Fact-Checking the Jewish National Fund of Canada

My parents first met in 1945 on the subway cars of New York city. They were 16 years of age. Like many Zionist youth of the post-war era, they were dedicated to world peace. Emissaries of the Zionist youth movement (Hashomer Hatzair), they gave fiery speeches in support of Jews seeking safe haven in Palestine. The little blue and white tin they passed around the subway riders served to garner countless donations for the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a charitable organization devoted to purchasing and ‘reclaiming’ land in Palestine for Jews – for Jews only, that is.

Committed to the cause of social justice, but still blithe, my parents saw no contradiction in collecting money for the JNF. They were determined to settle on an Israeli kibbutz and build an equitable and racially inclusive social order. In the early 1950s, they immigrated to Israel, wide-eyed and idealistic. They had not yet discerned the true nature of the JNF: that for all its charitable ‘largesse’, it was (and remains to this day), a powerful handmaiden of Israel’s ethnocentric settler colonialism.

Political Awakenings

IDF soldiers expel the residents of Imwas from their village during the 1967 Six Day War. [photo: www.palestineremembered.com]

In time, my parents would see the light. They would discover that the site of their kibbutz – the Beisan valley – was originally owned by absentee (Ottoman) landlords, cultivated by Arab tenant farmers, and bought in 1936 cheaply by the JNF. The latter’s purchase typically entailed the forcible eviction of the indigenous inhabitants. Countless Palestinian families that had cultivated the Beisan land for generations suddenly became refugees, scattered across Jordan, Nazareth, and Jenin. The revelation shocked my parents, shattering their Zionist ideals and juvenile trust in the JNF.

Established in 1901, solely for the benefit of the ‘Jewish people’, the JNF’s terms and conditions stemmed from the biblical laws upon which its founders built their ideology. Seeking perpetuity in the ownership of Palestine, these men invoked “the jubilee laws of Leviticus 25:23” as God’s commandment: “the land must not be sold beyond reclaim.” “The land is Mine.” With this biblical fiat, the administrators of the JNF could assert that Palestine belonged to a Jewish god and that the Old Testament justified the evacuation of the indigenous Arab population in the interests of “God’s children.”

But if the promise of a great territorial bequest was first articulated to early Zionist settlers in celestial terms, it has, since those days, become a fact on the ground. Known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (literally, Israel’s enduring – read eternal – fund), the JNF is now the largest landowner in Israel, holding roughly 13% of the land on behalf of Jewish-Israelis and Jews living elsewhere. To be clear, this land-purchasing enterprise was scarcely the result of manna from heaven; rather, it was born of racist policies embedded in a pre-meditated plan to purge Palestine of its native inhabitants.

By 1947, Yossi Weitz, head of the JNF settler department, was impatiently asking, “Is it not now the time to get rid of them?” In January 1948, he was coordinating “the expulsion of Palestinians from various parts of the country.” That year, he established a transfer committee and ensured that uprooted and depopulated villages “would be covered with trees planted by the JNF.” This launched the JNF’s forestation strategy to obscure its land clearances under the canopy of “laudable” environmentalism.

Weitz’s comments, actions, and “green-washing” scheme clearly prefigure the activities of present-day JNF: a profit-driven enterprise benefiting an exclusive ethnic group, a real estate business parading under a PR campaign of eco-friendly good works while concealing its regular involvement in the violent expropriation of Palestinian land. Indeed, JNF cooperates with extremist settler organizations such as the right-wing NGO ELAD, abetting the forcible dislocation of Palestinians from their centuries-old homes. The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan offers an illustrative example of JNF’s implication in coercive demographic “transfer” and the project of de-Arabizing Palestine.

Our Tax Dollars Support JNF Canada

Do the JNF’s real estate acquisitions for Jews only concern Canadians? Indeed, they do. The organization has branched out globally. Its Canadian branch, JNF Canada, enjoys the status of a charitable organization, benefitting from our tax dollars and supporting the Israeli Army. We Canadians are thus (involuntarily) supporting JNF Canada’s complicity with JNF’s acts of expropriation, since JNF and JNF Canada are often indistinguishable. The brutal depopulation of the Latrun Salient is a case in point.

[Photo: Yosef Ohman]

On the eve of the 1967 war, under the pretence of ‘security’, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) sent a contingent to expel approximately 10,000 innocent Palestinian villagers from their native Latrun, a fertile area of the West Bank. The villagers were forced to flee at gunpoint, never to return on penalty of death. The expulsion constituted a flagrant war crime.

In 1973, JNF Canada established a sanctuary of pine forests on the very turf of these atrocities. It invested fifteen million dollars from Canadian donors to build a recreational park on the site of the razed villages. In so doing, it purposely covered up the IDF’s dark deeds of 1967 while barring the villagers from returning to their native home. Touted today as a recreational conservancy, and called Canada Park, this celebrated tourist attraction is in fact a Palestinian graveyard, whose tragic history JNF Canada buries under ‘charitable’ acts of forestation.

Most Canadians are not privy to this dark past; nor are they aware that “JNF Canada solicits millions of dollars in donations a year from Canadians, and through its registered charitable status, is able to issue tax receipts for these donations. This means that Canadian taxpayers are subsidizing JNF Canada’s activities,” including the construction in Canada Park “of a wildflower trail as recently as 2015.”

According to Israeli writer and peace activist Uri Davis, all Canadians “are implicated in complicity in a war crime, since the tax exempt status of the JNF of Canada allows donors to the JNF [to] present the JNF receipts representing their donations before their tax officers and get corresponding tax deductions. These tax deductions are drawn out of the commonwealth, namely out of the pocket of each tax paying person in Canada.” Canadian taxpayers fund up to 25 percent of JNF Canada’s budget.

Not only does JNF Canada obliterate the memory of war crimes committed on Palestinian turf, on Canadian soil it violates the rules of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) by implementing discriminatory (racist) policies; by supporting another country’s army (the IDF); and by exploiting its charitable status to further the cause of a foreign state.

Long suppressed by the mainstream media, JNF Canada’s multi-faceted violations are now coming to light. Canadians are thus taking note. Many are profoundly disturbed that their tax dollars have long been used to perpetuate egregious acts of social injustice. Such persons are growing in number and they are demanding with one voice that JNF Canada’s charitable status finally be revoked. •

Michelle Weinroth is a writer and teacher living in Ottawa.