Reform Slams Knesset Plan for JNF Land

By Rebecca Spence

Published July 25, 2007, issue of July 27, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

America’s largest Jewish denomination is issuing calls for the Israeli Knesset to reverse course on a controversial piece of legislation declaring that Jewish National Fund lands can be leased only to Jews.

The legislation, introduced by three Israeli Knesset members, passed last week in a vote of 64-16 in its first reading. In order for the bill, which would bar JNF lands from falling into Arab hands, to officially become law, it needs to come before the Knesset two more times.

This week, the Reform Movement joined a growing chorus of calls from left-wing Jewish groups roundly condemning the bill as racist and undemocratic.

“It’s very hard to imagine any circumstance where a Jewish minority in any Diaspora country would accept with equanimity a bill that would forbid Jews from purchasing land,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Therefore it is essential that when the Jewish majority in Israel exercises power, it extend to others the rights it always demanded for itself when we were in the minority.”

Yoffie also expressed concern that if the bill were to pass, it could have far-reaching implications for Israel’s image on the global stage. “You can’t pass a bill that in democratic circles around the world will not be understood, and will bring condemnation on the heads of the Knesset and Israel leaders,” he said.

The JNF, a quasi-governmental body founded more than a century ago as a central Zionist state-building institution, owns 13% of Israeli lands. Historically, Diaspora Jews have contributed funds to JNF — often dropping pennies in their iconic blue tin collection boxes — in order for it to purchase Palestinian lands, often owned by absentee landlords, to create a Jewish homeland. In 1962, JNF reached an agreement with the State of Israel, allowing it to lease its land to Jews through the government’s Israel Land Authority.

In 2005, Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled in favor of a preliminary court decision mandating that the ILA cannot discriminate against Arab citizens by leasing only to Jews. The court hearing was a response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a legal group that defends civil rights in the Jewish state.

The recent Knesset bill is widely viewed as a means of circumventing the attorney general’s previous decision. It also may serve as a way of pre-empting an upcoming September court hearing on ACRI’s 2005 petition, according to the group’s chief legal counsel, Dan Yakir.

“If the petition passed, it would force the Israel Land Authority to market JNF land to Arabs as well as Jews,” Yakir said. Yakir explained that the court’s previous ruling was not binding, and the forthcoming decision would mark a final ruling.

Despite the outcry from liberal groups — including the New Israel Fund and Ameinu, the American affiliate of the World Labor Zionist Movement — JNF is standing by the Knesset bill.

“We were founded to create a Jewish state, and the lands that we bought were part of our covenant with the Jewish people to protect and care for the land in perpetuity,” said Jodi Bodner, a spokeswoman for the JNF in America. “We need to protect the dollars and pennies of those who sacrificed themselves.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.