JNF Postpones Vote on Controversial West Bank Land Purchases

This is the first time that the JNF Chairman and his allies on the board have shown any sign of backing down from the controversial proposal

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A man walks along a main road in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Israel went on an aggressive settlement spree during the Trump era, according to an AP investigation, pushing deeper into the occupied West Bank than ever before and putting the Biden administration into a bind as it seeks to revive Mideast peace efforts
A man walks along a main road in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, last monthCredit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

Keren Kayemeth L’Israel, the Jewish National Fund, is postponing a contentious vote scheduled for Thursday afternoon to approve widespread land purchases in the West Bank.

In a message to members of the board of directors, Chairman Avraham Duvdevani wrote that he had agreed to delay the vote following requests from members of the board, various organizations and movements, and representatives of the JNF abroad “who have asked to delve deeper into the subject and come up with a well-informed position.”

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“It is not our intention to act with force – that is not our way,” Duvdevani wrote. “We wish to make a proper and calm decision in this important matter on the agenda, which is a basic principle in JNF goals.” He did not reveal a new date for the meeting.

Ahead of the scheduled vote, the board appeared to be almost evenly split. Representatives of the left and progressive parties and movements, who are opposed to the plan, were hoping to convince representative of several of the Jewish organizations that sit on the board to side with them. Those organizations include Hadassah, WIZO and Na’amat.

This is the first time that Duvdevani and his allies on the board have shown any sign of backing down from the controversial proposal, which has threatened to exacerbate already deep tensions between Israel and progressive Jewish groups who vehemently oppose the West Bank settlement project.

The Hadassah and WIZO representatives appeared poised, as of yesterday, to abstain in the vote. The Na’amat representative refused to disclose how she would vote, although the organization, once affiliated with the Labor party, has come under mounting pressure from liberal groups in the United States to switch sides.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the first Reform rabbi to sit in the Knesset and a member of the Labor party, welcomed the decision. “The JNF must operate on the basis of a wide consensus, and this requires concessions from all those sitting around the table. The Labor party will continue to act to ensure that the existing policy, which prohibits land purchases in areas not under Israeli sovereignty, is upheld.”

He said the attempt to turn the JNF into “another arm of the settlement expansion movement” was a clear violation of the organization’s constitution and the mission of the national institutions, which are meant to give voice to a wide range of views in the Jewish and Zionist world.

MK Tamar Zandberg described the postponement "a victory, even if temporary, for stopping the institutionalization of the occupation through national institutions." 

David Yaari, vice chairman of the Confederation of General Zionists, also praised Duvdevani for the decision, which he said must be seriously discussed with diaspora Jewry and only after the establishment of a government in Israel.

The vote was scheduled to be held at 4 P.M. on Thursday, after the Jerusalem District Court turned down a request by opponents of the plan, who sit on the board, to issue an injunction against holding the meeting. 

Earlier this week, JNF Board members who oppose to its West Bank land purchases demanded that the organization provide documents that show the extent of those purchases and the money trails behind them.

The demand was made in a letter sent Sunday to KKL-JNF chairman Avraham Duvdevani signed by the Reform Movement, the Conservative Movement, Meretz, Yesh Atid, Kahol Lavan, the Labor Party and other organizations. Following the letter, KKL-JNF management announced that a meeting scheduled for Monday on transactions in the West Bank had been canceled.

Jerusalem-based Keren Kayemeth is a separate organization from the Jewish National Fund in the United States.

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