Holocaust museum reverses cancellation of April Israel trip

WASHINGTON — Under fire for canceling a staff members' trip to Israel next month because of security issues, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum reversed its decision Wednesday

The museum issued a new statement on its Web site, saying staffers were free to attend the international conference on the legacy of Holocaust survivors, scheduled to take place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem from April 8 to 11.

"During these difficult times of extreme conflict and out of serious concern for the safety of our staff, the Museum originally determined that they should not attend the upcoming conference at Yad Vashem. However, we have reflected further on that decision, and although we remain quite concerned about safety, we have decided that it is important that individual employees who want to attend this conference should make that decision for themselves and should attend if they so choose."

Fred Zeidman, a Houston businessman and newly appointed chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, told Reuters that the decision to cancel was viewed by many Israelis as a betrayal.

Because the museum is a federal institution, "we did not want to require staff to go," he told Reuters. "In retrospect we probably should not have made that decision [to cancel]. It wasn't the museum abandoning Israel by any stretch of the imagination."

More than 300 participants from 27 countries are planning to attend, according to Yad Vashem.

Five staff members of the U.S. Holocaust museum are scheduled to attend the conference in Jerusalem. The museum receives private and federal funding.

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.

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 teens without the Israel component this year.

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.

"We can't leave our brothers and sisters alone at this time," he said.