Hadassah Under Fire for Enabling JNF Decision on Settlement Expansion

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A view of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Kedumim, in August.
A view of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Kedumim, in August.Credit: Moti Milrod

Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization is coming under fire close to home for its pivotal role in a Thursday decision by the Jewish National Fund in Israel to allocate money to purchase land in the West Bank for Israeli settlements.

After the decision of Hadassah's JNF Representative Barbara Goldstein to abstain from voting have ultimately permitted the allocation of 38 million shekels ($11.6 million) for future purchases of land in the West Bank, to pass, more than 250 graduates of Young Judaea, the youth movement that has been supported by and associated with Hadassah, signed a petition expressing “pain” at the move and “imploring” it to reconsider its position.  

The Jewish National Fund in Israel, which is also known by its Hebrew name Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and which is separate from JNF in the United States, approved the measure by a single vote. Had Goldstein voted against the move, the vote would have been deadlocked in a tie.

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Thursday's vote approved the allocation of funds, but only on condition that the board of directors approves a change in policy regarding the organization's West Bank activities, which it hasn't yet.

A week before the Thursday meeting, a smaller group of JNF leadership had voted to support purchasing land in the disputed territory. The proposal passed by a narrow margin of six in favor and five against and is supposed to be subject to approval by the board of directors after the March 23 Knesset election.

The Young Judaea graduates’ petition appealed to the Zionist commitment they said their Hadassah-supported youth group gave them. It was through Young Judaea activities, camps, and Israel experiences, "that we came to love Israel. For many of us, it was there that we decided to devote our lives, in one way or another, to Israel."

Stating their concern for the country’s well-being, the petition said “we believe that using JNF money to buy private lands in the West Bank will not make Israel better. We worry that doing so will inflame antagonism in the territories. Also, we believe that it will further alienate many American Jews, especially young American Jews, from Israel and from Zionism itself, which too many see as inseparable from the dispossession of land from Palestinians."

Sharon Benheim, a Young Judaea graduate who immigrated to Israel and moved to Kibbutz Ketura, which was founded by the youth movement, said that she believed the Hadassah representative’s vote had been an attempt to “avoid being a voice on this issue because they are an apolitical organization. But I really hope they will understand that you can’t just stay on the sidelines in this case."

Voting against the land purchase, she said, “isn’t a vote for right or left, but it is a move stopping JNF from being political … and saying that it should focus on doing important work inside Israel’s borders as it is today."

The petition also stresses this point, noting that “abstaining in this case was not a neutral act; it served in fact to support those who wish to press the JNF-KKL into the service of an agenda that, according to polls, most of the country opposes. Hadassah should work to see that the Jewish National Fund of Israel continues to do its important work in ways that all Israelis applaud. In this case, that would have meant voting against the allocation of funds to buy West Bank lands."

The Young Judaea petition says that it “hopes” when the meeting to determine policy takes place after the election, “the Hadassah representative will oppose this use of the Jewish People’s money."

Goldstein, 80, Hadassah’s representative on the JNF-KKL board serves as Deputy Executive Director of Hadassah’s office in Israel, refused to comment when asked to discuss her vote, and a spokesperson for Hadassah also declined comment.

'No radical change'

In addition to Goldstein’s abstention, members of the center-left bloc on the JNF-KKL board were stunned by the decision of a representative of Na’amat, the women’s organization affiliated with the Labor Zionist movement to vote for the allocation.

When asked about their vote, Na'amat spokesperson Carmel Eitan told Haaretz: “The latest decision of Keren Kayemeth is not new." She emphasized that "It is the continuation of … the path led by Yitzhak Rabin to support and enhance the area surrounding Jerusalem. We do not see any radical change in the policies of Keren Kayemeth."

Alon Tal, a former Young Judaean as well as deputy chair of the JNF representing the Kahol Lavon party, has served for over a decade on the JNF-KKL board with Goldstein. He said Goldstein “has always been a voice that looks for consensus” and attributes her decision to abstain to “confusion” due to the fact that the important meeting was held over Zoom and the “technology” was a problematic factor.

Tal was not the only critic of the way the meeting was conducted. On Friday, five of the 32 members of the Jewish National Fund's board of directors demanded that the organization overturn the allocation vote, charging there were "fundamental flaws in the conduct" of JNF chairman Avraham Duvdevani during the vote.

JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, in November.Credit: JNF Public Relations

The five board members who urged the vote be rescinded were Haim Cohen, the representative of the World Sephardi Federation; Daniel Avidor of Kahol Lavan; Ronit Boytner of the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism; Rani Trainin of Meretz; and Gadi Perl, the representative of the Conservative movement.

On a letter sent Friday to Duvdevani and the Registrar of Associations Karen Schwartz, they asked to cancel the vote and hold a new discussion on the matter. They said that during the meeting, held over Zoom, Duvdevani ordered to mute board members who argued with him, refused to answer questions, and, when he did answer, provided false information to the participants. These events, they said, present "A problematic chain of events."

Duvdevani replied in a statement: "It is not befitting for me to respond before I issue my response to those who sent the letter."

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