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Free the children from Jewish National Fund

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Image: Flickr/Joe Catron​

What do you call an organization that teaches children an exclusive, religious and ethnic nationalism while promoting war and other forms of violence to get its way?

Most people would say an extremist group or a right-wing cult. Many would think of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

But, while the KKK had a Youth Corps where children were taught "patriotism" and "Christian values" but weren't "brainwashed," in the words of a spokesperson, we are talking about a group the Canada Revenue Agency considers worthy of awarding tax deductions for "charitable" donations.

The Jewish National Fund would also deny "brainwashing" children, but it has long tried to convince young minds of its colonial worldview.

A recent ad in the Canadian Jewish News promoting JNF Montréal's Tu Bi'Shevat Tree A Thon pictured a smart phone with the headline "VERSION 2.0 BYOC" (Bring Your Own Cellphone, for those who remember the pager). According to the ad, "students earn community service hours" for participating in the JNF fundraiser.

For its part, JNF Toronto hosts Step Up for Tu Bi'Shevat dance parties. According to a summary of the 2014 event, "over 150 children between grades [one and eight] came out to vibe, groove, dance and move for Israel."

The registered Canadian charity offers various other youth outreach initiatives to help build the "bond between the Jewish people and their land." The JNF has produced puzzles and board games as well as organizing a Youth Summer experience program. According to JNF Canada's Education Department, the group "educates thousands of young people in Israel and abroad, helping them forge an everlasting bond with the Land of Israel."

The JNF has long promoted an expansionist vision of "Eretz Yisrael." The current map on JNF Blue Boxes encompasses the West Bank while the first map on the Blue Box, designed in 1934, "depicted a borderless area that reached from the Mediterranean into Lebanon and Jordan."

Blue Boxes are the mainstay of JNF youth outreach. Over the last century, millions of them have been distributed around the world. An official description explains:

"Since its debut in 1901 as JNF's official fundraising 'pushke,' the Blue Box has represented JNF and its efforts to develop the land and roads, build communities, strengthen agriculture, and create water reservoirs in Israel. It is also a vehicle for educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school."

While youth pursuing "community service" sounds nice, the JNF is a racist, colonial, institution that has no place in the 21st century. An owner of 13 per cent of Israel's land and with influence over much of the rest, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are "chartered to benefit Jews exclusively," which has led to an "institutionalized form of discrimination."

For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In 2009, JNF Canada's head Frank A. Wilson explained, "JNF are the caretakers of the Land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world."

In addition to racist land-use policies, JNF Canada lobbies for war. After Israel killed 2,200 mostly Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2014, it brought former IDF chief of staff and defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, to speak in Toronto. In 2007, it sponsored a cross-Canada speaking tour by Colonel Ze'ev Raz who led Israel's 1981 bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor. The aim of the tour was to build momentum for an attack against Iran. "Sanctions against Iran are not effective," Raz explained. "Sanctions are too vulnerable to cheating. The only solution to the Iran problem is for there to be an effort of the U.S. and other forces to invade Iran from the ground."

Branding itself as "100 per cent Israel," the JNF offers other groups "Zionist speakers." In 2009 JNF Canada announced an "ambassadors" program to send 15 to 20 volunteers to Israel annually who would be trained "to become representatives for JNF and Israel, to communicate the virtues of the Holy Land to organizations that don't normally hear about the JNF in Canada, such as church groups."

With 11 offices across the country, JNF Canada has raised $73 million since 2014. Similar to other formerly powerful, but now discredited institutions, the JNF seeks convince vulnerable young minds of its racist worldview.

It's time to free the children and abolish the JNF. Or at least revoke its tax status.

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Image: Flickr/Joe Catron

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