The Time Has Come to Nationalize the JNF

The secrecy surrounding the Jewish National Fund enables politicians from across the political spectrum to use its resources for their own ends.

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A JNF tree planting center.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The anti-corruption campaign being conducted by Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid, is plagued by no little dishonesty. We should recall that Lapid, as finance minister, was the one who this year restored the use of “coalition funding,” state funds handed out to individual parties or politicians for their pet projects. Though he did it in an ostensibly transparent fashion, through a budget clause, it was a clause very hard to keep track of.

Lapid also trampled on all semblance of proper governance when he tried to appoint his associate Uri Shani to a post in the treasury without a tender, and when he took advice from his consultant friends rather than the career staff of the Finance Ministry.

Nevertheless, the campaign Lapid is leading against the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund is important and justified. Lapid was indeed the first minister who dared to challenge the holy alliance between the JNF and the politicians. This alliance relied on the huge sums of money that the JNF manages — far from any public scrutiny — and the many appointments of JNF employees, which are also made without public oversight.

This secrecy is the root of all evil surrounding the JNF, which claims to be a private company even as it uses its position as a national institution to raise funds and win public support. It is this secrecy that enables politicians from across the political spectrum to seek appointments and budgets through the JNF, which they use to their own ends.

The absurd result is that the corporation that was set up to acquire land for the state-in-the-making has turned into an autonomous entity that continues to administer itself even though the State of Israel is a fait accompli.

This is so even though the JNF’s interests at this point remain vague. These interests are apparently dependent on the caprices of whoever heads the institution at any given time — in other words, second- and third-rate politicians.

It’s about time that the JNF’s lands, which were acquired by the Jewish people for the Jewish state, once again become the assets of the State of Israel. Nationalizing the JNF may be drastic, but there are several steps that must be taken: making the JNF’s activities transparent, subjecting it to the scrutiny of the state comptroller and the treasury’s accountant general, severing the problematic ties between the JNF and the political system, and transferring the authority over use of JNF funds to the Israeli government.