Story-ideas-1011172

Israel wants a bigger cut from those blue tzedakah boxes

  • JTATobinTzedakaBoxes
Jews around the world dropped coins into the Jewish National Fund’s blue charity boxes to help Zionists build the Jewish State.
by ANDREW TOBIN | Nov 16, 2017

More than a century later, the JNF, known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, is rich. It owns 13 per cent of all the land in the country and brings in some $3 billion a year, most of it from land sales.

Israel now wants a big cut of that revenue to help fund state-run national infrastructure projects, and the government is pushing legislation that would force JNF to pay up. But JNF is holding out, saying it is doing a fine job developing the country on its own.

The government feels entitled to JNF’s money, which according to its mission is held in trust for the Jewish people. While JNF is not state run, the government appoints many of its officials and a public agency, the Israel Land Authority, manages and sells its land.

In the past, the government has often drawn on JNF funds to meet its needs, and is currently seeking to fund its two-year budget.

“The JNF sells lands every year and receives billions of shekels in return,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week at an emergency government meeting on the issue. “It is very important that this money be channelled to the needs of the State of Israel.”

In response, the JNF argues that it has earned the right to independence. Founded in 1901, it bought land and founded settlements on which Israel was established in 1948. Famed for planting hundreds of millions of trees in Israel, the not-for-profit group also focuses on land reclamation and development of communities outside central Israel.

“Mr Prime Minister, KKL-JNF invests billions every year in strengthening the periphery, education and the environment," JNF head, Dany Atar, tweeted, using an acronym that includes its Hebrew name. "It’s a shame that you, Bibi, are fulfilling Zahalka’s dream of dismantling the JNF.”

Jamal Zahalka, a Knesset member from the Arab Joint List party, is among those who criticise JNF for selling land exclusively to Jews.

Some would like to see JNF reformed for other reasons.

For over a century Jews around the world have contributed to the development of the land of Israel. Even before the establishment of the state our parents and grandparents collected funds in the Blue Box with the hope that one day they would have a Jewish homeland. The JNF (KKL) have ensured that these funds belonging to the Jewish people of the diaspora are used for afforestation, water projects, assisting kibbutzim and moshavim with land preparation making Israel a world leader in water conservation and afforestation and ensuring that all new olim have housing through JNFs land preparation.

For decades JNF has worked together with the Government of Israel through the Israel Lands Authority and JNF has for many years given funds to the Government of Israel. It is to say the least, a sorry state of affairs when the Government states it will collapse if JNF (KKL) does not hand over 65 per cent of its revenue.

In January, a scathing state comptroller report characterised JNF as wasteful, opaque and possibly compromised by conflicts of interest. According to the report, over the 15 months leading up to November 2015, the JNF spent just a third of its revenue on public projects to develop land compared to 43 per cent to “expand its own financial assets”. The comptroller recommended expanded government oversight of the organisation.

In response, JNF issued a list of planned reforms in May that Atar said would "deal courageously with the failures and the criticism and use this low point to create a significant turnaround in the life of the organisation".

Under pressure from the government, Atar agreed last month to hand over 2 billion shekels, or $570 million, in two instalments - one this year and one the next. But the JNF board of directors rejected the deal and instead offered to make just the first payment.

That led government ministers to advance legislation last Tuesday that would require JNF to transfer 80 per cent of its revenue to the Finance Ministry every year or lose its tax-exempt status. Coalition Chairman David Bitan reportedly told ministers that the government must collect the money, or it could collapse, forcing new elections.

Nonetheless, several coalition members opposed taking a hard line against the venerable Zionist institution, and later last Tuesday, the Knesset Finance Committee lowered the legislation's demand to 65 per cent of JNF's annual revenue.

For the time being, JNF has declared a freeze on the marketing and development of housing projects on the land it owns. On Thursday, the leaders of the World Zionist Organisation, which is affiliated with JNF, will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

Isla Feldman, chairperson of the JNF of South Africa, says: “For over a century, Jews around the world have contributed to the development of the Land of Israel. Even before the establishment of the State, our parents and grandparents collected funds in the Blue Boxes with the hope that one day they would have a Jewish homeland.”

She says the JNF (KKL) has ensured that these funds belonging to the Jewish people of the Diaspora, are used for afforestation, water projects, assisting kibbutzim and moshavim, with land preparation. Because of this, Israel is a world leader in water conservation and afforestation, and new olim are ensured of housing through JNF’s land preparation.

“For decades, JNF has worked with and given funds to the Israeli government - through the Israel Lands Authority. This is to say the least, a sorry state of affairs when the government states it will collapse if JNF (KKL) does not hand over 65 per cent of its revenue.”

While the JNF (KKL) have said they have frozen the development of housing projects, “I feel sure that there will be more meetings and discussions and hopefully both parties will settle amicably”, says Feldman.

The World Zionist Organisation is a large beneficiary of the JNF and this drastic cut will affect them, she explains.

“In South Africa, JNF will continue to work on our designated projects and I have been assured by JNF Israel that they will all be undertaken as previously advised,” explains Feldman.

“JNF of SA is the founder of Food and Trees for Africa, probably the largest and most successful environmental and food production organisation in SA. And our projects at the Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre in Mamelodi, educate 12 000 children every year in water conservation, energy and waste management. JNF in KwaZulu-Natal, have a similar successful educational project.”

(Additional reporting by SA Jewish Report)

Comment

  1. RadEditor - HTML WYSIWYG Editor. MS Word-like content editing experience thanks to a rich set of formatting tools, dropdowns, dialogs, system modules and built-in spell-check.
    RadEditor's components - toolbar, content area, modes and modules
       
    Toolbar's wrapper 
     
    Content area wrapper
    RadEditor's bottom area: Design, Html and Preview modes, Statistics module and resize handle.
    It contains RadEditor's Modes/views (HTML, Design and Preview), Statistics and Resizer
    Editor Mode buttonsStatistics moduleEditor resizer
      
    RadEditor's Modules - special tools used to provide extra information such as Tag Inspector, Real Time HTML Viewer, Tag Properties and other.
       

Injure

 

Follow us on

Newsletter