A Mazuz Bypass Law

According to the fundamentals of justice and equality, the State of Israel must act for the benefit of all its citizens.

This week, in an attempt to rescue some of the honor of hundreds of thousands of our forefathers who collected their pennies and dreamed of redeeming the land, the Knesset had its say by a significant majority. With sweeping support it passed, at a preliminary reading, the amendment to the Israel Lands Administration Law, which will enable the ILA to administer the lands of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) according to the fund's goals, and to lease them for Jewish settlement only. The response among the non-Jewish MKs was bitter, and Meretz voiced criticism as well. The word "racism" sneaked in once again, the same old ugly and immoral accusation.

This may be the place to cite what one of our public leaders once said about the JNF's lands: "The lands of the JNF, which were purchased with the money of the Jewish people, are devoted to Jewish settlement, just as the Islamic Waqf is devoted to providing the social needs of the Muslim community." These words were said by Yaakov Hazan, the outstanding, historic leader of Mapam, the left wing of the Zionist labor movement.

The amendment to the law only fulfills Hazan's words. The amendment makes it possible to devote JNF lands to the purpose for which Jews throughout the Diaspora collected their meager funds in the "blue box" - Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Anyone who claims that this is racism apparently believes that Zionism is racism, or simply does not understand the legal situation and the reason for the legislation.

The JNF purchased lands and administered them independently. It leased them for Jewish settlement. With the establishment of the state, the Israeli government, which was suffering from a lack of cash, sold from 1.25 million to 1.5 million dunams of land to the JNF. This was land belonging to refugees who fled the country with the establishment of the state. The JNF paid genuine compensation for the lands and helped to fill the state's coffers.

With the establishment of the state, the JNF was incorporated as a private company, according to the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Law. The fund administered its lands on its own. In 1960 the Knesset reorganized the land legislation, and passed three laws. According to the law, JNF lands, such as those belonging to the state and the Israel Lands Development Authority, would be defined as "Israel lands," with their administration entrusted to the ILA, which was established according to the Israel Lands Administration Law. This meant that a government authority took over the administration of the lands belonging to the JNF.

But the ILA promised to administer the JNF lands in accordance with the JNF's goals. Their main purpose is to settle Jews on purchased lands. This commitment was formalized in an agreement between the JNF and the State of Israel. By dint of this agreement, for over 50 years the ILA dealt with JNF lands in accordance with its goals, and everything was orderly and proper.

But in the autumn of 2005, in the wake of an appeal by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the attorney general ruled in his reply to the High Court of Justice that the ILA was not permitted to administer JNF lands in the spirit of its goals and must lease all the lands it handles (including JNF lands) to anyone, ignoring the JNF's basic purpose and the agreement signed between the state and the JNF.

The bill I formulated while taking part in the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, on the request of MK Uri Ariel and others, tries to restore the former situation and anchor in law what is self-evident: the ILA's moral obligation and authority to administer JNF lands in accordance with the fund's goals, so that lands purchased with Jewish donors' money will be devoted to Jewish settlement. This is not a law that bypasses the High Court, but a law that bypasses Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Even if the bill is passed, it does not deny the state's obligation to lease lands to anyone who wants them. It only prevents the state from fulfilling this obligation at the expense of the JNF.

So it is surprising that Meretz chose to send an Arab as its representative to the JNF directorate, just as the party would not send an Arab representative to the administration of the Jewish Agency. His interests are not among the interests and goals of the fund. The representative would almost certainly support the dismantling of the JNF, and almost certainly his purpose for sitting on the board is to neutralize the JNF's basic purpose. It is doubtful whether the Mapam visionaries dreamed of that.

According to the fundamentals of justice and equality, the State of Israel must act for the benefit of all its citizens. The JNF is not obligated to work for non-Jewish settlement. If that is racism, all of Zionism is racism. And its supporters are racists, including Yaakov Hazan and his party, Mapam.

Attorney Yitzhak Bam is a member of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel. He formulated the amendment to the Israel Lands Administration Law, which passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset.