The question on the agenda in a recent High Court hearing regarding Jewish National Fund (JNF) land was whether this land, bought with the money of Jewish donors over generations, should be sold to non-Jews as well.
In three unified appeals, the petitioners cited the value of equality and argued that they and others cannot be discriminated against based on nationality when it comes to earmarking JNF land. The first petitioner, the Abu-Ria family, argued that a tender held in the northern town of Carmiel did not allow it to lease a JNF-owned plot of land because if was earmarked for Jews only. Other organizations joined this petition.
However, these petitioners are not at all interested in resolving the Abu-Ria family’s personal problem (in fact, a solution has already been found.) Despite this, they did not agree to forego the petition, because they are not concerned about individual rights. Rather, it appears that their goal is much broader – erasing the State of Israel’s Jewish and national identity.
The petitioners are interested in convincing the High Court that promoting the national interests of the Jewish people is illegitimate in the State of Israel. The Mossawa Center went even further, by defining this policy as “blatantly illegal, with a black flag waving over it.” According to the petitioners, the value of equality overrides any other interest; they must have meant “any other Jewish interest.”
Several years ago, Eliezer Avitan petitioned the courts over his demand to lease a plot at a Bedouin community in the Negev. The High Court rejected his petition and ruled that the value of equality is pushed aside in the face of the State’s interest to settle Bedouins at permanent communities. That is, a Jew is not allowed to lease a plot in a Bedouin community because he is Jewish. Moreover, it would be unthinkable for land belonging to the Muslim Waqf to be sold to Jews. After all, this land is earmarked for Muslims alone. Yet in those cases, the petitioners in the latest case left their black flag at home.
Land should be reserved for JewsThe earmarking of JNF land to the settlement of Jews can be justified in many ways. JNF was established as a private company for the purpose of acquiring land on behalf of the Jewish people via donation funds – this is how the JNF is defined to this day. Its charter makes explicit mention of it. The convention signed between the State and the JNF requires this.
As a Jewish State, Israel has the right and duty to reserve some of its land for the Jewish people. JNF land constitutes merely 13% of national land. The Jewish people has the right for affirmative action in light of its past as a persecuted people and its status as a minority within the Muslim Middle East. In this context, as the High Court ruled on the issue of Bedouin land, the value of formal equality is pushed aside in the face of other rights, such as the JNF’s property rights and important public interests such as Jewish settlement.
Therefore, the High Court is not required to debate the human rights that were undermined in this case. Rather it is again playing into the hands of organizations that promote the notion of turning the State of Israel into a state of all its citizens, while erasing any Jewish character. The issue of JNF land is not a legal question, but rather, an ideological and moral matter that is at the root of the State of Israel’s essence as the Jewish people’s national home.
Attorney Ariel Gilboa is a member of the Constitution Team at the Institute for Zionist Strategies