Tag Archives: Jewish National Fund

Anti-racist groups silent on JNF

JEWISH NATIONAL FUND OF CANADA - JNF honours Dr. Max Glassman

Parliament recently heard a petition criticizing the only explicitly racist registered Canadian charity. Oddly, this important event occurred without help from self-declared antiracist organizations.

Earlier this year Independent Jewish Voices launched a Parliamentary E-Petition that begins by noting that the Jewish National Fund “engages  in discriminatory practices as its landholdings are chartered for exclusively Jewish ownership, lease, and benefit, as noted by the United Nations, the US State Department, a former attorney general of Israel, and the JNF itself.” NDP National Revenue Critic Pierre-Luc Dusseault agreed to sponsor the petition and it far surpassed the needed number of signatures so it was read into the official record. Within 45 days of Dusseault reading the petition in the House of Commons Justin Trudeau’s government was required to formulate an official response to this “call upon the Minister of National Revenue to revoke JNF Canada’s charitable status if found to be in violation of the Income Tax Act and CRA guidelines and policies.”

Last week National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier responded to the petition without answering the substance of the claims. She stated, “the CRA’s Charities Directorate works and makes decisions regarding a Canadian charity’s status independently from the minister of national revenue.”

Since a CBC expose on the JNF in January there has been an explosion of critical commentary about the organization and support for a campaign that has been simmering below the radar for many years. Montreal daily Le Devoir published a damning article  on the JNF and former donors have published personalized critiques of the JNF in the Times of Israel, Ricochet and Socialist Project. There have been a dozen reports in other Israeli, Arab and left media and the CRA’s subsequent withdrawal  of Beth Oloth’s charitable status — due to its support of the Israeli military — elicited another round of international stories mentioning the CRA’s ongoing audit of the JNF.

For its part, the Canadian Jewish News has published at least five news reports on different elements of the JNF audit. One story focused on IJV gaining support  from politicians for its Stop the JNF campaign. Federal NDP MP Niki Ashton, Ottawa city councillor Shawn Menard and members of the Ontario legislature Rima Berns-McGown and Joel Harden have endorsed  Stop the JNF. Numerous other high-profile individuals, such as Svend Robinson, Noam Chomsky and Libby Davies, as well as over 40 organizations, have endorsed the campaign. Most of the organizations are Palestine focused, but there’s also a number of peace, labour and religious groups. What is startling, however, is the lack of support from self-described antiracist groups.

I was unable to find any criticism of the JNF from Antiracist Canada, Canadian Anti-Hate Network or the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. As such, I emailed to ask if they had ever criticized the JNF. I wrote:

“Hi, I wanted to ask if you are aware of Independent Jewish Voices’ StopJNFCanada Parliamentary E-Petition? To my knowledge the Jewish National Fund is the only explicitly racist institution sanctioned by the Canadian state to give tax write-offs, but, I can find no record of your organization criticizing the JNF’s explicit, structural, racism. Have I missed something? Could you direct me to a statement your organization has made critical of the JNF? If not are you willing to add your voice to their growing campaign to rescind the charitable status of this explicitly racist organization?”

Only Antiracist Canada responded by saying they knew little about the JNF and they would look into it. A week later I asked Canadian Anti-Hate Network and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation whether they “condemn anti-Palestinian racism as conceived and carried out by the Jewish National Fund.” They again failed to respond.

How could any self-respecting antiracist organization refuse to criticize the JNF? Its racism  is well documented and can be discerned from its twitter tag. Furthermore, the JNF is not a marginal organization. The century-old organization has nine offices across Canada and has raised nearly $100 million over the past five years. A number of Canadian prime ministers, including the last two, have attended or spoken at JNF fundraisers.

Any self-respecting antiracist organization should oppose the JNF. As internationally recognized author and physician Gabor Maté put it, “Canadian taxpayers  have no reason to subsidize an organization that makes land available only to one ethnic group, excluding and dispossessing the aboriginal population.”

 

This article was initially published by Canadian Dimension.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel

Why would NDP foreign affairs critic legitimize Israeli racism?

