JNF Not Required to Act for Good of All, Court Told

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is not required to act for the good of all of Israel's citizens and asking it to allocate land for the benefit of everyone is tantamount to nationalizing its assets, according to a document submitted to the High Court of Justice this week.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is not required to act for the good of all of Israel's citizens and asking it to allocate land for the benefit of everyone is tantamount to nationalizing its assets, according to a document submitted to the High Court of Justice this week.

The document was submitted by the JNF in response to a petition brought against the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) about two months ago by the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Adalah legal center.

The petitioners are asking the court to annul an ILA policy that prevents Arabs from participating in bids to purchase land owned by the JNF. The petitioners say the policy is not in keeping with the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

About five years ago, the High Court set a precedent when it ruled in favor of Adel Kaadan, who wanted to buy a lot in the community of Katzir, which was built on state land allocated to the Jewish Agency. A panel of five justices, led by Court President Aharon Barak, ruled that "the state's obligation to act with equality extends to all of its activities. It therefore also extends to the allocation of state lands."

ACRI attorney Ouni Bana argued before the court that the Kaadan ruling set a general rule, by which the state must not transfer the use or ownership of land to a third party that contracts with Jews only with regard to public land resources.

However, the JNF argued that its right to act as the "trustee of the Jewish people" surpasses even the principle of equality. "The JNF of course recognizes the right of all citizens to equality," the document submitted to the court states. "However, equality does not extend to the right of one person to settle on another person's property."

The JNF currently has lands amounting to about 2.5 million dunams. The document, to which an affidavit by JNF chairman Yehiel Leket was appended, also noted that it is not funded by the government, that its assets were acquired through the contributions of tens of thousands of Jews throughout the Diaspora, and therefore "the JNF has a clear obligation to its donors" and was established to work for the good of the Jewish people only.

JNF lawyers argued that JNF ownership of land is completely separate from the state, according to the Basic Law on the People's Lands, "which authorized separate and independent ownership of JNF lands."

In response to the JNF, the petitioners' attorneys argued that the prohibition against discrimination applies to private organizations, as well as public authorities. In any case, they added, because the JNF carries out government functions, it cannot be seen as a private organization. The petitioners also noted that their petition was directed against a undisputedly public body, the Israel Lands Administration, which administers JNF lands and must market them equally to all citizens.