Jewish organizations in the United States are banding together in a campaign to block members of Keren Kayemet L’Israel / Jewish National Fund from carrying out a plan to buy land in Judea and Samaria to expand and develop existing Israeli communities.
The board of KKL-JNF, the Israeli arm of the Diaspora-based Jewish National Fund, is scheduled to vote Thursday this week (April 22) on the issue, according to a report published in Haaretz.
The board this past February approved by one vote the allocation of NIS 38 million ($11.6 million) in funds for the purchases. Hadassah abstained.
Leaders of the Reform and Conservative American Jewish movements have expressed deep concern that the change in policy will be approved at Thursday’s vote, and working hard to prevent that from happening, even though the resolution is aimed solely at helping already-existing Israeli communities.
The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 precisely for the purpose of buying and developing land for use by Jews in pre-state Israel. In Hebrew, the organization is “Keren Kayemet L’Israel” and is, in fact, today separate from the US-based Jewish National Fund.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, was quoted by Haaretz as saying if passed, the new policy will be “seen as a clear break from a long-standing policy that this institution, owned by the Jewish people, is no longer operating along a consensus and has gone with a rogue extremist agenda.”
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, president of the Conservative movement’s Zionist division, Mercaz Olami, said however that the issue is not really about left vs. right but rather about politics. “The Israeli citizens that elect a Knesset should be the ones determining land policy and deciding what is suitable for land purchase, not the National Institutions,” he said.
According to Haaretz, former CEO of the Conservative Movement in Israel, Yizhar Hess, has also been urging global Jewish community leaders and rabbis to “help in defeating what we consider to be a partisan act which violates long-standing principles related to KKL and the National Institutions.”
The two movements are together pressuring at five major American Jewish organizations – Hadassah, Na’amat, WIZO, Maccabi USA and B’nai Brith – to oppose the resolution Thursday.
All five organizations hold seats on the KKL Board of Directors, which is also comprised of representatives of Israeli political parties and international Jewish organizations.
These five NGOs act as Diaspora members representing the so-called National Institutions, a group that also includes the World Zionist Organization (WZO), Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel, and which is represented on the board in the same proportions as those seated in the World Zionist Congress.
In general, most major American Jewish organizations tend towards a liberal stance both politically and religiously.
There has been no hue and cry, for example, over KKL-JNF’s project for multicultural coexistence in Israel – clearly not an issue of land purchase or development.
The organization also invests a great deal of resources in the renewable energy sector, an issue that may be related to land conservation and development but certainly has no direct connection to it.