To the Editor:
I would like to respond to an inaccuracy about Israel and the Jewish National Fund that is being perpetuated in your paper.
The Jewish National Fund is a worldwide organization that was founded in 1901 to collect funds from Jewish people around the world to purchase land for a Jewish homeland. JNF predates the State of Israel by almost half a century and is a nonpolitical, nonprofit organization with a specific mission to care for the land of Israel. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, JNF has evolved to meet Israel’s most pressing needs: increasing the water supply, planting lush forests, building parks and tourist sites, initiating agricultural R&D projects, and protecting and beautifying the land. The work of JNF benefits all the people of Israel, regardless of race and ethnicity.
Contrary to recent claims made in your paper by Saqib Bhatti ’04 (“Reckless charges of anti-Semitism stunt the debate,” 3/3), the Jewish National Fund does not own 92 percent of Israel’s land. JNF owns approximately 12 percent of Israel’s lands and these are included in the 92 percent of Israel’s publicly-owned national land that may not be sold to anyone. Israel is unique in its administration of national land and in 1960 adopted legislation declaring that JNF- and state-owned land may not be sold but only leased for renewable 49-year terms. This land is administered by the Israel Lands Authority and is available by leasehold to all citizens of the State of Israel — Jews and Arabs alike. While the management of Israel’s national lands are influenced by Jewish principles, it also follows the same practices as many European nations that maintain extensive state-owned land and regulate land purchases by noncitizens. Similarly, the Muslim WAQF owns almost 4 percent of the total land area within Israel and transacts only with the Arab population in accordance with their own beliefs and laws.
The issues in the Middle East are complicated and I am sure that we can all agree that there are no easy solutions. We applaud Bhatti’s appeal for an “honest, open dialogue — about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”; however, we suggest that the first step to constructive dialogue is to be sure of the facts and avoid repeating and perpetuating harmful and libelous information.
Russell F. Robinson
March 6, 2003
The writer is CEO of the Jewish National Fund.