Jewish World Review July 23, 1998 / 29 Tamuz, 5758

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin Zionist vs Zionist

WHEN IS IT OKAY for a Jewish organization which calls itself Zionist to attack a Zionist institution for doing its job?

In this fantastic era of "post-Zionism," anything is possible. Which is why the Peace Now group (which operates in both Israel and the United States) let loose with a broadside earlier this week blasting the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for performing its function of reclaiming land for the Jewish people.

As far as the left-wing Peace Now is concerned, the last thing it wants JNF to be doing is helping bring Jewish life back to all of Jerusalem. While it would be easy to see this as just another press release in the unending political wars of Israel, this particular issue has deeper significance.

The founders of the Zionist movement brought the JNF into existence to help reclaim the Land of Israel. Through 100 years of Zionist effort, JNF has been there to purchase and redeem the historic homeland of the Jewish people. The JNF has persevered in its efforts for a century despite such obstacles as restrictions on the right of Jews to own land imposed by occupying foreign powers, wars and boycotts. It weathered a serious financial scandal in the last decade and emerged with new leadership and a rededicated sense of purpose.

But Peace Now wants the JNF to give up trying to help Jews purchase land in Jerusalem and elsewhere so new Jewish communities may be built to house immigrants and strengthen the Jewish people's hold on its eternal capital. Why? Because JNF, in accordance with its legal mandate, has assisted Jews wishing to move into sections of Jerusalem that some would like to see as part of the capital of the "State of Palestine."

The neighborhood which Peace Now is particularly unhappy about is Silwan, where there are numerous properties purchased many decades ago by the early Zionist, the Baron de Rothschild and still held in trust by the JNF.

The JNF has worked with local Jewish groups to allow these Jewish-owned properties to be redeveloped. In the course of this process, Arabs who have either rented the properties or squatted illegally on them have been offered a cash settlement to move. They are often prevented from doing so by threats of violence from terrorist groups. Often these cases are subject to extensive litigation and eviction only takes place after lengthy appeals in which the Israeli court system has often ruled in favor of the Palestinian Arabs.

The end result of this process is that the legalities of the question of who owns and who will live on the land in question are scrupulously observed. But this Zionist process by which Jews are helped to live on Jewish-owned property in the Jewish state, is apparently too much for Peace Now. They accuse JNF of working with "extremist settlers" and, even worse, the government of Israel! For Peace Now, the very process of Jews coming back to parts of Jerusalem is nowadays beyond the pale. In their eyes, Jews living in Jerusalem are apparently "settlers" living in "occupied territory."

Shame on Peace Now. Its ideological bias in favor of returning Israel to the 1949 armistice lines has led it to an unfair bashing of JNF. JNF's commendable work to reclaim land and assist in the building of homes in Jerusalem is — just like the planting of trees — an essential part of their historic job.

"Post-Zionist" rhetoric notwithstanding, JNF knows its task isn't completed.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association highest award: First Place in The Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing. The Rapoport award is named for the longtime editor of the Jerusalem Post and was given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 1997 Simon Rockower Awards dinner in Cleveland on June 18, 1998.


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©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin