MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) on Monday night accused Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) of “liquidating the JNF and is siphoning its revenues to support his pre-election economy.
Israeli coalition partners have been known to soften taxation and other economic hardships in pre-election times, to curry favor with the voters.
On Monday night, the Ministry of Finance distributed a new version of the JNF appropriation law which will be presented to the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday. The updated version effectively nationalizes the JNF, including, most importantly, its revenues. It subordinates the JNF to the Mandatory Tenders Law and states that 80% of its revenues each year will be transferred to the treasury.
The new law also stipulates that the JNF’s funds will be transferred directly to the state budget, rather than to national projects – without the participation of the JNF in those projects as was determined by the previous version of the law.
The JNF was founded at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1901 with Theodor Herzl’s support, to facilitate Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel. A non-profit organization, by 2007 the JNF owned 13% of the total land in Israel and took in about $500 million annually.
The JNF charter specifies reclamation of land for the Jewish people as its primary purpose, and over the years this was carried out in enormous tree planting projects, water reclamation, and land development.
“The government of Israel tramples on agreements that it signed with the JNF as recently as the previous budget, making clear that it cannot be trusted to honor its obligations,” MK Smotrich said in a statement Tuesday.
“There is no logic in this grab,” Smotrich said, suggesting that the Finance Ministry’s appetite had grown “after the JNF fulfilled its commitment and transferred some $630 million to the previous state budget.”
“This law nationalized the JNF and siphons generations’ worth of contributions from Jewish people to support narrow political ends. I cannot understand the eagerness of coalition members who are prepared—in a lightning move, to hand over to the Kulanu party billions of shekels, while delivering a fatal blow to the JNF,” Smotrich said.
“The entire process is ominous and improper, and I will do everything in my power to stop this madness,” Smotrich vowed.