21 May 2013
The Charity Commission is to quiz the Jewish National Fund’s UK-registered bodies over claims it falls foul of British anti-racism law.
The move comes in response to a formal complaint by Stop the JNF campaigners about the JNF’s racist practices in Palestine-Israel, lodged with the commission in March.
In a detailed letter [PDF] to Stop the JNF, the commission denied their request to strip the three JNF bodies of their charitable (and thus tax-exempt) status, but admitted that the campaigners’ complaint “raises matters of potential regulatory interest for the Commission.”
They said they would now “raise with the trustees of JNFCT [JNF Charitable Trust] how they are satisfied that the restriction of the provision of services to people defined by a protected characteristic, is lawful.”
A “protected characteristic” under British law is a usually a race or religion.
Stop the JNF’s Sofiah Macleod said in a press release: “we are glad that the Charity Commission is at last looking at the JNF’s systematic racist discrimination [against Palestinians].” But she emphasized that there was still much left to do: “The Stop the JNF campaign will be seeking to make the necessary legal challenges to force the Charity Commission to do its job, to remove the JNF charities from the register.”
Mike Maher, the Charities Commission official who signed the letter, could not be reached by phone and so far has not replied to an email.
UPDATE: In response to an emailed request for comment, Tallulah Perez-Sphar of the Charities Commission press office wrote Wednesday: Stop the JNF “raised concerns we will look at concerning the restriction of the provision of services to people defined by a protected characteristic … This has been referred to the Operations function to be considered further. Please be aware, this does not mean we are formally investigating the charities” (original emphasis).
The JNF is a veteran Zionist institution with quasi-governmental status and authority over land in Israel – which it holds in trust exclusively for Jews. Affiliated charitable fronts operate around the world.
In April, The Electronic Intifada revealed that the Canadian government’s tax agency was asked, probably by the Auditor General, whether it would “investigate or revoke” the JNF’s charitable status in Canada.
JNF’s institutional racism
In 2005, Israel’s high court found that the JNF, which owns 13 percent of the country’s land and has significant influence over most of the rest, systematically excluded Palestinian citizens of Israel from leasing its property.
In the Naqab, the JNF is involved in projects to “Judaize” the southern desert – known as the Negev in Hebrew. Palestinian Bedouin communities are being compelled to move into American-style reservations dubbed “development towns.”
The “unrecognized” village of al-Araqib, for example, has reportedly been destroyed by Israel and rebuilt around 50 times since 2010.
In October 2012, Budour Hassan reported for The Electronic Intifada that JNF representatives raided the 5,000-strong town of Bir Hadaj (which is ostensibly “recognized”) alongside interior ministry agents, handing out demolition orders. When local youths protested, police invaded, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and some live ammunition.