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New York Times gets it wrong on Jewish National Fund and Bedouin Arabs

Jewish National Fund president Jeffrey E. Levine objects to the pictured New York Times op-ed, "The Two Israels." Credit: Screenshot from
Jewish National Fund president Jeffrey E. Levine objects to the pictured New York Times op-ed, "The Two Israels." Credit: Screenshot from

In an op-ed headlined “The Two Israels” (New York Times, March 1, 2015), Nicholas Kristof made a rather broad accusation stating that Jewish National Fund (JNF) plants forests on land owned by Bedouin Arabs. Unfortunately, Mr. Kristof chose to subscribe to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s diatribe against Israel and used JNF as a straw man to do so. We take exception to such reporting, and let the Times know just that in a letter to the editor.

Red flags should be raised when considering the fact that no Israeli governmental official was interviewed by Mr. Kristof to either discuss the Jewish state’s laws, to identify any specific property disputes and claims procedures, or to cite legal history on the subject.

JNF is not a political actor in Israel, but rather a 501(c)3 charity and a United Nations-approved non-governmental organization (NGO). Our mission betters the Land of Israel for all of the country’s people, regardless of ethnicity or religion. This multi-purposed goal facilitates the continuity of a secure and independent homeland for Jews across the diaspora, and supports America’s only free and democratic strategic ally in the Middle East.

What Mr. Kristof did not report on was JNF’s multi-year work with the Bedouin community in the Negev, which has improved Bedouin lives. Witness our efforts at a project called Wadi Atir, near the village of Hura, where the Bedouin community combines its traditional medicinal herbal practices and animal herding with modern farming techniques—the effects of which provide Bedouin men, and most importantly, women, with the tools to empower, educate, and bring long-term financial and professional success.

In my meetings and visits with JNF’s wonderful volunteers, board members, and staffers in Israel, I am often overwhelmed by the caring and love they share for that country’s people, in both good times and bad. Last summer, when thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, JNF helped protect all of Israel’s residents on that border—including the Bedouin. Our partner organization, Green Horizons, responded to Bedouin villages to calm children with a variety of programs and bomb shelters meant to ensure their safety.

JNF contributors understand that inclusiveness is the key to Israel’s future. Throughout the Negev Desert, JNF has partnered with numerous organizations to foster synergy and to enhance and strengthen the region’s smaller communities, which were often forgotten in the past. The small 8 percent of Israel’s population that lives in the Negev resides on some 60 percent of the country’s land. Since they are so far removed from the central part of the country, they are often shortchanged for services, even when it comes to emergency treatment. To meet the demand for urgent care, last year we opened a medical center deep in the Negev Desert, alleviating the two-hour drive residents used to make. Additionally, people with special needs are treated at our three partner facilities—Aleh Negev, Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, and LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible—regardless of complexion, faith, or language. We have also collaborated on a trans-boundary issue to repair an important watershed for the Palestinian Authority and the people of Be’er Sheva, the de facto capital of the Negev, to make sure all have access to clean water.

For more than a century, JNF donors worldwide have taken part in a time-honored tradition and planted more than 250 million trees in Israel to commemorate important milestones, memorials, or living testaments to loved ones. This act of taking care of the land has also served to create a green lung throughout the region. JNF is equally renowned for its protection of ecological systems, investing in smart technology and renewable energy, leadership in sustainability, greening the desert, and water conservation. Donors also choose to build farms, reservoirs, hospitals, schools, research centers, parks, and many other projects that benefit all the people of Israel.

JNF’s history is one of love, nation building, and industry that has reduced poverty, encouraged women’s rights, and created economic opportunities for all. That’s the story that is Israel and JNF. That’s the story that the world needs to know.

Jeffrey E. Levine is president of the Jewish National Fund. 

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