What's Between the JNF and pro-Israel Graffiti in Hebron?

The Jewish National Fund's support of Artists 4 Israel, a United States-based organization of right-wing activists, raises new questions about the JNF's spending and conduct.

Yossi Sarid’s revelation (in Haaretz, May 31) that the Jewish National Fund was planning to spend $500,000 for a talk by Bill Clinton for a gala evening at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot − the JNF subsequently dropped out following a media outcry, leaving the center to pick up the check − has raised an interesting question. Where exactly does the money that’s put into the blue box go, and how does the most famous Zionist organization of them all conduct its affairs?

Much has already been written about the wasteful spending, the bloated salaries of functionaries, and the problematic implications of the fact that an organization which, by definition discriminates between Jews and Arabs, owns such large swaths of land in Israel.

Here’s another small example: the JNF’s support for a small organization called Artists 4 Israel. It’s a U.S.-based organization of right-wing activists who come to Israel every few months and spray-paint graffiti in various places, as can be seen in clips on the group’s website.

The organization’s members were in Sderot, Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements of Shiloh and Ariel. They also visited Hebron, where they did wall paintings next to Israeli army posts and on homes of Palestinians, with armed soldiers standing around them. One huge graffito depicts the Temple and is captioned “May the Temple be built soon in our time” (in Hebrew). In another clip, the organization’s leader explains that their activity is geared toward strengthening Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

What does this have to do with the JNF? Artists 4 Israel explains on its website that because donations to the organization are not tax deductible, donations should be made to the JNF offices in New York, which will transfer the funds to the organization. The JNF and Artists 4 Israel also work together in the United States to promote public diplomacy for Israel.

The spokesman for Keren Kayemet LeIsrael (the Israeli branch of the JNF) referred me to the organization in the United States, which denied the transfer of funds from the JNF to Artists 4 Israel, but did not deny the ties with the organization.

Afterward, it turned out that the page on the Artists 4 Israel website explaining how to transfer funds to it through the JNF had been removed. However, Haaretz has a copy of the page.

Response of JNF-USA:

“No money comes through JNF-USA for any Artists 4 Israel donations.

“JNF-USA collaborates with Artists 4 Israel along with many other organizations bringing a positive Israel force across American college campuses. With Artists 4 Israel, JNF spreads this message through the use of expressionist graffiti art. The murals painted on the walls of many campuses express peace and coexistence, and send a positive message about the land [and] people of Israel.”

The spokesman added, “Artists 4 Israel’s mural paintings can be seen on Tel Aviv high schools and JNF’s Sderot indoor-playground. JNF does not work with any organization because of political orientation; our measurement for partnership is to work with anyone who expresses pride and love for Israel and spread[s] positive messages.”