May the Jewish National Fund Live to 120 – and No Longer

Haaretz Editorial
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A Jewish National Fund park.
A Jewish National Fund park.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Haaretz Editorial

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund – has undergone an upheaval in recent years, due in part to numerous land deals in the West Bank that were concluded in 2018-2019 behind the backs of the organization’s board of directors. Details of these deals were revealed by Hagar Shezaf in Haaretz in Hebrew on Monday; earlier, journalist Raviv Drucker had revealed their existence, which led to them being frozen.

Shezaf’s investigation delved into the details of West Bank land deals carried out by KKL-JNF’s subsidiary Himnuta. For instance, Himnuta purchased land at the Defense Ministry’s request after a court petition was filed by Palestinians who had been denied access to the land for years even as settlers were allowed to work it. It also purchased the Bakri House in Hebron moments before a court ruled that the settlers who had squatted there had to leave; Himnuta then gave the house to the settlers. And it purchased land near Ramallah in a deal that allegedly involved fraud; following that sale, the Palestinian Authority arrested the seller.

These deals are troubling because of the circumstances under which they were made, the defective documents and the questions they raise, but above all because to this day, the relevant KKL-JNF institutions have never conducted a transparent discussion about them. Most of the people involved in those deals, both board members and employees, are still in their posts. And even though two reports have revealed real problems with these deals and the way they were conducted, none of the people involved seem to have been called to account.

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Above all, it seems the Jewish National Fund has become the Settlements’ National Fund, and the organization’s famed “blue boxes” for collecting donations have poured money intended for “Jerusalem and the periphery” into deals meant to serve the settlers both now and in the future. The organization’s activities on behalf of the settlements and the inbuilt problems with such activity require us to ask whether there’s any justification for its continued existence. Ultimately, this is an agency that has enabled Israel to maintain discriminatory land policies through a kind of extraterritoriality. For instance, after the state was established, millions of dunams of land that had originally belonged to Palestinian refugees were handed over to KKL-JNF, in part to avoid any potential problems with international law over the state’s mass expropriation of land.

There’s no room in a democratic country for a policy of “redeeming the land,” nor is there any room for an organization that by definition sells land to Jews only. And on top of all that, this organization also operates without transparency, isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act and is essentially not subject to any public oversight whatsoever. It’s hard to understand how political parties that view themselves as leftist, like Meretz and Labor, are still sitting to this day on the organization’s board, which has become a source of jobs for party hacks.

This year, KKL-JNF will celebrate its 120th birthday. An organization founded to realize a distant dream has become a tool that serves Jews alone in a strong and mature state that defines itself as democratic. The time has come to either close it or nationalize it, along with the lands it possesses. There’s no longer any place for an organization whose goal is to Judaize the land or buy land for Jews alone.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.