Vancouver protest of JNF gala exposes Canadian complicity with Israeli apartheid

“The JNF is not welcome on West Coast native land,” said Cynthia Taha of the Wet’suwet’en nation on Sunday, June 9, as Palestinians and their allies in Vancouver protested across the street from Schara Tzadek synagogue, where the Jewish National Fund was holding its annual gala; this year, the banquet honoured the Israeli military, featuring guest speaker Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani and the “IDF Chorus” as entertainment.

The Canada Palestine Association protests the gala annually. The Jewish National Fund is the subject of a Palestinian and international campaign to expose its activities, its deep connections to Israeli apartheid and racism, and challenge its tax-deductible, charitable status in Europe, Canada, the US and other countries.

In Canada, Yves Engler, Ron Saba and others have documented the Canada Revenue Agency’s continuing protection of the JNF’s charitable status and tax-deductibility, despite challenges from advocates for Palestinian rights.

The JNF is one of the founding institutions of the State of Israel – as Stop the JNF notes, “at the forefront of the colonial project of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.” The JNF directly owns 13% of the lands in Israel, and appoints 6 of 13 members of the Israel Lands Authority, which governs 93% of all land within the “green line” or 1948 armistice line. These lands are forbidden from being transferred to non-Jews. As Engler describes,

Shutting out Israeli Arabs, JNF lands can only be leased by Jews. A 1998 United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights found that the JNF systematically discriminated against Arab Israelis. According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”…JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In May 2002, JNF Canada’s executive director for eastern Canada, Mark Mendelson, explained: “We are trustees between world Jewry and the land of Israel.”

Among other projects, the JNF is responsible for building “Canada Park,” while enjoying exemption from Canadian taxation. This park was built on the ruins of three Palestinian villages, Beit Nuba, Imwas and Yalu, occupied, bulldozed and demolished in 1967, and bears the name of Canada Park to this day.

The Vancouver protest began with an introduction by Taha, who said that what Palestinians are facing today is the same thing that the native peoples of this land have faced for hundreds of years, expressing her solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Hanna Kawas of the Canada Palestine Association discussed the connection between settler colonialism in Canada and Palestine and highlighted the expressed support of Canadian officials such as John Baird, Foreign Affairs Minister, for the JNF and the Israeli state.

Khaled Barakat of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network said that “Israel and peace don’t go together. Zionism and peace don’t go together,” calling for Israeli officials to be tried for war crimes against the Palestinian people.

Other speakers included Martha Roth of Independent Jewish Voices – Vancouver, Nino Pagliccia of Gaza’s Ark and Charlotte Kates of the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign. The protest began with a “people’s gala” of stuffed grape leaves, manakeesh, and bannock, combining Palestinian and Indigenous foods, as protesters carried Palestinian flags, a large banner emblazoned with “The Jewish National Fund is a Racist Organization” and signs highlighting the JNF’s complicity in Israeli Apartheid.

Chants of “Stop the JNF! Stop funding racism!” and “Israeli Apartheid – No! Right of Return – Yes!” were heard loud and clear as the affluent JNF supporters arrived at the banquet, guided by valets and private security and overseen by Vancouver police. Gala attendees yelled at and raised their middle fingers toward protesters as they entered the event.

The protest was sponsored by the Canada Palestine Association and endorsed by the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Gaza\’s Ark, Independent Jewish Voices – Vancouver and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – UBC.