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November 23, 2002

YMCA T-shirt offends Jews by including Palestine, not Israel

I wonder if the Village People will no longer sing YMCA, their classic number. In Germany shortly before the wars broke out (WWII) the word Christian in any organization's name was code for anti-semitic. When representatives from Amrica visited, I recall having read, the Germans were surprised to discover that the YMCA was not anti-semitic. Seems after all the Germans were right. O, Canada...Oy, Canada.
MONTREAL, Nov. 22 (JTA) — Members of the Jewish community here are incensed about a T-shirt that lists YMCAs around the world, except for one certain country.
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 the many Y’s 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 that 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 media statement 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 on 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.