Apartheid Israel Israeli Arabs Zionism

Time to throw out the little blue JNF box?

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

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 restructions 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 desparately 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?

175 thoughts on “Time to throw out the little blue JNF box?

  1. I don’t know what’s more depressing, the fact that the bill passed its preliminary reading — or that it received only a passing mention of two paragraphs on p. 14 of Haaretz this morning. The rest of the paper was filled with “real news”, the criticism of the government for its neglect of the home front during last summer’s war…
    OK, so it only passed its preliminary reading. But pray hard that it is buried.
    The Magnes Zionist

  2. The JNF is a privately funded organization. The JNF has planted 240 million trees to date.

    Today, tree planting continues to fight desertification and create green “lungs” for Israel’s communities. Due to JNF’s forestation work, Israel is believed to be one of the few countries, if not the only country, to end the twentieth century with more trees than it began.

    JNF’s water systems provide water for 1.2 million people all over the country. By now, JNF has built more than 180 reservoirs and has committed to build over 50 more reservoirs and water treatment plants in the next five years. In the past decade, JNF has invested over $115 in reservoir construction, increasing the country’s total storage capacity by 7% to over 35 billion gallons of water.

    JNF is also involved in numerous river rehabilitation projects all over Israel, including the award-winning Alexander River Restoration Project in 2003. In 105 years, JNF has planted more than 240 million trees that beautify the land and protect vital ecosystems, built over 1,000 parks and playgrounds for recreation and tourism and invested in research that has led to scientific breakthroughs that protect Israel’s environment and create agricultural innovations.

    JNF’s collaborative work involves participation in the International Arid Land Consortium, which explores the problems and solutions unique to arid and semiarid regions. By developing sustainable ecological practices, the member institutions enable people of arid lands to improve their quality of life.

    Israeli Arabs benefit from all of this. The Arabs and knee-jerk liberals should be thankful for what the JNF has done.

    Maybe the NAACP should do more for white people??

  3. Chris,

    Did you scan and then send the JNF brochure? The JNF has done a lot of good. It’s true Its ad campaigns proclaim it wants to develop the Gallil and the Negev, all of which are worthy goals. So what does that have to do with this bill, or the Jews-only philosophy, which serves no purpose? I recall that not too long ago the JNF was getting grief for giving away (or leasing? or selling? I don’t remember) land to Arab squatters in the Jerusalem area. Its leader, Russell Robinson, bent over backwards to show it was not giving land to Arabs, which, in his mind, was clearly a cardinal sin…

  4. The JNF is a PRIVATE organization. They can do whatever they want to do with their money.

    Who are you to tell them where their money should go? Are you a donor? When Arabs contribute some money I’m sure their voices will be heard.

    Get real.

    Tell me, why doesn’t the NAACP do more for white people?

  5. Chris – the decision is being made by the Knesset to allow discrimination in the name of the state. Whether JNF is private or not ( it is in reality quasi-governmental ) does not change that basic fact.

    Before, you might have been able to claim ( like the weaselly Alan Dershowitz ) that it was the JNF discriminating – not Israel. But that artificial construct ( a shell corporation doing the discrimination so the government can claim clean hands ) is now exposed as what it always was – a fraud.

  6. I think that all of us who brought our nickles and dimes to hebrew school for donation to the JNF should demand our money back. In my case, this would probably be about $20.00, which was quite a lot for my parents back in the fifties. Add in the interest and you’re talking money. I remember our teacher calling role. In response to our name we answered “Hineni. Yesh li tsedakah. (Here I am. I have my charity.)” Hineni. Give me the money back.

    My family should get a refund of the money my grandmother put in her pushka (charity box). I can remember it clearly hanging on her kitchen wall with its blue and white map of Eretz Yisroel.

    I also want a refund of the dimes I brought to buy trees in Israel. For years I wondered where my trees were planted. It is quite likely, I’ve since learned, that they are located in parks developed to hide the sites of former Arab villages destroyed in 1949.

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