The JNF was founded in 1901 and became registered as a charity in the UK in 1939. This took place during the period in which the British Mandate operated, implementing in effect the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to the massive advantage of the Jewish inhabitants and settlers. In fact, during that period of British rule, a parallel state was allowed/encouraged to grow in which Zionist groups took the lead, including the JNF.
In 1939, Britain accepted the JNF as a charity. At this time, the leader of the JNF was Yosef Weitz. From the early days, Weitz encouraged the buying of land and expulsion of Palestinian tenants. It’s worth remembering what had been said about the JNF just a decade earlier in the Hope Simpson Report, written in 1929 after a major uprising by Palestinians:
“…. the result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that land has been extra-territorialised. It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but, by the stringent provisions of the lease of the Jewish National Fund, he is deprived for ever from employment on that land.
It is impossible to view with equanimity the extension of an enclave in Palestine from which the Arabs are excluded. The Arab population already regards the transfer of lands to Zionist hands with dismay and alarm. These cannot be dismissed as baseless in light of the Zionist policy described above.”
The length of the quotation is justified by its prescient content. However, this report did not seriously affect British policy, and the JNF continued its land grab unabated.
With this cautionary statement on the record, the British nonetheless granted charitable status to the JNF in the UK. And Weitz knew exactly how he wanted to use it, as this quotation from his diary of 1940 shows:
“There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them… not one village must be left… for this goal funds will be found.”
Or consider this from the same period:” …only through population transfer will redemption come…there is no room for us with our neighbours…they (Arabs) are too many and too much rooted …. the only way is to cut and eradicate them from their roots…we must find a listening ear, first in America, then in Britain and then in the neighbouring countries. There the money will make it…”
It is abundantly clear how money donated abroad was to be used by the JNF: for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine called, euphemistically “redemption” of the land. The true purpose was known in 1939 when Britain first granted charitable status and it is even more abundantly clear today when the Charity Commission continues to support the JNF UK’s charitable status, regardless of the wealth of incriminating information given to it.
Nowadays, charities reap great financial benefit from their charitable status. Any UK taxpayer making a donation fills in a simple declaration and her/his donation is enhanced from the UK Treasury by 25%, so a gift of £100 becomes £125. Also charities don’t pay tax on most of their income if the money is used for charitable purposes – this is known as ‘charitable expenditure’.
How does the JNF abuse its charitable status?
- The JNF uses funds to further Israel’s expansionist policies not for charitable purposes. JNF worldwide services the policies of the state of Israel, in particular those related to the “settlement” of the land by Jewish people. Charitable acts should benefit the whole population, but JNF adheres to the exclusivist philosophy of the state and its projects benefit Jewish citizens only, not Palestinian citizens of Israel, except for a small number of tokenistic investments made in the Naqab.
- The JNF operates to advance an apartheid regime. It is worth remembering that in 2018 Israel passed the Nation State Law, elevating discrimination to constitutional level; it also rejected a Bill proposing Equality for all its citizens, spelling out what Palestinians have known from the state’s inception – it is an apartheid regime. JNF UK says it is “100% Israel”, clearly embracing the ideology of the state by such a declaration.
- The JNF abuses the rule that charitable acts must be primarily beneficial. The benefits of charities’ work must outweigh any harm caused. The JNF in East Jerusalem (via Himnuta, its proxy) and in the Naqab massively damage the local population.
- The JNF UK uses funds in contexts and ways that would be illegal in the UK. The Charity Commission states that charities working abroad cannot engage in actions which would be deemed unacceptable in the UK. The JNF UK operates in the Naqab in new towns where the Admissions Committee Law applies. This law means that citizens of Israel cannot just buy a house and go to live in a new town. They must apply, be vetted and selected as “suitable” – a code for racial profiling of residents. Such a law in the UK is unimaginable.
Can a charity, like the JNF UK, “exploit” a regulatory system that is content to be “exploited”?
A lot depends on the lead set at the top of the organisation and the government.
William Shawcross was Head of the UK’s Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018; he has also been a Director of the Henry Jackson think-tank. During his leadership of the Charity Commission, that regulatory body has been accused of “undue scrutiny” of Islamic charities within reputable Third Sector press.
It doesn’t stop there: more recently, (February 2021) the Muslim Council of Britain objected to the Conservative Government policy of non-engagement with it, despite Sage scientists praising the work of the MCB in the pandemic and its being more highly trusted by many Muslim groups than is the Tory leadership. MCB has asked whether “similar faith-based, democratic bodies are excluded in this way” at a time when there is concern about the levels of vaccine uptake among members of minority communities in the UK. (see this from the Guardian)
Currently, also as reported in the Guardian, (February 2021) leading UK human rights organisations have threatened to boycott a government-sponsored review of the Prevent programme because Shawcross has been appointed to lead it. In a joint statement, 17 groups, including Liberty, Amnesty International and the Runnymede Trust, said the appointment of Shawcross showed that the review was there to “simply rubber-stamp” the controversial and divisive strategy, and they would not contribute to the exercise.
During the Shawcross leadership of the Charity Commission, campaigners formally challenged the charitable status of the JNF. Detailed and well-evidence complaints did not succeed. The last complaint (2018) highlighted the fact that British Park, a “gift” from JNF UK to Israel, lies over ethnically cleansed land of three villages, including Ajjur. The representative of a family from Ajjur presented her deeds of ownership, tax records and proof of purchase of land dating back to a period before the Nakba. The family did not sell their land to the JNF: they were driven out in 1948 and Israel confiscated the land by force, transferring it to the JNF.
Even this case was rebuffed by the Charity Commission who said the landowner did not have “standing” (i.e. the right to challenge). So, the Commission made no comment on the veracity of the deeds presented, did not investigate whether this UK charity was converting stolen land for its own benefit and effectively shielded the JNF UK from further scrutiny.