The accounts below remind us that the campaign to oppose the JNF has been pursued with great vigour and imagination in Scotland for many years. Notable victories have been won in the face of heavy legal threats and the Scottish campaigners have shown the rest of us what can be achieved. A Scottish member of the Stop the JNF group explains.
Every JNF Scotland public event without exception was contested between 2001 and 2014, after which the JNF ended pre-publicity for their events. Large protests greeted each glitzy fundraiser, with the Israeli Ambassador and guest speakers at the Glasgow Hilton in 2001 (Bill Clinton), 2002 (Shaul Mofaz), 2004 (Ruby Wax), 2006 (Colin Powell), 2008 (Goldie Hawn).
In relation to publicity for the 2004 protests specifically, the JNF’s expensive London lawyers threatened Scottish PSC with legal action for damages but hastily retreated when we invited them to meet in court. We invited them there to debate before a judge or jury whether the JNF are a racist organisation and a criminal conspiracy.
The JNF’s bullying letter demanded SPSC stop calling the JNF racists and that we cease, apologise and pay substantial damages. Failure to respond “positively” would trigger legal action against us at “12 noon on 25 March 2004…for damages, costs” and a court order forcing us to stop calling the JNF racist. It was an empty threat.
We crafted the response to the JNF’s lawyers that aggravated our offence such that our only defence in court would have been that we spoke the truth. Unless we could prove the truth of what we had written – that the JNF is a racist organisation involved in ethnic cleansing – our response would have been a judicial suicide note.
This is what we said:
PRESS STATEMENT BY SCOTTISH PALESTINE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN
The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign deplores the decision of the entertainer Ruby Wax to appear at a Jewish National Fund dinner in Glasgow this coming Sunday. We have called on all individuals and groups opposed to discrimination on ethnic grounds to join us in protest at this event.
As a result of some of our publicity for this protest, the SPSC has been threatened with legal action by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). A letter to our campaign from solicitors acting for the JNF is attached. They have demanded a full retraction and apology, as well as substantial damages and legal costs. None of this will be forthcoming. In addition, the SPSC web site was temporarily disabled this week as a result of a complaint from the JNF to our service providers.
The content to which the JNF objected included the following quotes:
“Ruby Wax to support ethnic cleansing in Glasgow”
“the Jewish National Fund (JNF) raises funds for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”
“The JNF is a quasi-official organisation of the Israeli state that exists to raise funds for the acquisition and development of land for Jewish settlement. As such, it provides one of the main mechanisms through which Israel’s system of ethnic segregation and discrimination is enforced.”
This final paragraph is a restatement of the findings of the 1998 report of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. Paragraph 237 notes “grave concern that the status Law of 1952 authorizes the World Zionist organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries, including the Jewish National Fund, to control most of the land in Israel, since these institutions are chartered to benefit Jews exclusively…The Committee takes the view that large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination”. (Our emphasis).
As the report implies, the JNF has been a major beneficiary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians perpetrated by the Israeli state. Following the removal of the inhabitants, the state “privatised” their lands by a transfer of ownership to the JNF and related bodies. Such lands may not under the JNF charter, be returned or even sold or leased to their original owners. Millions of Palestinians languish in refugee camps as a result.
The Historical background to the JNF’s activities
According to Israeli historians, Josef Weitz, the head of the JNF lands division during the 1948 war, was directly involved in the forced removal of Palestinians. The following quote will suffice to indicate his thinking: “There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries … all of them; not one village, not one tribe, should be left.”
The JNF has frequently broken international law by dispossessing peasant cultivators from their customary lands. Most of the lands acquired by the JNF since 1948 are lands which belonged to the refugees forced to flee during the Nakba or lands expropriated by the government subsequently from Arab citizens. Once acquired by the JNF, land becomes an inalienable part of the Jewish national heritage – that is, it may not be sold or leased to non-Jews.
The JNF has the right of first refusal when any public lands not owned by it outright are sold or transferred. The JNF has exclusive responsibility for land development. Non-Jews, regardless of their citizenship status, are not eligible for JNF services. This means they cannot lease or sublease JNF-owned lands and generally cannot even work as hired labourers on these lands.
The JNF supports the Israeli occupation and helps to finance the illegal settlements in the territories of the West Bank. Since 1978 most JNF activities have been involved in acquiring and developing land for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The organisation has collaborated with the Israeli authorities in expropriating Palestinian lands, razing cultivated fields and bulldozing orchards, and, in addition, denying equal access to water sources.
No Hiding Place
Over the three years 2012 to 2014, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign led vigorous all-day protests against JNF midsummer fundraisers at Cowans Law shooting range in a remote part of Ayrshire. The JNF had retreated to this isolated spot after annual demonstrations at Bonnyton Golf Course led to them being unwelcome there. The protests at Cowans Law led to that venue also ending its relationship with the JNF. The 2014 event prompted a failed attempt to defeat the protests by seeking a criminal conviction for assault against one organiser that ended in humiliating defeat, a reprimand from the sheriff that the prosecution should never have been launched since it was clear from broadcast footage that no crime had been committed.
The Great Deceivers
The impression one would gain from JNF publicity is of a benevolent charity whose main activity seems to be planting trees. The reality is very different. The SPSC calls upon the Charities Commission to investigate the charitable status of the JNF and to verify that it meets the requirements of the commission.
The SPSC is a small organisation with limited resources which opposes all forms of racial or ethnic discrimination. We reject all attempts by the JNF to silence the voices calling for justice.
To end with a memorable quotation from the SPSC response to the demand for damages that JNF lawyers made: “Hell will freeze over before we part with one penny to your Fund, which would only go towards the further violation of the human rights of Palestinians.”