US Reform movement condemns KKL-JNF plan to buy West Bank land for settlements

Union for Reform Judaism says proposal to spend millions in and around existing settlements could ‘politicize support for cherished Zionist institutions’

Illustrative photo of the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, and the Arab village of Wadi Fukin below, June 17, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, and the Arab village of Wadi Fukin below, June 17, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The largest Jewish movement in America, the Union for Reform Judaism, lambasted a proposal being weighed by the Jewish National Fund to officially authorize the purchase of land in the West Bank in and adjacent to existing Israeli settlements.

The plan, slated to come before the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) executive committee for a vote on Sunday, would allow it to buy private Palestinian land in Area C of the West Bank. Area C comprises parts of the West Bank controlled by Israel.

If approved, the change would mark a major policy shift for the century-old organization.

The plan also allows for other projects to develop West Bank settlements, potentially involving hundreds of millions of dollars in spending.

In a statement against the proposal, the Union for Reform Judaism said “politicizing support for cherished Zionist institutions ill serves the cause of Zionism and the unity of the Jewish people.”

“We love and support the Jewish and democratic State of Israel which is why we will continue to strongly oppose policies that undermine the safety, security and moral character of our Jewish homeland,” said the organization’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

“Especially at this moment when Israel is looking to forge a strong relationship with the Biden administration this unilateral move could be inflammatory and harmful,” he added.

Asked to comment on the proposal at a press briefing earlier this week, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price read out a statement that administration officials have recited several times when asked about such matters.

Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

“It is critical to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut the efforts to achieve a two-state solution. This includes annexation, settlement building, demolitions, incitement and payments for terrorists,” said Price.

KKL (a separate organization from JNF-USA) has until now not officially operated in the West Bank and has worked through other entities there on some limited projects.

The organization’s new global chairman, Avraham Duvdevani, took over in the fall of 2020 and is acting to change the policy. Duvdevani is part of the right’s gradual growing influence over Zionist organizations like KKL. The move came in response to a push from pro-settlement lobbyists and the organization tried to keep it low-key, a Thursday report in the Walla news site said.

Foreign donations will only be used to fund such activity if the transactions are legal in the donating country, said the report, which was also carried in English on the Axios news site.

KKL said in response to the report, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names, “Over the years we worked everywhere in Israel including in Judea and Samaria. The meeting on Sunday is intended to approve policy principles based on a legal opinion we obtained. At this stage we have no intention to establish a new area of development in Judea and Samaria.”

KKL expanding activities into the West Bank could further complicate Israel’s ties with US President Joe Biden’s administration, which is expected to resume the traditional American stance against settlements. It could also affect the Jewish state’s ties with the rest of the international community, which views the settlements as illegal.

KKL, established in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement and best known for the hundreds of millions of trees it has planted throughout Israel, serves as the Jewish people’s custodian for some 15 percent of the land in the country, the management of which is carried out by the Israel Lands Authority.

A kind of NGO officially registered as a company for the benefit of the public, KKL works in the fields of forestry, water, education, community development, tourism, and research and development. The World Zionist Organization is its parent body.

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