JNF Accuses MK of Slander, Denies Allegations of Waste and Lack of Transparency

Yesh Atid lawmaker says 'threatening defamation suits has become a pattern for the Jewish National Fund as a means of silencing people.'

David Shay

The Jewish National Fund is demanding 100,000 shekels in damages from Yesh Atid Member of Knesset Mickey Levy for allegedly defamatory comments he made about the organization. In a report published on a website in July, Levy said that JNF’s operations lack transparency and are insufficiently subject to oversight. The organization’s lawyer said the MK’s comments included inaccuracies and constituted slander.

On Tuesday, Levy received a letter from the lawyer, Asher Axelrod, on behalf of the JNF, which is also known by its Hebrew name, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, demanding that Levy “immediately retract his remarks [critical of JNF] and immediately, in coordination with Axelrod, publish an apology, both verbally and on the website that published the report.

The report, published on the Hebrew-language The Pulse website, dealt with proposed legislation sponsored by Levy that would increase the transparency of the operations of JNF, the organization established in 1901 to buy, reforest and develop land in pre-state Israel on behalf of the Jewish people. The organization has major land holdings around the country, including an extensive network of forests and recreation areas. In recent years, its activities have expanded into other areas of support for Israel as well.

Levy has been seeking to have the country’s Freedom of Information Act apply to the JNF and has been critical of the management of JNF in Israel, claiming that in addition to a lack of oversight and transparency, there is a problem with waste and excessive salaries. Alexrod denied that there is a lack of transparency, waste or corruption at the organization.

Levy said in reaction: “This is an attempt to threaten an elected official and to deter him from doing his work, and this is not the first time. Threatening defamation suits has become a pattern for JNF as a means of silencing people.” He cited a similar letter issued on behalf of JNF’s director general, Meir Spiegler, directed at Na’ama Schultz, a Yesh Atid party member of the JNF board after she raised questions about what Levy described as the transfer of funds from JNF to the state.

In response, JNF said: “The current administration of JNF is committed to implementing norms of proper administration. The JNF chairman is leading a transparency revolution at the organization, reflected in part in the publication of a summary of proceedings of the board of director’s committees and its plenum and their decisions on the JNF website. The good name and reputation of [the organization] are the public foundation on which it functions, and it intends to use every means at its disposal to prevent [self-interested political figures motivated by extraneous considerations from defaming it and its extensive activities.”