On 16th April 2020, a letter of complaint against the JNF UK was lodged with the Fundraising Regulator. Signed by 62 Jewish supporters of the Palestinian struggle, the letter argued that the JNF UK’s fundraising appeals, which are principally directed at British Jews, were misleading in what they stated and still more so in what they omitted. Far from being a benign organisation, promoting environmental improvement and assisting impoverished communities, as it asserts in its publicity, the JNF UK has a long history of involvement in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In more recent times, it has also funded projects linked to the Israeli military.
Unlike the Charity Commission, which has a dismal record of hounding charities which are not to the British government’s liking while giving cover to those that are, the Fundraising Regulator’s Office appears to carry out its duties with a measure of diligence. Its remit is, however, much narrower. Rescinding the JNF UK’s charitable status is not within its powers though it could use its authority to confirm that the JNF UK is heavily involved in activities that most people would consider criminal rather than charitable.
Three aspects in JNF UK’s fundraising publicity were highlighted in the letter of complaint: misrepresenting the JNF UK’s relationship to KKL/JNF (the Israeli parent organisation) which itself operates through front organisations to hide its support for settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories; falsely claiming that its takeover of yet more Palestinian land in Israel is to promote environmental improvement and economic development and, finally, not making clear that it sends funds to projects that directly support the Israeli military. The laws governing charities prohibit providing support for a foreign military forces, but these are not applied when the force concerned is the IDF. JNF UK funds several pre-service military academies to provide recruits for the IDF and the vigilante groups of the settler movement; it is the most lavishly funded but not the only registered charity to do so. The Charity Commission also deems as charitable the work of the Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israeli Soldiers and of the Friends of Nefesh B’Nefesh. The latter, along with JNF UK, helps to fund the “Lone Soldier” project which makes arrangements for foreign volunteers in the IDF to have their off-duty breaks with Israeli families.
Even while the Fundraising Regulator has been investigating the complaint, JNF UK has removed from its website some of the benefits it had claimed to provide to Bedouin villagers in the Naqab. However, tinkering with its publicity will no longer be enough to hide the JNF’s ethnic cleansing and military involvement. In the last quarter of 2020, Palestine solidarity activists and Rabbis for Human Rights mobilised protest in several countries, including from 71 British MPs, to halt an Israeli court order for the eviction of Palestinian from East Jerusalem. The eviction was initiated on behalf of JNF/KKL through its property acquisition agency in the West Bank, Himnuta, and in collusion with the settler organisation, Elad, that is seeking to Judaize East Jerusalem.
There is the risk that the Regulator’s report on its JNF UK investigation, due out in early 2021, will require of it merely to scale down its more outrageously mendacious claims. But whatever the outcome, the Stop the JNF campaign will ensure that JNF UK will no longer be able to disguise its ethnic cleansing behind a fake concern for environmental protection and the pretence of helping the “poorest communities”. Impunity from public scrutiny for this bogus charity is over!