The Charity Commission has announced that it will examine whether “regulatory action is required” in respect of the Jewish National Fund UK following Islamophobic statements by its longstanding head, Samuel Hayek. This coincides with the revelation that the Honorary Treasurer of the JNF UK, Gary Mond, had expressed support for Islamophobic statements in his social media postings. In the past, the Charity Commission has summarily dismissed calls to investigate the JNF’s funding for projects that, in clear violation of international law and the professed policy of successive British governments, have promoted the expansion of Jewish settlements and their armed vigilantes.
It is not Hayek’s and Mond’s repugnant views that make the JNF racist. Racism is integral to the JNF. It exists to promote the Israeli state’s policy of building Jewish ethnic supremacy in Israel and the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinians. As the Charity Commission turns its attention to the racism of JNF officials, Bedouin villagers in the Negev are resisting their dispossession by the JNF’s forest planting which its fundraising publicity, in this country, claims to be for environmental improvement. On 15th January, the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported: “Police disperse hundreds of protesters with stun grenades and tear gas, as Israel’s Negev erupts in protest over Jewish National Fund’s tree-planting on land used for agriculture by local Bedouin.” As an editorial of the same newspaper (13th January) stated: “Only the naive can believe that planting the trees near the Bedouin villages Mulada and Sawa area was meant to celebrate Tu Bishvat (Jewish Arbor Day) or to improve the ecological fabric of the Negev.” The JNF, through a front organisation called Himnuta, is also pressing to expel Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. These land confiscations which will cause further bloodshed stem from Israel’s policy of concentrating the Palestinian population into ever smaller urban ghettos.
In an announcement last year, the JNF stated its intentions openly to acquire land across the Green Line, dispensing with the services of proxy agents and signalling an escalation of land confiscation from Palestinians.
The Charity Commission is a British government agency that approves the JNF UK’s fundraising as a charitable activity. However, the Commission far from ensuring that the JNF complies with charity laws and regulations has assisted the JNF to circumvent them. The Commission’s 2005 report on the JNF following its “review visit”, noted: “We recommended that the trustees review the JNFCT [JNF Charitable Trust] website and all other information they publish. They should try to ensure that such information refrains from indicating a moral/political support for the state of Israel, but rather explains the focus of the charitable activities currently being funded by the Trust”. The Commission did not demand that the JNF cease to fund projects that support the Israeli state but merely that it should describe them differently because “such language has arguably given ammunition to those wanting to question the legitimacy of the charity’s work”.
In 2018, that legitimacy was challenged by Kholoud Al Ajarma, a Palestinian woman. She was from a family that had lived in one of the seven villages that, in 1948, Zionist forces ethnically cleansed and were subsequently planted over by the JNF UK sponsored British Park to prevent the villagers’ return. The Commission was able to protect the JNF from scrutiny by successfully arguing at a First Tier Tribunal hearing that Ms Al Ajarma had no legal standing to challenge the Commission’s original decision to dismiss her case, which had called for the deregistration of the JNF UK as a charity. In a subsequent correspondence with a person querying the JNF’s charitable pretention, the Commission wrote: “In simple terms, the test for charitable status is a test of what an organisation was set up to do, not what it does in practice”. For a regulatory body that supposedly exists to monitor what charities do in practice, such an argument is risible. It is also untenable even on its own terms. The JNF is doing precisely what it was set up do and, by any standard definition of the term, it is not charitable. It promotes taking over Palestinian land to make it available exclusively for Jewish settlement. This is now widely acknowledged to be instrumental in the Palestinians’ ethnic cleansing.
Given the Commission’s track record, the outcome of its current inquiry into the JNF leadership’s racism can be safely predicted. It will recommend to the organisation how to revamp its tarnished image. What the Commission will not do is expose to the British public the JNF’s role in entrenching Israel’s system of apartheid. Like Humpty Dumpty, the JNF has had a fall. The Charity Commission can be counted on to help put it together again but it will be still racist.