Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dror Etkes on JNF's "Blatant Hypocrisy"

Note: the following was posted after yom tov ended in Israel, so no criticisms about violating yom tov are relevant:

From Ynetnews

Jnf's Blatant Hypocrisy

Dror Etkes

October 4, 2007

It appears that the High Court discussion over the insistence of the Jewish National Fund, which controls about 13 percent of land in Israel, on its right to continue its policy of refraining from leasing out land to Arabs will soon reach the final stretch. JNF's claims in response to the petition of Arab citizens, who it refuses to lease out land to, is that the land it owns is not national land, but rather, assets that were bought for their full price for Jews only, and therefore the JNF has the right to refuse to lease them out to non-Jews.

This argument can be easily disproved, as there are many immigrants who are not Jewish in accordance to Jewish law, but who are nonetheless residing on land leased out to them by the JNF. It is therefore clear that the relevant criterion for JNF officials is not "who is Jewish?", but rather, "who is Arab?", with the main objective guiding the JNF (even though it is unpleasant to declare this openly) is to continue preventing Arabs in the State of Israel from enjoying equal access to land resources. By reading the response provided by JNF representatives to the High Court, it is easy to identify the contradiction in the way JNF presents its connection to the State of Israel. On the one hand, its attorneys claim that it is an independent body completely detached from the State of Israel's official institutions, and therefore is not at all obligated to adhere to the values of civilian equality. On the other hand, they demand not to undermine the fund's status – a result of the exceptional official powers it enjoys via the law pertaining to the relationship between the World Zionist Organization, which JNF is part of, and the State of Israel. Therefore JNF is attempting to enjoy both worlds: Maintain the immense official power trusted in its hands, while at the same time arguing that its blatantly discriminatory policy does not undermine the values of equality.

Recently it appears that JNF's legal advisors realized that the likelihood that High Court judges would be able to refrain from demanding a change to the status quo is low, and therefore they decided to shift to the gimmick phase. And so, after the PR people and spokespersons exhausted the utilization of the dead in their services, headed by Herzl, who passed away in 1904 and whose entire public activity took place in cultural, political, and economic contexts that are vastly different than those faced by the sovereign State of Israel today, they turned to enlisting the living for their cause. The public stage saw the return of the "Second Intifada Army Chief," Moshe Ya'alon, who is seeking along with a group of dignitaries to join as a respondent to the petition, as someone who may be harmed as a former and present donor to JNF. This is the same Ya'alon who in an August 2002 interview with Ha'aretz spoke about "etching Palestinian consciousness" and characterized himself as a "humanist, liberal, democrat, and seeking peace and security." And there, unsurprisingly, it turns out that the lessons of "democracy" passed on to Ya'alon during his long military service in the territories, occupied by Israel in 1967 but never annexed, are the same ones that continue to guide him to this day in his civilian activity West of the Green Line.

Palestinians are natives of this land

Through the political debate taking place within Israel, we discover time and again that many Israelis refuse to reconcile themselves to a basic historical truth, which apparently threatens the sense of national justice many of them were raised and educated with: The Palestinians are natives of this land and have been living here for generations, while the vast majority of Israelis are the descendents of immigrants who arrived here under various circumstances over the slightly more than past 100 years.

This prosaic fact, in and of itself, does not make the Palestinians nicer, more noble, or wiser than any other nation. It also doesn't make them right in every matter. However, the most important moral point derived from this fact is that the Palestinians too have a collective right to enjoy the limited land resources offered by this country. The Palestinians have the right to refuse to accept the monopoly that the State of Israel demands for itself in practice in all matters pertaining to shaping the physical space where both peoples are living.

While West of the Green Line the State of Israel trusted the process of "liberating the land" (that is, pushing out the Arabs) in the hands of an anachronistic body like the JNF, which adopts deliberate discrimination against Arab citizens, east of the Green Line it trusted the same mission in the hands of settlers who are acting with clear understanding that their methodical violations of the law are a price the State of Israel is willing to pay wholeheartedly, as long as the objective of banishing Arabs from as much West Bank land as possible is achieved.

The similar side to both stories is the enlistment of contractors to do the job and the privatization of official functions adopted by the State, while it rolls its eyes heavenwards and self-righteously each time someone dares characterize the State of Israel's policy as racist. And what if the Palestinians dare rebel and engage in another intifada? No problem, we'll call Ya'alon to come back and etch their consciousness.


Diana said...

"On the one hand, its attorneys claim that it is an independent body completely detached from the State of Israel's official institutions, and therefore is not at all obligated to adhere to the values of civilian equality."

Why does the JNF even exist??? Why wasn't it simply dissolved on May 15, 1948, and absorbed into the functions of the nascent Israeli state? The various militias were all forcibly dissolved. Ah, could it be that Ben Gurion realized that having armed gangs running around would threaten the authority and hence the viability of the state. But subcontracting the business of land expropriation suited his purposes...BG was nothing if not smart.

Isn't this somewhat analogous to a "Colonial National Fund" in the US - a body that existed during the colonial period for the purpose of buying land lived on by Native Americans?

I'm not sure it's the JNF being hypocritical here. It's the Israeli government.

The very existence of the NJF makes it difficult to take Israel seriously as modern state.

As you say, the Palestinians are no wiser or more moral for being natives. But when you look at what they are up against, which is not just a state, but an amorphous entity ("the Jewish people") that the Israeli state selectively deploys when convenient, it's easy to understand their frustration.

Diana said...


Another thought that occurred to me. Dror Etkes writes:

"The Palestinians are natives of this land and have been living here for generations, while the vast majority of Israelis are the descendents of immigrants who arrived here under various circumstances over the slightly more than past 100 years."

It strikes me that by couching his argument in terms of native title rights, this argument will never end. Native title is a swamp - of legal obfuscation, oneupmanship, and emotive guilt-tripping.

I agree with Etkes that AS ISRAELI CITIZENS the Arabs of Israel deserve equal treatment. I do not agree with his characterization of the injustice here as native title rights being trampled. The goal here should be civic equality, and not an endless rehashing of righting the wrongs of the past.

Anonymous said...


The JNF was never a militia, and I have no idea why you would think it ever was. The JNF is and was a PRIVATE charity agency entrusted with purchasing land in the Holy Land for Jews, generally accomplished at exhorbinat prices.

As a matter of fact, JNF owned land around Jerusalem has been built on by Arabs, without permission from the JNF nor with the required building permits of the government. They are essentially squatting. The JNF has every right and reason to evict those Arabs and demolish the structures they have erected on land they don't own, but has thus far, done nothing.

Whether you and the rest of the leftists writing here do or don't "take Israel seriously as a modern state", matters not to the rest of us. We know that if you had your way, there would be no Israel, and in it's place there would be yet another jihadist state called Palestine, where if allowed to exist at all, Jews would be a minority dominated and humiliated by their muslim masters.

Richard said...

I have a right wing commenter who enjoys noting that I publish posts at my blog on Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. But he assumes I'm an apikoros & don't attend shul which isn't the case. He seems to believe that Jews attend shul 24 hrs a day on yuntof & that if they're writing a blog post they're an atheist--which of course further discredits one in his view.