Private Land Bought for Jews Belongs to Jews

The JNF has a contract with its Jewish donors.

Morton A. Klein

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Arutz Sheva
There has been criticism of the clear decision of Israel's democratically-elected Knesset, voting overwhelmingly, by a margin of 64 votes to 16, to approve the first reading of a bill reaffirming that all lands belonging to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) should continue to be leased to Jews, in accordance with the terms of its charter.
We agree with the Knesset.
We agree with the Knesset and reject the critics who regard it as unacceptable that the JNF should be able to allocate its land to Jews only. Their criticism misconceives the function and purpose of the JNF, a body funded by private donations to purchase and develop land for Jewish settlement. The critics do not seem to understand that JNF land is private land, not state-owned public land.

For over 100 years, Jews from around the world put their small change and small bills into the well-known blue and white JNF boxes in homes, schools and synagogues. Jews understood there was a sacred promise that their money would buy land in Eretz Yisrael for Jews to emigrate there and build a Jewish state in our ancient, Biblical homeland, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived, and where Kings David and Solomon once ruled. This was the contract, the promise, the covenant between the JNF and the Jewish people.

During its century-long existence, from the time of Turkish and later British rule, the JNF has been involved in the legal purchase and reclamation of 250,000 acres of largely uninhabited, malaria-ridden swamp lands and desert that no one wanted or could live on. The JNF eliminated disease, rendered the land fit for habitation and agriculture, planted 220 million trees and built many reservoirs.

There is increasing pressure now to lease parts of this private land (constituting about 10% of Israel) to Israeli Arabs, although they already have the right to lease public Israeli state land (about 70% of Israel, the remainder, like JNF land, being in private ownership). We disagree. No one would dream of telling private land owners like the Catholic Church or the Muslim Wakf to whom they can lease their land. Moreover, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on "some cases where Jews attempted to move into non-Jewish neighborhoods... that have been vigorously protested by non-Jews, saying they should be allowed to maintain ethnically and culturally distinct communities."

It seems clear that this JNF contract with its Jewish donors must be respected. That's why the Knesset voted to reaffirm that all private JNF land continue to be leased to Jews.

Additionally, there are many laws, institutions and practices in Israel that we all support that promote and protect the Jewishness of the state, such as the Aliyah laws, the Jewish education in schools, the Jewish-starred flag and the national anthem, Hatikvah, which speaks of the Jewish soul.

As Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent editorialized, "The land in question is not mere real estate. JNF property is the inheritance of the entire Jewish people.... JNF policies should stand." In the late 1800s, the Jews rejected settling in Uganda because it lacked any historic or religious connection to Jews. The Exponent added, "JNF's task is building homes for a nation that has no other haven." Indeed, Holocaust survivors, former Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, Argentinean and French Jews, and Jews from Arab countries are among the millions of persecuted and oppressed Jewish immigrants who have come to Israel.

Those who say the above Knesset law proves that Arabs suffer discrimination in Israel are speaking nonsense. Like Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs are members of the cabinet, Knesset and law courts; they are consul-generals and attend Israeli colleges, medical and law and graduate schools. They have full voting rights, citizenship, medical insurance and pension plans. One of the few differences is that they are not required to perform military service, but that is hardly a case of discrimination; rather, it shows great sensitivity to Israeli Arabs. In fact, if the Blacks of South Africa had enjoyed the same rights as the
No one would dream of telling... the Catholic Church or the Muslim Wakf to whom they can lease their land.
Arabs in Israel, discrimination would never have been a serious issue there.

It is also surprising that those organizations opposed to this bill are not on record in condemning genuine racism and discrimination in the practices of many Arab states. In the Palestinian Authority, as well as in Jordan and other Arab states, it is illegal to sell any land to Jews under punishment of death. Saudi Arabia, in addition to such practices, bans any expression of religion other than Wahhabi Islam. There are no churches or synagogues, or even non-Islamic religious services, permitted by Saudi law, and women are prohibited from driving cars. Where are the critics when it comes to genuine human rights abuses in Arab states? Why, instead, do they seek to limit the rights of Jews to lease privately owned land in Israel purchased for that very purpose?

The ZOA agrees with Ronald S. Lauder, President of the JNF, that "[this] Knesset decision reaffirms the vision and the dream of Theodor Herzl and the millions of Jews over the past 106 years who contributed and participated in the rebirth of a Jewish nation after 2,000 years. The land of Israel is part of the very existence of the Jewish people from as far back as Abraham. We are a people linked to our land. Now and forever." This Knesset bill is one step towards securing this precious legacy and it deserves the support of all American Jewish organizations.
Morton A. Klein is the National President of the Zionist Organization of America.

Irwin Hochberg is Vice-Chairman of the National Board of the ZOA, past Chairman of the Board of the UJA Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York and past National Campaign Chairman for Israel Bonds.