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Will Greek islands become a ‘haven for the Jewish people’ in case of an emergency?

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission.

A representative of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party raised an initiative last week to purchase islands in Greece using money from the Jewish National Fund “for the good of the Jewish people.”

Avri Steiner – the representative of party Kahol Lavan on the board of directors of Himnuta, a company owned by the Jewish national fund – brought the unusual proposal to the board last Thursday. According to several sources who were present at the meeting, Steiner, who was appointed to the board by Gantz, argued that the islands should be purchased “to create a haven for the Jewish People in case of emergency, as a place for Jewish refugees in times of war.”

The proposal was met with sweeping opposition and disdain by most participants. Sources who were present at the meeting said that only one board member refused to relate to the initiative – Nachi Eyal, who is considered to be a close associate of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Steiner is the former owner of a law office specializing in contractor licenses turned political activist. According to some of his acquaintances, he often presents himself as a Likud member. Steiner was appointed as Kahol Lavan’s representative to the board last year following coalition agreements regarding staffing of positions in the JNF and similar institutions. People who have spoken with Steiner have heard him say that he was appointed at Gantz’s behest after the two had a chance meeting. Sources said that Steiner had talked to Gantz about the initiative to purchase the islands “for the benefit of the Jewish people.”

According to sources in Himnuta, Steiner officially raised this proposal for the first time at Thursday’s board meeting, after holding unofficial personal talks with several board members. One board member was under the impression that Steiner was purchasing the islands as part of a doomsday scenario in which the state is annihilated. Another board member thought that Steiner was proposing finding a place to send refugees “in case Israel comes under heavy bombardment.”

Steiner did not clarify at the meeting whether he had already looked into specific locations in Greece for this initiative or whether he was raising a general idea that was not yet focused on a specific deal. One participant at the meeting said, “Avri was told that the idea contradicted the JNF charter and the founding documents of Himnuta. According to those documents, Himnuta and the JNF are not mandated to purchase land outside of Israel. His response was: ‘So what, we’ll change the charter.’ It was surreal.”

Steiner has recently disseminated written material about his proposed plan to several people. One of these people said that the documents do not refer to any specific location or deal, nor do they mention the projected cost of the initiative.

Nachi Eyal, the only board member who failed to oppose the initiative, was appointed to the board as a representative of the religious Zionist parties before the slate was split into Yamina and Religious Zionism. Eyal was formerly a Knesset candidate for Bennett’s former New Right party. He is still considered to be close to the prime minister, despite maintaining strong ties to the Religious Zionism party.

According to one board member, the board’s chairman, Ze’ev Neuman of Yisrael Beiteinu, was surprised by Eyal’s silence during the meeting. He admonished him, claiming that his silence indicated support for the idea. Eyal maintained his silence.

Avri Steiner did not respond to questions from TheMarker regarding the initiative.

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission.

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