What do you call an organization that teaches children an exclusive religious or ethnic nationalism and promotes war and other forms of violence to get its way?
Many people would say an extremist group or a right-wing cult. Many people would think we were talking about something like the Ku Klux Klan.
But while the KKK did have a youth corps where children were taught “patriotism” and “Christian values,” but weren’t “brainwashed” – in the words of one “imperial wizard” – we are talking about a group the Canada Revenue Agency finds worthy of awarding tax-deductible status for “charitable” donations.
The Jewish National Fund would also deny “brainwashing” children, but there is no doubt it tries to convince young minds of its exclusivist worldview.
JNF Montreal recently organized a “tree-a-thon” with the stated aim of restoring lands damaged by last year’s forest fires in Israel. Participants were promised “great prizes, great food, great fun,” and students were told they could “earn community service hours.”
The registered “charity” offers various youth education initiatives promoting Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. JNF Canada’s website boasts of how it helps young people “forge an everlasting bond with the land of Israel.”
The JNF has long promoted an expansionist vision of the “land of Israel” – a term that can be found on the Blue Boxes that it uses in fundraisers.
Maps on JNF Blue Boxes distributed in recent years encompass the occupied West Bank. The first map on the Blue Box, designed in 1934, depicted an area reaching from the Mediterranean into present-day Lebanon and Jordan.
Blue Boxes – tins for collecting money – are the mainstay of JNF youth outreach. Over the last century millions of them have been distributed around the world.
An official description explains: “Since its debut in 1901 as JNF’s official fundraising pushke [collection box], the Blue Box has represented JNF and its efforts to develop the land and roads, build communities, strengthen agriculture and create water reservoirs in Israel. It is also a vehicle for educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.”
While youth pursuing “community service” sounds benign, the JNF is, in fact, a racist, colonial institution that has no place in the 21st century. An owner of 13 percent of the land in Israel and with influence over much of the rest, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens who make up one-fifth of the state’s population.
According to a United Nations report from 1998, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”
For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In 2009, JNF Canada’s then head Frank Wilson explained, the “JNF are the caretakers of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”
In addition to racist land-use policies, JNF Canada lobbies for war.
Shortly after Israel killed 2,200 Palestinians – mostly civilians – in Gaza during 2014, the JNF brought Shaul Mofaz to speak in Toronto.
As well as being a former defense minister, Mofaz was in charge of the Israeli military from 1998 to 2002. In that capacity, he oversaw the brutal oppression of the second intifada, including a series of attacks on the main cities in the occupied West Bank.
In 2007, the JNF sponsored a cross-Canada speaking tour by Zeev Raz, a colonel who led Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor and who has subsequently worked for Israel’s arms industry. The aim of the tour was to build momentum for an attack against Iran.
“Sanctions against Iran are not effective,” Raz argued. “Sanctions are too vulnerable to cheating. The only solution to the Iran problem is for there to be an effort of the US and other forces to invade Iran from the ground.”
JNF Canada has described 2016 as “our best year yet.” More than $21 million was raised.
Similar to other formerly powerful, but now discredited, institutions, the JNF seeks to convince vulnerable young minds of its racist worldview.
It’s time to free the children and abolish the JNF. Or at least revoke its tax-deductible status.