Rubinstein's proposal, made to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, recommends that a distinction be made between JNF lands and state lands, with the organization returning all state lands in return for being allowed to manage the properties under its control "in line with national interests." As an example of such "national interest," he proposes that JNF lands be used for housing projects for discharged soldiers.Another example of land for "national interests" would be apportioning lands for a "peace village" for Jews and Arabs. I asked Ben-Sasson if the Knesset was going to come up with something that looked like Amnon Rubinstein's proposal. He said that it would not be identical but it would "be in that direction." Now, Rubinstein's proposal sounds much better than the original law, which he severely criticized on liberal grounds. But it is just as racist because of the "national interests" clause. For example, the phrase "discharged soliders" is a synonym for "non-Palestinians," since non-Druze Palestinians are not drafted, and Muslim Palestinians are not allowed to serve. This is a common tactic used to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. When I lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, I leased land from the JNF which was made available to IDF veterans or new immigrants, i.e., to keep Palestinians out of the neighborhood (By the way, it is still segregated by law, and the law was sustained by the High Court of Justice.) As for joint Jewish-Arab villages, I assume that he is referring to villages on the model of Neveh Shalom, the only one of its kind in Israel. He may be liberal enough to include Jewish communities that are segregated, but where Palestinians wish to live, as in the Ka'dan case. That would affirm the status quo and would seem to be a blow to the proponents of the JNF bill. But would it? The fact is that by returning the land to the state, Israel would be able to keep lands expropriated for Jews only (at least until challenged by the courts, which has not yet happened.) Since most of the Palestinian land is held by the state -- Ben Gurion never felt the pressure to sell it to the JNF because the world didn't pressure him to make it available to Palestinians -- the status quo of not apportioning land expropriated by Palestinians to Palestinians would continue. Moreover, by defining the mandate of the JNF as leasing land "in line with national interest" then it could be claimed by Jewish communities interested in keeping out Palestinian residents that it is acting in the national interest. Or that the expansion of an Israeli Palestinian town or village is not in the national interest because this is a Jewish state. In short, the Rubinstein proposal is all smoke and mirrors designed to make us feel good. Once you have a state that is defined as a Jewish state, in the way it is understood over here, you have given up liberal values like equal opportunity, etc. Rubinstein has tried very hard to square the circle time and time again. It won't work. Remember -- Ben Sasson did not say that the bill would be identical with the Rubinstein proposal, but that it would be in the same direction. God willing, it will be voted down.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Jewish National Fund Bill -- Update from Informed Sources
About two months ago, the Israeli Knesset passed, on preliminary hearing, a bill that would restrict lease of land owned by the Jewish National Fund in Israel to Jews only. This includes land that was expropriated by Palestinians as a result of the 1948 war. This blog was one of the first to break the news here. The passage of the bill set off widespread protest in Israel and abroad, with some very unlikely people joining the protest, like rightwing ADL leader Abe Foxman and former Defence Minister (and super-hawk), Moshe Arens. Some of the members of the Knesset that had initially supported the bill backtracked out of shame; others have been hanging tough. Then the Knesset went into recess until the end of the Jewish holidays. Last night, Menachem ben Sasson, who is chairman of the Knesset's constitution committee, came to my shul for holiday prayers. I asked him, hopefully, whether he thought that that the bill would be buried in committee. He said that it would not, that it was not in his committee, and that it would come to the main floor for the second and third readings. But -- and here is main point -- there would be significant changes with the JNF and its relationship with the Israel Land Authority, which administers the land. These changes would involve the JNF's returning to the state the Palestinian land which it purchased in the fifties. So none of that land would fall under the purview of the JNF and its new "Jews only" clause. Now this solution had already been proposed by former Justice Minister Amnon Rubinstein, in a letter to Prime Minister Olmert. Rubinstein, who criticized the Knesset law. also proposed that the JNF would not lease its land to "Jews only" but to projects of national importance, that could include Jews and non-Jews. Pay attention: