Time for Zionists to Throw Out the Little Blue JNF Box?

Categories: Israel
       By Dan Fleshler

My new friend Jerry Haber, “The Magnes Zionist” tipped me off to a shameful story about the Jewish National Fund and proposed Knesset legislation. Here is the Ha’aretz report:

Bill allocating JNF land to Jews only passes preliminary reading
By Yoav Stern and Shahar Ilan, Ha’aretz

The Knesset plenum approved a bill Wednesday, in its preliminary reading, which calls for all lands under the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to be allocated to Jews only. The bill passed by a massive majority of 64 MKS to 16.

The bill, initiated by MK Uri Ariel (National Union-National Religious Party), MK Zeev Elkin (Kadima), and MK Moshe Kahlon (Likud), is geared to bypass a 2004 court ruling which annulled an Israel Lands Administration (ILA) policy that prevented Arabs from participating in bids to purchase land owned by the JNF.

As a result of the ruling, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided that all land managed by the ILA, including land owned by the Jewish National Fund, will be marketed without discrimination or limits including to non-Jews.
The JNF owns 13 percent of state land, purchased for Jewish settlement.

When the bill was discussed in the Knesset presidency, there were demands to nullify it because it was called racist, but Knesset legal advisor Nurit Elstein said a bill should only be rejected if the racism is explicit in the proposal.

Hadash Chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh called the bill an “abominable legislation” and added that “the Knesset’s face is the face of Uri Ariel, the radical of the settlers.” He maintained that, “this is another expression of a series of racist laws that are passed every day in the state of the Jews. The Arab population won’t accept the theft of their rights to the lands that have been expropriated from them for years.”

In response to the bill, MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra`am-Ta`al) said “this is institutionalized Jewish racism and ethnic democracy that is raging against anything Arab.”

The Meretz faction said that the government’s support in the racist bill exposes its real face. “The Knesset is giving an excellent excuse for whoever is asking to represent Israel as an apartheid state which must be destroyed,” said the party’s statement.

MK Wassel Taha (Balad) said, “Only an insane Knesset passes a racist law that perpetuates the ‘great land robbery of 1948’ and changes it into an only Jewish asset.”

MK Jamal Zahalka, also of Balad, maintained that the law shows an increase in the level of racism, and a decrease in the level of democracy, and a sprint to the direction of institutionalized apartheid.

MK Elkin, however, said that the bill comes to prevent the state of Israel from breaching the basic treaty between the state and the JNF, and to make historical justice.

I haven’t closely followed the various controversies that the JNF has been embroiled in lately. Anyone who, like me, retains the mad idea that Israel could be a country that does not spark more shame than pride should start paying attention. What is so disheartening about this racist bill is that it was not just a few Knesset members who got behind it. It was a “massive majority of 64-16.”

I have a simple question for the MKs who voted yes:
Are you NUTS? Leaving aside the immorality of sanctioning blatant discrimination against 20% of Israel’s citizens (which, apparently, doesn’t trouble you) do you understand what most of the world already thinks of Israel? And please don’t tell me you don’t care about the world’s opinion. You don’t have the luxury of ignoring the steady decline of your image and your pariah status.

At a moment when Israel is accused of being every bit as racist as South Africa by more and more people, at a moment of high tension between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, why have you decided to board a time machine and pretend that it is 1903, or 1921, or 1939, when the JNF had a vital role to play in building the nucleus of a Jewish state?

That state is here, guys and gals. It is entrenched. Maybe no one told you. One fifth of its citizens are Arabs, who deserve and expect equal protection under the law. By any reasonable standards of jurisprudence, its basic laws should supersede restrictions placed on land ownership when those restrictions are contrary to the laws (that was, in essence, what Mazuz was driving at with his decision).

By any reasonable standards of decency, you should be trying to figure out ways to close the gaps between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens, and to ensure that your Arab neighbors feel like they have a stake in the country’s future. Instead, you are acting as if there is some compelling national purpose in sticking your fingers in the eyes of your neighbors, and in thumbing your noses at a world that already considers Israel a blight among the nations, not a light.

My grandmother became a Labor Zionist when she was a young teenager in the Ukraine, about a decade after JNF’s founding in 1901. In the 192Os and 1930s and 1940s, when she organized Jewish kids in Toledo, Ohio and then in Manhattan to collect funds for the JNF, she did it out of an idealistic zeal for a desperately needed Jewish homeland. So did all of the goodhearted Jews around the world who plopped their hard-won coins into those famous blue collection boxes.

She was a generous soul who hated injustice. So did many of the other Labor Zionist pioneers, despite the calumnies now heaped upon them by the far left. If she were around today, I am quite sure that she would understand that the Knesset-sanctioned JNF restrictions are relics. She would not understand why they are still necessary. I am quite sure she would want to throw them out, not preserve them.

Why don’t 64 Members of the Knesset understand that?

Post-Script on the JNF Law: A Matter of Official Israeli Policy, Not Private Whim

Ken Bob, President of Ameinu, is a self-taught expert on the morass of official and semi-official Israeli institutions. For that alone, he deserves a medal. In an email, he cleared up an issue raised by a critic who insisted that the Jewish National Fund is a “private organization”:

[The term] “JNF” causes some confusion so let me just clarify this point. The entity that administers the lands and the funds in Israel is called KK’L – Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael. They are governed by a board of directors of Israelis only that reflects the political make-up of the World Zionist Organization. It is chaired by Efi Stensler, a Laborite. They use the term “JNF” as their English translation.

They also have affiliates around the world, including the U.S., that engage in fundraising only. Some of those affiliates and in particular the U.S. led by Ron Lauder (President) and Russell Robinson (Executive Director), are very independent, decide on fundraising objectives that are not always fully coordinated with the KK’L and go in and out of tense periods with their Israeli counterparts… [Note from DF: I will emend Ken’s email and henceforth refer to the entity based in Israel as “KK’L/JNF”, to distinguish it from its affiliates.]

…Since it was chartered by Theodor Herzl in 1901, the KK’L/JNF has purchased land to promote settlement of Israel by the Jewish people. The KK’L/JNF owns around 13% of the land in Israel. In 1961, the KK’L/JNF signed an agreement with the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) which authorized the ILA to manage KK’L/JNF lands in accordance with the KK’L/JNF charter. In 2004, the Supreme Court decided that the ILA couldn’t discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, even when it comes to KK’L/JNF lands. The law that passed the Knesset in a first reading yesterday basically allows the ILA to follow its 1961 agreement with the KK’L/JNF.

Thanks, Ken. This is not a matter of the whims of a private group. Because the Israel Lands Authority, a government body, is involved, this is about official Israeli policy. But it is also very much a matter for Diaspora Jews who have kept KK’L/JNF afloat. It is not too late to change that policy and bury this bill.

Reprinted from Realistic Dove

About Dan Fleshler, Board Member

Dan Fleshler, a New York-based media and public affairs strategist, is a board member of Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now and the Givat Haviva Educational Foundation. His book, "Transforming America's Israel Lobby-The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change"(a new release from Potomac Books) published in May of 2009 has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. He blogs at Realistic Dove (www.realisticdove.org/)
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