The Girl Scouts of the USA won’t be scoring any Brownie points with supporters of Israel Sunday.
The organization has banned its uniforms and symbols from this year’s Salute to Israel Parade, citing guidelines against “political” activities. The march takes sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the group claims.
But at least one troop leader says she and her charges will defy the ban, and quit the Scouts if they continue to “turn their backs” on Israel.
“If we have to choose between being Girl Scouts and being Jews, we’re Jews and we support Israel,” said Judith Lederman of Scarsdale, who founded a Sabbath-observant junior troop in Scarsdale. She expects at least 22 Scouts to defy the ban with her.
The battle of the Brownies began when Erica Belkin, a 16-year-old Scout in Westchester, inquired about using her efforts to increase participation in the march toward a Gold Award for community service.
Although the initial response was positive, the Croton-on-Hudson teen later received an e-mail from Girl Scouts officials saying “it would not be appropriate for girls to be in uniform at this event, since it would be seen as advocating the Israeli side of the current conflict …Girl scouting is not an advocacy organization, and according to Safety-Wise standard #35, and our Blue Book of Basic Documents, pg. 22, we are prohibited from any political activity as Girl Scouts.”
The e-mail also noted “safety concerns” and that “there are both Jewish and Arab Girl Scouts.”
Belkin, who has been a Scout for 10 years, said she’s “disappointed in the Girl Scouts. They always seem to have a lot of respect for everybody, encouraging Irish people to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or Christians to march in a Christmas parade. But when I have a cultural parade they are not letting me march.”
The Girl Scouts have not discouraged members from marching as individuals without banners and in plainclothes.
Girl Scouts have marched in past parades, alongside Boy Scouts and Israel Scouts as part of a Color Guard contingent. The Boy Scouts are still scheduled to attend.
“We’re talking about maybe 16 to 22 girls,” said Gloria Kaufman, the parade’s creative and educational director. She said she was “very surprised and disappointed by the decision. This is not a rally, not a protest, not a walkathon but a parade with an added dimension of messages of solidarity and patriotism.”
But a group that advocates Jewish participation in the Scouts agrees with the ban. In an April 28 e-mail to Lederman, Adele Wasko, chair of the National Jewish Girl Scouts Council, noted that this year’s march is being billed as an Israel Solidarity Day.
“There is a political connotation,” said Wasko, citing the consensus of her council’s executive committee.
Lederman, an author and freelance writer, found articles from the Girl Scouts’ Web site encouraging members to participate in events honoring St. Patrick’s Day, the Chinese New Year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Cinco de Mayo, the festival honoring the victory of Mexican revolutionaries over the French army in 1862.
“We see it as an unequal way of treating people,” said Belkin’s mother, Patty, who plans to march with her daughter. “They march in a lot of parades. Israel shouldn’t be excluded.”
Ellen Christy-Ach, a spokeswoman for the organization, referred calls to the New York City office, which in turn referred the matter back to Christy-Ach, who did not respond to a subsequent message.