This article was originally published in The Charlatan.
October 22 2014
People attending the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Ottawa’s annual Negev dinner on Oct. 21 were met by a crowd of about 60 demonstrators outside the Ottawa Convention Centre. The demonstrators were accusing the JNF of covering up the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in Israel.
Tyler Levitan, the campaigns co-ordinator for Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), called the JNF “a very key player in Israel’s system of apartheid.” He claimed the JNF’s projects “cover up Palestinian villages that were depopulated and demolished.”
The JNF was founded in 1901. A 1961 covenant signed between the State of Israel and the JNF allows the organization to acquire land in the country to lease out for settlement and planting trees.
Canada Park, which sits north of Jerusalem on land that Israel claims was annexed in 1967 during the Six Day War, was funded by the Jewish National Fund of Canada and is one of these lands.
“[The land] actually belongs to Palestinian refugees who haven’t been compensated, whose rights and grievances haven’t been acknowledged in any way,” Levitan said.
When asked why the dinner attracted protest, Josh Cooper, the CEO of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, said, “I couldn’t tell you. I truly just don’t know . . . the claims [of ethnic cleansing] are absolutely false.”
Cooper said the JNF does “everything from helping with the land to helping those who can’t help themselves.” This includes creating infrastructure such as new roads and tourist sites, according to their website.
Levitan said that the JNF’s charity status means the Canadian government subsidizes Israeli policies, which he said “are openly very discriminatory towards Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
Protester Ida Henderson said she attended the protest because she doesn’t think the JNF should be recognized as a charity. “Discrimination isn’t allowed in Canada,” she said.
Early into the protest, a group of demonstrators hung a tarp reading “JNF = 100% Israeli Apartheid” off the Mackenzie King bridge.
This was echoed by other protestors, including Carleton University students Rana Nazzal and Aziz Khatib, who led the crowd in chanting slogans that charged Israel with apartheid and demanded the freedom of Palestine.
On its website, the JNF acknowledges that state-owned lands must be available for use by all citizens. It adds that land owned by the JNF “is the property of the Jewish People,” and is designated for the objective of “strengthening, developing and preserving the Jewish character” of Israel.
Carleton sociology professor Nahla Abdo took a megaphone to address the Canada Park project. She claimed that the park “is not in Israel, but in the occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Abdo, whose parents were displaced when Israel was created in 1948, said “it was our [Canadian] money that built the trees on the ruins of these villages,” referencing the Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu, and Beit Nuba, which existed on land where Canada Park now sits.
Levitan said he has tried talking to JNF officials in the past, but “they have no interest in discussing the issue.”