Zionist Union in Uproar After Israeli Arab Party Member Backs Bill to Debar JNF

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MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union), 2016
MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union), 2016Credit: Moti Milrod

MKs Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) and Esawai Freige (Meretz) were the only members of Zionist parties to support a Joint List bill Wednesday to withdraw legal status from the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod (United Israel Appeal), the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.

Earlier Wednesday, the Knesset voted down another bill submitted by Bahloul that would have added the word “equality” to all of Israel’s Basic Laws.

The proposal to decertify the organization was submitted by MK Jamal Zahalka, who heads one of the four components of the Joint List. He called the institutions “the primary tool for discriminating against Arab citizens,” adding, “Sometimes, it isn’t clear whether [they] are an instrument of the state or the state is an instrument of theirs. In any event, they remained after the state was established, in order to facilitate discrimination against and the exclusion of Arab citizens in all matters relating to land and the founding and development of communities,” Zahalka said.

“How is the JNF, whose regulations prohibit the sale or lease of land to Arabs, any different from the rabbis of Safed who issue halakhic rulings that forbid renting apartments to Arab students?” Zahalka asked.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, responding to the bill on behalf of the government, dismissed Zahalka’s arguments. Israel, she said, was, is and will continue to be a Jewish state, even for 1,000 years.

“The national institutions preceded the state’s founding and are a powerful instrument of the Jewish people. The justification for them will continue as long as the Jewish people continue to exist. MK Zahalka, who wants to cancel the national institutions, does not seek equality. This equality has existed since the state’s first day, it is rooted in us. Zahalka wants to erase the Jewish face of the State of Israel, but it will always be maintained.” Shaked said the government rejects the proposal “with contempt.”

Zionist Union activists called on Chairman Avi Gabbay to oust Bahloul from the party over his vote. Freige, for his part, urged Bahloul to leave the party. “You have a home in Meretz, go with your truth,” Freige said to Bahloul.

Last fall, after Bahloul said he would boycott a festive Knesset session to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, associates of Gabbay were quoted as saying that Bahloul, “will not be in the next Knesset” and that Gabbay was “sick of extremism.” But Labor Party Secretary General Eran Hermoni rejected calls to expel Bahloul. “The Labor Party is a democratic party,” he said. “You don’t want someone? Don’t vote for him.”

JNF Chairman Danny Atar attacked the bill’s supporters. “The Joint List, which regularly acts on behalf of Israel’s enemies, does so because it knows very well that the JNF leads Zionist activity in Israel. This is a reminder to MKs from the Zionist parties who occasionally get confused and forget about the JNF’s real importance.”

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