Israelis who last week spent the eve of Independence Day in front of the television were likely to see a commercial sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, the organization widely known by its Hebrew name, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael. The commercial featured actor Rami Baruch as Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and singer Eden Ben Zaken playing herself.
In the commercial, the pair take a hot air balloon ride surveying Israel’s development and giving credit to JNF for education, infrastructure and afforestation around the country. The current campaign, designed to buttress the organization’s image among Israelis, cost 3.5 million shekels ($960,000) and is still on the air.
It was apparently prompted out of a sense that the Israeli public at large is not aware of the organization’s current activities. The longtime Zionist institution was founded in 1901 to acquire and develop land on behalf of the Jewish people in pre-state Israel. After the establishment of the state, it has continued its work with afforestation, the development of recreation areas and ecology projects, among others. It has fundraising affiliates in a number of Western countries that are separate entities from JNF in Israel and that raise money to support projects in Israel.
In the commercial, Ben Zaken explains that for a long time, JNF has not only been about planting trees. The cost of the advertising is a small portion of the assets of the Jerusalem-based organization. JNF is currently transferring a billion shekels a year to the Israeli treasury after a protracted dispute with the government, which sought some of the billions of shekels in JNF’s coffers and threatened to impose taxes on the organization. JNF owns about 13 percent of the country’s land.
Last year, JNF’s advertising department spent between 4 million and 6 million shekels, but if the current 2018 pace continues, it is expected to exceed last year’s spending, which was primarily on digital media, while this year the organization has been advertising on television and radio.