L.A. YMCA leaders blast Geneva-based affiliate's report supporting Palestinians.


by Tom Tugend

February 22, 2001 | 7:00 pm

YMCA leaders in Los Angeles strongly denounced a report by an international YMCA affiliate in Geneva, which accuses Israel of using "massive force against unarmed protesters and completely innocent people" and urges that "the YMCA take the side of the oppressed Palestinian people."

The report, titled "A Shattered Peace" and "A History of Oppression," was issued by the World Alliance of YMCAs. It has been met with outrage and protests by YMCA leaders in the United States and Canada, and by several Jewish organizations.

These critics note that the report was compiled during a four-day visit to Palestinian areas by a five-person group, which made no attempt to visit Israel or get the Israeli viewpoint.

"I am appalled by the report, which is dramatically unbalanced and fails to recognize the suffering on all sides," said Larry Rosen, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, 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 has no governing or policy-making role and functions mainly as a facilitator in arranging conferences and interchanges among YMCA branches, each of which governs itself independently.

In its report, the World Alliance also claims that the world media has a pro-Israel bias, criticizes 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.

Leading the criticism of the report in the United States is Kenneth L. Gladish, national executive director of the YMCA of the United States, 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.

One of the curious aspects of the report is that it seems to have been issued with the goal of attracting minimum attention, even among 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 there had been no formal response from Geneva to Gladish's critical letter, but that a "dialogue" on the issue was underway.

However, acknowledging the widespread criticism, the World Alliance has posted a defense of sorts on its Web site (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 posting continues. "We condemn all violence and reaffirm that Israel has the right to exist within safe and secure boundaries."

Among Jewish organizations protesting the report are the Anti- Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said that he has scheduled a press conference for Mon., Feb 26 and will 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 has taken up the matter with members of the House Foreign 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 non-governmental organizations will gang up on Israel to justify the behavior of the Palestinian Authority," said Cooper.

In the ADL statement, national director Abraham H. Foxman said 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.

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