Should a social democratic party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs address the Israel lobby’s top annual event and legitimize an explicitly racist institution? These are questions those currently vying for leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party must be pressed to answer.

According to the Canadian Parliament’s recently released disclosure of members’ sponsored travel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paid for the New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hélène Laverdière to speak on a panel at its conference last year.

The notorious anti-Palestinian lobby group spent more than $740 on her flight and accommodation in Washington, DC.

Months after her AIPAC speech, Laverdière participatedin a Jewish National Fund tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem. During a visit to Israel with Canada’s governor general, Laverdière attended a ceremony with the fund’s world chairman Danny Atar and a number of other top officials.

The Jewish National Fund controls 13 percent of Israel’s land, which was mostly seized from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist militias during the 1947-1948 ethnic cleansing known to Palestinians as the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe.

The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says the Jewish National Fund “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

If Laverdière doesn’t trust the State Department or the UN’s assessments she could just read the Jewish National Fund’s own website.

Responding to Palestinian citizens’ attempts via the Israeli high court to live on land controlled by the Jewish National Fund, the website explicitly denies their right to do so, despite being supposedly equal Israeli citizens.

The court “has been required to consider petitions that delegitimize the Jewish People’s continued ownership” of the land. The website states that these lawsuits were “directed against the fundamental principles” on which the Jewish National Fund was founded.

The petitions to the court amount to a demand that the JNF, “which serves as trustee for the lands of the Jewish People,” no longer have the “right to make use of these lands for the continuation of the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel.”

It adds that over 80 percent of Israeli Jews “prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

It is a moral outrage that the New Democratic Party foreign affairs spokesperson would legitimize an organization that practices discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in Canada six decades ago.

Laverdière legitimizing the Jewish National Fund and AIPAC reflects the backroom politics that dominate the New Democratic Party. In fact, the issue of Palestinian rights goes to the very heart of democracy within the party.

During the 2015 general election, the New Democratic Party ousted several individuals from running or contesting nominations for parliament because they had defended Palestinian rights on social media.

In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as a party candidate in Nova Scotia because he accused Israel of committing war crimes during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza.

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed during the Israeli attack.

Leadership candidates must commit to respecting local party democracy and ending the purge against those who defend Palestinian rights. Standing up for Palestinian rights also represents popular will.

A February poll confirms that New Democratic Party members – and most Canadians – are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on that country.

According to the poll of 1,000 Canadians, almost 80 percent of those who expressed an opinion said they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.”

In the context of the recent UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank, respondents were also asked “do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?”

Eighty-four percent of New Democratic Party supporters responded they were open to sanctioning Israel.

Leadership contenders must be pressed to make their position on Palestinian rights reflect members’ views. A 16 May Facebook post by leading candidate Niki Ashton is an important step.

“For more than 60 years, Palestine has been struggling to simply exist,” Ashton wrote. She added that she was “honored to stand with many in remembering the Nakba” at a recent event in Montreal that was also “a rally in solidarity with those on hunger strike in Palestine today.”

Ashton added: “The NDP must be a voice for human rights, for peace and justice in the Middle East. I am inspired by all those who in our country are part of this struggle for justice.”

In response to criticism from Israel lobby groups and Conservative Party leadership contender Brad Trost, Ashton stood by her participation in the rally.

“One must speak out in the face of injustice, whether here at home or abroad,” she said, and called for Canada to support “a balanced position and a just peace in the Middle East.”

While Ashton’s move is an important step, grassroots activists shouldn’t be naïve about the array of forces, both within and outside the party, that prefer the status quo. Asking nicely will not spark much-needed change.

Before a “youth issues” leadership debate in Montreal in March, the Young New Democrats of Québec asked the party leadership to include a question about Palestine. They refused.

At the upcoming leadership debates Palestine solidarity activists within the party should press the issue.

Contenders need to answer if they believe it is okay for the New Democratic Party foreign affairs spokesperson to speak at AIPAC or legitimize an explicitly racist institution like the Jewish National Fund.

 

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Canada offers tax deduction for promoting ethnic nationalism, war

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.

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Filed under Canada and Israel