By Jonathan Cook
March 17, 2021 "Information
Clearing House" - For decades, Jews
around the world have cherished the Jewish National
Fund’s supposedly “charitable” work buying and
managing land in Israel. Generations of Jewish
children have been encouraged to drop pennies into
iconic blue collection boxes.
The Fund is held in similar high esteem by
western governments, which typically subsidize their
citizens’ donations to the JNF by treating them as
tax exempt. Meanwhile, international agencies
seek out its advice on environmental and
But a vote last month by the JNF’s board
threatens to unmask the Zionist charity, even to its
most faithful supporters. For the first time, the
organization has agreed to publicly allocate funds
to expand Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements in the
occupied West Bank.
$12 million set aside
The JNF has initially set aside nearly $12
million for what it
describes as “land purchases” in the occupied
West Bank. In reality, the JNF will be funding the
confiscation and takeover of Palestinian lands by
Israel’s occupation authorities.
reports, the JNF may ultimately funnel hundreds
of millions of dollars from its reserves into the
West Bank in a bid to more than double the size of
the settler population there – from at least 450,000
to one million Jews.
Analysts have noted that the KKL-JNF – as the
organization is known in Israel – is being rapidly
a “bank” for right-wing politicians. They want
to use its enormous reserves to entrench the
government’s de facto annexation policy by
helping the settlers tighten their hold on the West
Collusion in war crimes
Worried about how this will look outside Israel,
and the threat it could pose to the JNF’s
fundraising activities overseas, five of the JNF’s
32 board members have
demanded that the decision be rescinded.
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They are pinning their hopes on a follow-up
meeting, after Israel’s March 23 election, when the
board will vote on whether the JNF changes its
declared policy and operates openly inside the West
Unless the decision can be overturned, donors to
the JNF – as well as foreign governments that bestow
charitable status on the Fund – will be directly and
visibly colluding in the development of the
settlements and the further erosion of prospects for
a Palestinian state.
Significantly, such collusion will be occurring
immediately after the International Criminal Court
in the Hague announced last month an
investigation into potential Israeli war crimes
that include its building and expansion of
Public money laundered
The JNF’s decision is a dramatic indication of
how ultra-nationalists allied to Benjamin
Netanyahu’s government have
co-opted Zionism’s most venerable international
Till now, the JNF in Israel has been careful to
veil its involvement in the settlements to avoid
both alienating more liberal American Jews and
endangering its overseas charitable status by openly
flouting international law. Instead it has hidden
its operations inside the West Bank behind a
subsidiary called Himanuta.
But that approach has changed since the JNF’s new
Avraham Duvdevani, took office in October. He
previously headed the World Zionist Organization,
whose settlement division has been the main vehicle
by which Israeli governments have laundered public
money to expand the settlements, often in breach of
Israel’s own laws.
‘Land theft division’
An editorial in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz
in 2017 labelled the WZO settlement division, then
under Duvdevani, as “the
land theft division”, following a series of
investigations by the paper.
As well as financing settlements on territory
seized by the Israeli state in violation of
international law, the WZO has transferred lands to
the settlers that even Israel’s occupation
authorities recognize as belonging to private
Palestinian land-owners. On those lands, the WZO has
helped to establish what are officially termed “unauthorized
These fledgling settlements are home to the
most extreme and violent settlers, who are often
behind attacks on Palestinian farmers intended
to drive them off their land. The Israeli state has
used the WZO as a means to veil its own role
channeling money into these “outposts”.
Haaretz concluded: “The [WZO] Settlement Division
is acting like a publicly funded crime
Now Duvdevani appears to be encouraging the JNF
to mimic the WZO in publicly funding the same
lawless settlement practices.
To placate donors, the JNF is reported to be
planning to greenwash its activities in the West
Bank by characterizing them as involving “education,
forestation and environmental protection” –
echoing similar deceptions it perpetuates inside
There, the JNF has planted hundreds of forests
over the lands
of Palestinian refugees to prevent them from
ever returning home, after they were ethnically
cleansed by Israel in 1948, during events
Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe.
Other JNF forestation programs have been
weaponized against a section of Israel’s own
citizens – a large minority of 1.8 million
Palestinians who avoided expulsion in 1948.
In collusion with the government, the JNF has
forced Palestinian villagers, like those of
al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev), off their land
by planting trees in place of their homes, or the
JNF has used forests to tightly box in Palestinian
communities to prevent expansion, leading to
overcrowding and social tensions.
In Israel’s early years, officials transferred 13
percent of Israeli territory to the JNF so the
organization could enforce residential segregation
between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. The
JNF’s charter specifically requires it to
reserve all its land for Jews only.
Since its founding in 1901, the JNF has been
strong-arming Palestinians off the land it
controls – whether inside Israel or in the occupied
territories, especially in East Jerusalem.
However until now, the JNF has successfully
remained within the Zionist “consensus” by focusing
public attention on its operations inside Israel.
Its activities in the occupied territories have been
concealed behind Himanuta.
Peace Now recently
reported that, before the early 2000s, Himanuta
had claimed ownership of at least 16,000 acres of
West Bank land on which settlements were founded,
including Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Einav, Kedumim and
Himanuta’s work has concentrated in particular on
occupied East Jerusalem, where it has
allied with an extremist settler organization, Elad.
