Zionism's Rights

The JNF is not the main obstacle, or even a partial obstacle, to a policy of equal land allocations. The obstacle is the Israeli leadership, which believes in perpetuating the discrimination.

A law earmarking Jewish National Fund lands for Jews only might be unconstitutional. That might very well be the case. Such a law might be constitutional, but discriminatory and unjust. Perhaps in order to earmark JNF lands for Jews only, it would be necessary to carry out a land swap between the JNF and the state. Or perhaps the JNF would have to sell back the lands belonging to absentee owners that it bought from the state.

But one thing must be clear: There is not a shred of racism in a law stating that an organization set up to purchase lands for Jews is entitled to do so. The State of Israel has traveled too long a road from the moment when then-ambassador to the United Nations, Chaim Herzog, tore up the General Assembly resolution stating that Zionism is racism until today, when some think that realizing the JNF's goals constitutes racism.

Parts of this road were undoubtedly positive, including the enactment of basic laws and the recognition of human rights. Now the time has come to pause and ask whether we are not forgetting that Zionism is also a value, and it, too, has rights.

Binyamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl founded the JNF 106 years ago for precisely this purpose: buying land for the Jewish people. Since then, the organization has existed on the profits from this land and on donations from the Jewish people. The JNF is a private organization that is not funded by the state, and yet never ceases to benefit the state through its reforestation and development work.

True, the situation has changed since Herzl's day. Today, the Jews are a majority in this land, not a minority, and the Israel Lands Administration holds more than 90 percent of Israel's lands, including the 11 percent owned by the JNF. And, even more importantly, there is much greater awareness today of the value of equality.

With regard to lands for the Arab Israelis, this awareness of equality is still theoretical, and Israel's actual policies are shameful. The state should be establishing new Arab cities, allocating land for new neighborhoods and industrial zones in existing towns and cities, finally reaching an agreement with the Bedouin over their lands, recognizing the unrecognized villages and allowing them the planning and development needed to turn them into genuine villages.

But all of these things can be done via the more than 80 percent of state lands the ILA owns, without requiring the JNF to abandon the vision it was given by the founders of Zionism. If there is need for JNF land, territory can be swapped. If the procedure for conducting land swaps is too complicated, it can be simplified. It is possible, for instance, to state that in the event of a dispute over compensation, the land would be transferred immediately, and the dispute would go to mediation. Land swaps would also enable Arabs to participate in tenders for JNF lands.

The JNF is not the main obstacle, or even a partial obstacle, to a policy of equal land allocations. The obstacle is the Israeli leadership, which believes in perpetuating the discrimination. Even if the High Court of Justice rules that JNF lands may not be earmarked for Jews only, it will not lead to any substantive change. Some things require a shift in consciousness, and that is beyond the High Court's capabilities.

But the petitions against the JNF pose a symbolic question that is no less important than the practical outcome: Does the Zionist movement have the right to buy lands for the sake of the Jewish people and the Zionist vision? The answer to this question must be yes. There should be no decision on the JNF crisis, by either the court or the Knesset. What is needed is a new pact between the JNF and the state, which would recognize both the right to equality and the rights of Zionism.