Last Wednesday Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz did something unpardonable. He decided that the state can no longer abide by the law of the land. That law, the Basic Law for the Israel Lands Authority from 1960 provides the legal basis for the ILA's administration of both state-owned lands and lands owned by the JNF.
The law states that lands owned by the JNF – a privately owned and funded trust – are to be administered in accordance with the JNF's charter. Mazuz decided that from now on, the ILA will ignore the JNF's charter and administer its lands in the same manner as it administers state-owned lands.
The JNF was founded at the dawn of modern Zionism for the purpose of raising money from Jews in the Diaspora and in Israel to buy lands in the Land of Israel for Jewish settlement. Its charter stipulates that JNF lands are to be used specifically for Jewish settlement. Stemming from this, it was agreed in 1960 that the ILA would only lease JNF land – which comprises some 13 percent of the total land in Israel – to Jews.
In the meantime, state-owned lands – which constitute more than 80 percent of land in Israel – are leased to all citizens – Jews, Muslim and Christians.
The proximate cause of Mazuz's decision to renounce the state's commitment to administer JNF lands in accordance with its charter is a petition to the High Court of Justice submitted by the Arab Israeli "human rights" organization Adalah. While Adalah adamantly rejects Israel's right to be a Jewish state, it demands that Israel confer "collective rights" to Israel's Arab minority.
In its petition, Adalah argues that the state, which through the ILA is prohibited from discriminating against citizens based on their religious or ethnic status, cannot administer JNF lands in accordance with its charter, but rather must treat JNF lands as it treats state-owned lands.
In its response to the petition, the JNF explained, "The petitioners are requesting that the honorable court instruct the state to initiate an expropriation of all JNF lands. With all due respect, we have yet to hear of a case where a citizen forces the state to expropriate land for him from another.
"The JNF is not a trust for the public living in Israel. The JNF trust belongs to the Jewish people – in the Diaspora and in Israel. Not only does the JNF not have the duty to act for the benefit of all citizens of Israel, the JNF has a duty to purchase lands for use by Jews.
"The JNF is prohibited from acting for the provision of lands to all residents of the state."
In deciding the state's response to Adalah's petition, Mazuz took Adalah's point and concluded that the ILA, as a statutory body, cannot both honor the terms of the JNF trust and follow the law of how the state is supposed to administer state lands.
But there is a simple solution to this problem. If the state cannot administer privately owned lands in accordance with the wishes and directions of the lands' owners, it can stop administering them. After all, the Islamic Wakf owns large swathes of land in Israel which Jews are prohibited from purchasing or leasing. The Holyland Christian Ecumenical Foundation buys lands in Israel exclusively for Christian settlement.
Yet rather than turn to the simple solution, Mazuz decided that the ILA can no longer publish tenders for any lands it administers which include a stipulation that the land is to be leased for Jewish settlement or use. And so, at his directive, JNF lands are to be treated from now on as if they are owned by the state. In so deciding, Mazuz has effectively expropriated and nationalized all JNF lands.
This is a blatantly discriminatory decision. According to Dr. Alex Safian, the deputy director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, who has studied Israeli land policies in depth for more than a decade, "The JNF is the Jewish parallel to the Muslim Wakf. The attorney-general can no more say that Arabs have a right to JNF land, which was purchased by the Jewish people for the specific purpose of Jewish settlement, than he can say that Jews have a right to Wakf land."
The most troubling aspect of this situation is that it is wholly politically motivated. Adalah's attorneys know full well that the ILA does not in practice discriminate against Israeli Arabs. Upper Nazareth, which is built entirely on state land, has a population that is 18 percent Arab. More than 50% of the lands used by Arab Israeli farmers are state-owned.
Until now, in cases where Arabs have asked to lease JNF lands, the ILA and the JNF have enabled such leases by swapping ownership of the JNF-owned lands in question with state-owned lands. What Adalah is demanding in its petition and what Mazuz is agreeing to is the acceptance of a discriminatory principle whereby Jews have no right to collectively own land for the benefit of Jews in the Jewish state. Again, were this not the case, Mazuz would simply decide that the ILA must cease to administer JNF lands.
In making this decision, Mazuz has not merely overstepped his authority. He has effectively seized the property of the entire Jewish people – in Israel and throughout the world – who have for the last 120 years been putting their dollars, rubles, francs and pounds into the blue boxes of the JNF.
It is the responsibility of all Jews to protest against this discriminatory expropriation of our property.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.