The pair are behind
efforts to evict an extended Palestinian family,
the Sumarins, from their home in Silwan, an area
that has been aggressively targeted for takeover by
armed settlers backed by the Israeli state.
After a long lull of activity, the JNF quietly
revived its operations in the West Bank through
Himanuta back in 2018.
Duvdevani’s predecessor, Daniel Atar, a Labor
party appointee, set up a secret war chest, in the
name of Himanuta, amounting to some $70 million. The
disguised as funds for use in Jerusalem.
But it was actually used to
“purchase” Palestinian land and properties –
including through the use of forged documents – in
the Jordan Valley, Jericho, Hebron and the Etzion
bloc south of Bethlehem.
When the fund was exposed, Atar justified the
move by citing the opinion of a retired senior judge
the JNF’s bylaws sanctioned it working in the
occupied West Bank. That opinion referred to a
memorandum of association from 1953 – long before
Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East
Jerusalem – that permitted the Fund’s operations “in
any area subject to the jurisdiction of the
Government of Israel”.
Atar thereby paved the way to Duvdevani’s current
moves to change the JNF’s public policy towards the
The real significance of the JNF’s latest
decision is that it strips away the pretense that
the Fund makes a distinction between land in Israel
and the occupied territories.
It underlines the argument made in a
report in January by Israel’s most prominent
human rights group, B’Tselem, that Israel operates a
single apartheid system inside Israel and
the occupied territories.
The JNF is a linchpin of that system, helping to
enforce superior rights for Jews over Palestinians
across the entire region.
The decision is therefore likely to expose
further the self-delusions of many Jews outside
Israel. They have long claimed that Israel’s state
ideology, Zionism, is an uncontroversial matter
relating only to a supposed right by the Jewish
people to self-determination on the lands of
Palestinians. Further, they have claimed that anyone
questioning this right must be antisemitic.
Now it will be difficult for self-identified
Zionists to deny that their movement is complicit in
violations of international law and that its key
institutions, including the JNF, are carrying out
End to ‘bluffing’
It is telling that many of the JNF’s leaders have
been quick to note that the decision to establish a
fund to confiscate Palestinian land for Jewish-only
settlement will not depart from the Fund’s historic
role. Duvdevani himself has argued that the JNF is
continuing its traditional task of “redeeming” land.
Davidi Ben Zion, a settler who serves on the
JNF’s board, similarly
observed: “The JNF acted over the years to buy
lands for the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria
[the West Bank]. Even those who objected knew it was
going on. The only difference is that we’ve finished
with the bluffing.”
In other words, the JNF intends to stop
pretending to Jews abroad that it is only engaged in
non-controversial forestation and desert-reclamation
projects. Rather, it is ready to go public with
aggressive Judaization projects designed to
dispossess Palestinians in the occupied
Another board member, Yishai Merling, a
31-year-old activist from Netanyahu’s Likud party
who lives in the settlement of Efrat,
said after the vote: “We’re the new generation,
we don’t work under the table.”
Those opposed to the move, from the so-called
Zionist center and left, have objected less on
principle than on the basis that the decision risks
damaging the JNF’s image abroad and curtailing its
ability to fundraise.
Mercaz Olami, the political arm of Conservative
warned last month in the run-up to the vote that
a public change of policy could put the JNF “in a
situation which potentially violates international
It could also, “harm” Jewish communities in the
55 countries that have JNF fundraising branches, the
group noted. “An irresponsible decision could
severely damage [the JNF] KKL ability to continue
operating in these countries.”
That already appears to be the case.
interview with the Haaretz newspaper, Russell
Robinson, head of the JNF-USA, was keen to
underscore that his donors’ money was no longer
filling the coffers of the KKL-JNF, the JNF parent
organization in Israel. Nonetheless, Haaretz
reported, some of the JNF-USA’s own donations were
also directly assisting the settlements.
JNF-Canada, meanwhile, is
under investigation by Canadian tax authorities
for funneling “charitable” donations to the Israeli
military and the settlements.
letter on its website after last month’s vote,
JNF-Canada sought to distance itself from the
KKL-JNF. That included by rebranding its logo. A new
agreement between the two would ensure JNF-Canada
funds were not “co-mingled with KKL’s general
accounts”, the letter said.
In the UK, a similar pressure group, Stop the JNF
UK, has been
ramping up the pressure on the UK government’s
Charity Commission to act against the JNF-UK over
its involvement in dispossessing Palestinians.
Immune to pressure
statement from the U.S. State Department
reiterated the importance of avoiding “unilateral
steps” and undercutting “efforts to advance a
negotiated two-state solution.”
But the JNF, like the Israeli government, is long
past worrying about international pressure to
support negotiations or peacemaking. It is
apparently no longer concerned either about the need
to deceive its donors and foreign governments over
its support for war crimes in the occupied
The question now is whether the penny finally
drops for Jews in the US, Canada and Europe – and
whether, as a result, they refuse to continue
dropping their figurative pennies into the JNF’s
Jonathan Cook won the
Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.
His books include “Israel and the Clash of
Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake
the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing
Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human
Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.
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