Many of us still remember the blue Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund in which our parents would toss coins in order to “redeem the Land of Israel” and fulfill the Zionist dream. Then, KKL-JNF was instrumental to the Zionist project of building the State of Israel. Today, incredibly, it endangers it.
For years, the operations of KKL-JNF, which manages land for Jews only, has been a dangerous anti-democratic anachronism in a country where 20% of the citizenry is non-Jewish. But the new decision by the KKL-JNF’s executive committee to officially appropriate funds in order to purchase land for new settlement expansion in the West Bank is uniquely outrageous and harmful.
KKL-JNF is now acting in a fashion that violates international law, shows total disregard for the rights of Palestinians and dangerously undermines Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people, along with the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The latest decision deepens the rift between Israel and most American Jews who support the vision of two states for two peoples and look at the settlement expansion project as a moral and strategic disaster. The Reform movement, the largest denomination of North American Jews, strongly condemned the KKL-JNF’s recent decision. JNF-USA, which is legally distinct from KKL-JNF, should take a clear stand against its Israeli counterpart’s new policy.
As a Zionist in all my heart and soul, I am appalled at the degree in which the term Zionism became a derogatory concept among the younger generation in the United States. Instead of Zionism being presented as the national movement of the Jewish people, deserving of the right to sovereignty like all people including the Palestinian people, Zionism is been perceived by many as a tool of occupation and racism.
After all, Zionism and national movements in general grew from liberal values, long before they were perverted, appropriated and abused by right-wing chauvinism. A damaging circular process has been created in which, in the name of Zionism, harmful, destructive acts are committed that cannot be reconciled with fundamental liberal values. Then, when liberal Jews dare to speak out again such immoral policies, they find themselves painted unfairly as “anti-Israel” or even “antisemitic” – further alienating them from Israel and Zionism.
We need to break this cycle, for the sake of Israel and our relationships with our friends and partners around the world.
The time has come for KKL-JNF to hand over the lands it holds to the Israel Lands Administration and to invest its resources in developmental and educational projects that improve the lives of all Israeli residents living on the periphery inside the Green Line – as the American JNF does.
The time has also come for us to remind ourselves what modern Zionism truly means as formulated by the founders of the state in the Declaration of Independence. Zionism is the formula that preserves, on the one hand, the connection between the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and on the other hand, constitutes an equal home for all Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of the state, regardless of religion, race, sex, ethnicity and sexual preference. Ultimately, we know that this formula can only be maintained via an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that allows for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
KKL-JNF’s decision to help the settlement movement to expand further onto occupied Palestinian territory and to subvert the possibility of peace is not true Zionism – it imperils the Zionist dream.
**The article was published on The Jerusalem Post, 18 February 2021.