Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of the city of Sefad in the Galilee, is a notorious racist. Last year he issued a decree ruling that Jews should not lease houses to Arab students who go to school in the city. The liberal public was shocked. The papers fulminated. The attorney general opened a criminal investigation. Yet again, the clergyman of the moment provided another proof for the brutal fanaticism inherent in religious nationalism.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) is one of the foundation stones of secular Zionism. Established in 1901 by the first Zionist congress in Basel, it was assigned the sacred task of acquiring land for Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Blue Box, placed in every Zionist institution in Israel and abroad was the emblem of popular devotion to the Zionist cause. One penny at a time, the land of Israel was redeemed.
KKL is also a green institution. It plants forests, establishes parks, and develops ecological education. The first parks in Israel were planted by KKL on the grounds of abandoned Palestinian villages. Thus the disturbing sites of ruins were replaced by blooming forests. This happy enterprise continues today in the Negev Desert, where groves are planted in places from which Bedouins are expelled, effectively preventing them from taking over Negev lands. Ben Gurion’s prophetic vision of Zionism conquering the barren desert comes to life in front of our eyes.
KKL holds, by law, 13% of the state’s lands, mostly in the Galilee and the Negev, which are destined, once again by law, for Jews only. Through a subsidiary fund, “Hemnuta,” KKL is active also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, safeguarding reservoirs of land for future Jewish settlement.
KKL is a secular, state-run institution. Rabbi Eliyahu is a religious extremist. And yet he insists, in every single interview, that his teachings are entirely congruent with KKL policies. Refusing to accept the obvious difference between national policy and individual fanaticism, he keeps blatantly claiming that his vicious decree is no different from Israeli governments’ persistent efforts to encourage Jewish settlement in the Galilee and the Negev, a vital and indispensable measure in the ongoing struggle to prevent the emergence of Palestinian majorities in these strategic areas. Rabbi Eliyahu cannot see the big difference between his practices and theirs; neither do I.
An Israel that would be more than an institutional, secular, realization of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s vision, where basic goods won’t be distributed to citizens based on their ethnicity. Here is a dream worth quitting Zionism for.