Jewish National Fund Chairman and Board at Odds Over Budget Cuts

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Families visit the Aminadav Forest, near Jerusalem, which is maintained by the Jewish National Fund.Credit: JNF / Yossi Zamir

The new management of the Jewish National Fund plans to cut tens of millions of shekels from its budget in a way that will seriously harm its operations, according to several board members who attended recent meetings on the organization’s 2016 budget.

Some weeks ago, five board members sent a letter to the fund's chairman, Danny Atar, warning that if the proposed cuts were implemented, the organization would be unable to perform basic tasks like pruning trees or maintaining bicycle paths. The board is due to approve the 2016 budget in another few weeks.

The letter said the JNF Finance Committee had approved only 40 percent of the budget requested by the organization’s Land Development Authority, which carries out the bulk of JNF’s activity, including its forestry operations. The Finance Committee approved a budget of 200 million shekels ($53 million) for the authority — a considerable decline compared to previous years.

“As a result of the budget shortfall, it won’t be possible to perform basic and essential tasks like pruning trees for safety and thinning forests this year,” the letter said. “Buffer areas that are vital for preventing fires won’t be established or maintained. Maintenance work on damaged bicycle paths won’t be performed. On-call firefighting teams will be cut back, there will be no monitoring of biological diversity, and more.”

The letter said the proposed budget would also slash funding for the board’s Sustainable Development Committee, which is responsible for environmental issues such as rehabilitating rivers, green construction, environmental research and planning, and cooperation with environmental organizations. According to the Land Development Authority’s proposal, this committee should have gotten 45 million shekels this year. But the Finance Committee decided to give it only three million shekels.

“This money, which is needed to wage battles to save tens of thousands of dunams of JNF forests, will be insufficient at the very moment when the scope of development plans threatening these forests is unprecedented,” the board members wrote.

Additionally, they charged, the budget proposed for the Planning Division is insufficient to allow it to draft and advance forestry plans and other projects.

The Jewish National Fund responded that “the new budget led by JNF chairman Danny Atar is meant to put an end to years of financial chaos and waste at the organization. This budget, which is being finalized and will be brought for approval in late May, will, for the first time in JNF’s history, be transparent to the public and reflect JNF’s values, and them alone, in the clearest possible manner. JNF’s chairman has said repeatedly that despite the across-the-board cut, the core issues the organization deals with, including the budget for tending its forests, won’t be harmed.”

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