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:

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.


Anonymous said...

And arabs still have it better off in Israel than anywhere else in the middleast!!

levi9909 said...

Ho hum, another day, another post culled from the Magnes Zionist. This time though, I had a little doubt about what you said about Palestinians not being allowed, by law, to join the Israeli army. Trusting you, as I do, I ran with what you wrote, and one of my regulars commented as follows: I dont think He is correct about palestinian Israelis not being allowed to serve. it's just not compulsory, but a few do. I met a xtian border policeman once.

The latest comment on the same thread is: Until recently it was illegal to call yourself a Palestinian in Israel. Enlisted Arabs are drawn from particular communities on the classic colonial basis of an ethnic and not a national identity (obviously the national identity is Israeli, hyphenated with communal orientation).

I would be interested in the history of these patterns of recruitment and the regulations associated with such recruitment.

You are of course very welcome to contribute at my site or let me know by reply on this one. What exactly is the position regarding Palestinian Israelis and the Israeli army? I always thought that they simply weren't conscripted but that they could volunteer.

Jerry Haber said...

To gbacharach

1) You make this claim on the basis of what opinion poll? Or is that your judgement, whether Israeli Palestinians agree with you or not? What makes you think that they are better off than, say, in Jordan, or Kuwait?

2) Arguably, US Blacks in the fifties, under segregation, still had it better off than anywhere in Africa. Would you use that as an argument against desegregation? "

Anonymous said...

Dear Levi9909,

First, a good book to read on this topic (in Hebrew only I am afraid, i think it is in the process of translation to English) is "good arabs", by Hillel Cohen. I have a feeling the Haber has the book...
T the issue at hand, there are different Palestinians Israeli communities. The majority are Muslim, who are not allowed to serve. There is a small Christian community who is allowed to volunteer, although very few volunteered in the past and I imagine that today it is just a handful.
Then there is the Druz community which in many case does not see itself as part of the Palestinian people and does serve in the Army (there are changing trends in this as well).
The last communities are the Beduin communities where there is a historical split between the northern ones who generally serve and the southern ones who generally don't.
But again, the majority of non Jews in Israel are Muslim Palestinian Israelis who are not allowed to serve in the military

Anonymous said...

But again, the majority of non Jews in Israel are Muslim Palestinian Israelis who are not allowed to serve in the military

Why would they want to?!

You make this claim on the basis of what opinion poll? Or is that your judgement, whether Israeli Palestinians agree with you or not? What makes you think that they are better off than, say, in Jordan, or Kuwait?

I dont think theres really any debate about this.

I understand that you critisize Israel because your Jewish but you should also be defending it because your Jewish. Why dont you ever post good stuff about Israel?

Anonymous said...


It is not an issue of want. It is an issue of not allowed to. They would want to because it is much easier to get to University, get to many jobs, get tax exemptions, get help with mortgage and in general be accepted to Israeli society if you served in the military.
Again, this is not just an issue of social acceptance. There are major financial consequences for not serving, something which by law they are not allowed to do.
My claim is not based on a public opinion pole but on Israeli law.
Don't really care about what is happening in Kuwait, but in laws which discriminate in my own country (I just bought a house in Jerusalem and got assistance from the ministry of housing because I served in the army. Gee, i wonder if Palestinian Israelis would want that...)

Unknown said...

There is a real need for housing for young demobilized soldiers and, of course, land for a peace village is a beautiful idea.

The Magnes Zionist is mistaken that Palestinian Israelis (or Muslims) are not permitted to serve in the military. Druze are subject to conscription on the same basis as Jews (except that their women are exempted, as is the case with Orthodox Jewish women). Other Israeli Arabs are permitted to volunteer. Bedouin (who are Muslim) have a tradition of volunteering; other Arabs hardly ever do. Similarly to Druze and Jews, Circassions (Muslims who are not Arabs) are conscripted.

Labeling these distinctions among communities as mere "colonialist" inventions ignores the fact that they are truly distinct.

Please consider linking with

Jerry Haber said...

"Why would Israeli Palestinians want to serve in the IDF?"

Considering that the state is defined as a Jewish state, and Palestinians citizens are systematically discriminated against, it is quite understandable why they would not want to serve.

A good percentage of the Jewish population figures out some way to avoid service.

But that is not the point. The point is that if Israel is a state of all its citizens, then all of its citizens should have equal rights and equal responsibilities.

And because of the position of the army in the national ethos, those deprived of serving are doubly discriminated against -- they are not allowed to serve, and then they do not have the priviliges and the status of army service.

Jerry Haber said...

To Ralph Seliger:

As you see, I deleted the phrase "by law" from the post, and I accept the correction.

But I do have a comment on the distinctions within the Palestinian communities.

Yesterday, I was reading Hillel Cohen's 2006 book "Good Arabs", which deals with the relationships between Israeli Palestinians and the State from 1948-1967, especially, the use of Arab collaborators by the State, and surveillance of Palestinian Israeli society. I plan to summarize a lot of the book, which is based almost entirely on newly published archival material, for the blog. Most disturbing -- and still the situation -- is how General Secret Services, in effect, controlled the hiring and firing of teachers. Part of the reason why the Palestinian Israeli educational system is in the shape it is in, is that many teachers were hired or removed based on the degree of help they provided to the state. A teacher who supported Arab nationalism in the 1950's, for example, would be fired, whereas informers and collaborators who were not qualified were often given jobs. Again, this is documented by Cohen.

But re the Druze and army service, to which Cohen devotes an entire chapter of the book. Briefly put, the motivation behind the Israeli government first allowing, then compelling, the Druze to enlist (which resulted in strong protests, including violence, by many Druze) was a divide-and-conquer mentality, that wished to pit Palestinian minorities (Druze, Christians, Bedouin) against the majority Muslims. Druze are indeed a sect of Muslims and Arab, but Israel fostered Druze alienation from Palestinian Muslims mainly in order to weaken their feelings of Palestinian Arab nationalism. All this is brilliantly documented in Hillel Cohen's book. The attempt to create an ethnic Druze "community" in Israel which would not see itself as Muslim, or would not see itself as a sect of Islam, has paid off for Israel. Although, the Druze have complained bitterly that they are not treated as equals to Jews, despite their military service, many of them take pride in their military service, and that they are recognized as a separate religious community.

By the way, the Wikipedia article on the Druze in Israel, which looks like it could have been written by the Israeli government press office, mentions that the Druze themselves wanted compulsory enlistment. This is true for their leaders, but what the article does not say -- and again, what Cohen demonstrates through the documentary record -- is that they were largely bought off with the carrot and the stick method, and that any declarations of support for matters of interest to Palestinians was met with strong resistance by more accomodating members of the community and the government.

Once again, this is a classic case of how a majority pits the minority's minorities against it.