The JNF: Charitable tax status for racism?

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is an internationally recognized charitable organization that has the privilege of issuing charitable tax receipts in the United States, Canada and many other countries.

The JNF frequently honours distinguished members of the community at its fund-raising dinners and it has raised many millions of dollars for projects in Israel. For example, the president of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Paul Davenport, has recently accepted an award from the JNF. However, 36 members of the University of Western Ontario faculty signed a protest letter condemning the JNF as a racist organization and arguing that the University was being used to promote the JNF and its discriminatory practices and that the honour should be rejected.

It is the opinion of many individuals, including many Jews, that the JNF is a racist organization that discriminates against non-Jews. For example, there is a letter signed by two Jewish organizations and 34 individual Jewish signatories protesting a JNF event being held at Windsor Castle to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. Israeli Uri Davis's book, Israel: An Apartheid State, details the discriminatory policies of the JNF and many other Israeli practices that discriminate against non-Jews.

The JNF was also used to cover up the ethnic cleansing and destruction of three Palestinian villages in 1968. In the place of these villages "Canada Park" was created by the JNF, subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer. A CBC Fifth Estate program, entitled "A Park with no Peace," about the JNF and Canada Park was broadcast on October 21, 1991. This program interviewed eyewitnesses and documented the war crimes committed by Israel and how the JNF was used to cover up those crimes.

In 1995 an Israeli Arab couple, the Kadans, tried to buy an apartment on land owned by the JNF. For a decade the JNF and the Israeli Lands Authority refused to lease this "Jewish" land to these non-Jews. They took their case to court. Eventually the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that state land could not be sold to Jews only.

Unfortunately 93 per cent of the land in Israel is governed by this racist criteria of excluding non-Jews. This Israeli Supreme Court ruling caused huge embarrassment among supporters of Israel worldwide. Many Jews asked how could Jews protest against anti-Semitism when condoning blatantly racist practices in Israel?

The JNF's bylaws and operations were deemed to represent racial discrimination by the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights in 1998. To quote the UN Committee:

"The Committee notes with grave concern that the Status Law of 1952 authorizes the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries including the Jewish National Fund to control most of the land in Israel, since these institutions are chartered to benefit Jews exclusively. Despite the fact that the institutions are chartered under private law, the State of Israel nevertheless has a decisive influence on their policies and thus remains responsible for their activities. A State Party cannot divest itself of its obligations under the Covenant by privatizing governmental functions. The Committee takes the view that large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies, constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties by non-Jews. Thus, these practices constitute a breach of Israel's obligations under the Covenant."

Former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, wrote in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz on June 29, 2006, "It's well known that the 'national institutions' - the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund - primarily exist to enable institutional discrimination based on ethnicity while clearing the state from accusations that it deviates from universal norms common to liberal democracies."

To avoid overturning the practice held to be racist, the JNF adopted policies to circumvent the law. Benvenisti wrote, "A classic example is the High Court of Justice's decision regarding the Kada'an family, which was perceived at the time as dealing for the first time with the principle of equality, confronting the Zionist principle of 'redeeming the land,' and presenting a victory of democracy over the apartheid inherent to the national institutions' land distribution policies. Those institutions quickly learned how to 'minimize the damage' and continue with their discriminatory policy."

Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, in early 2005, also forbade the JNF from issuing tenders for Jews only. To quote Benvenisti, "And once again, a way was found to circumvent the decision through 'land swaps,' which only strengthened the JNF as a discriminatory institution with racist policies." The JNF refused to obey the Israeli Supreme Court ruling and continued the discriminatory practice with the Israeli state authorities refusing to enforce the ruling of their highest court.

The JNF launched a campaign to reverse the court's decision. In 2007 a JNF Bill was introduced into the Knesset, to continue the discriminatory practice, which passed on the first reading by a vote of 64 to 16. The implications are quite clear. If Israel is a "Jewish state" then it cannot be a state of all its citizens who have equal rights. In Israel 25 per cent of the population is non-Jewish and is severely discriminated against and denied basic democratic and social rights.

The late and prominent member of the Canadian Jewish community, Bernard Wolfe, who I had the privilege of knowing, decided to challenge the restrictive convent that barred Jews, Catholics and Blacks from living in the Beaches Pines resort in Grand Bend, Ontario. As a result of this legal challenge, and others, restrictive covenants that barred individuals on the basis of race or religion from owning land have been declared racist and illegal in Canada.

Would prominent members of the community accept an award from the South African apartheid state or the Klu Klux Klan that discriminated against Blacks? Would they accept an award from an organization that discriminated against Jews? I hope that they would not accept such a dubious honor. Yet many prominent individuals accept an award from an organization that discriminates against Muslims and Christian Palestinians, and members of all other religions except Judaism. The JNF also excludes from its lands in Israel and the Occupied Territories any other race or ethnic group except those individuals whose mother was Jewish.

The questions that must be asked are: why does the JNF have charitable status? And, why do many members of the community accept an award from an organization that, in the opinion of many, is racist?

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