Resistance: The JNF, and Harriet Sherwood’s continuing delegitimization of the Jewish state

“My Dear Sir, But you are proceeding upon the superstition that Moral Courage and a Hankering to Learn the Truth are ingredients in the human being’s makeup. Your premises being wild and foolish, you naturally and properly get wild and foolish results. If you will now reform, and in future proceed upon the sane and unchallengeable hypothesis that those two ingredients are on vacation in our race, and have been from the start, you will be able to account for some things which puzzle you now.” – Mark Twain

By 1922 the British Empire held sway over about 500 million people, one-quarter of the world’s population at the time, and covered more than 13 million square miles, almost a quarter of the earth’s total land area.

At the height of its power, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Turkish Empire controlled territory in southeastern Europe, southwestern Asia, and North Africa. In 1680, under Mehmed IV, the empire controlled 5.5 million square miles of land.

Today, in the Middle East, a vast area previously controlled by the Ottoman Turks and then the British, 5.25 million square miles belongs to states of the Arab League. The one holdout in that hegemony is the 8,000 square mile Jewish state of Israel—the only Jewish homeland that ever was and ever will be. The population of Israel is 7.5 million. The ratio of Arab to Jewish land is 640:1.

In 1901, during the fifth Zionist Congress, delegates had spent the day debating a proposal for the establishment of a national fund to purchase land in Ottoman Empire-controlled Palestine (the name given by the Romans to ancient Israel).  The motion passed and the congress resolved that a fund to be called Jewish National Fund (JNF) should be established, and that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole.” JNF’s first undertaking was the collection of £200,000.

Theodore Herzl, who four years earlier had organized the First Zionist Congress, was inspired to galvanize world Jewry around the idea of returning to their ancient homeland in response to the anti-Semitism of the Dreyfuss Affair, the failure of European Jewish emancipation more broadly, and to his all too prescient sense of an impending catastrophe for European Jewry.

Throughout the years preceding Israel’s independence the JNF purchased additional land and, even during the British mandate when Jewish immigration to historic Palestine was severely restricted during the Holocaust and in the three years prior to statehood, developed previously uninhabitable land in anticipation of Israel’s rebirth – development which was, by any measure, wildly successful.

While the borders of the British and Ottoman Empires were drawn, as most modern nation states’ boundaries have been drawn (and defended), by the edge of a sword, Israel’s were formed by legally purchased land (by the JNF), and via international law (from legally binding decisions codified at the San Reno Conference, though the UN Partition plan and Israel’s admission into the UN).  

While it’s less than clear whether British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to resign as a patron of the JNF was due to pressure from anti-Israel activists such as Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC), (David Cameron resigns as patron of the Jewish National Fund, Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, May 29), the story’s legitimization of the narrative of groups such as PSC and Stop the JNF Campaign that JNF has committed “war crimes” and has been complicit in “ethnic cleansing” represent, at best, unintelligible invectives – and are a testament to the truth that, for many, anti-Israel ideology has taken on an almost religious intensity, where nuance, complexity and doubt are subservient to ideological articles of faith.

The JNF, as was its goal, legally purchased the land that would become the State of Israel, then helped to develop that land into the thriving nation it would become – by planting trees (becoming the only nation in the world who entered the 21st century with a net gain in the number of trees), building dams and reservoirs, creating parks, and developing the infrastructure which supported the absorption of millions of immigrants to the Jewish state.

Growing up, in my assimilated secular Jewish family, what I most associated with Israel was the ubiquitous blue JNF box – the most iconic and non-political way Jews in the diaspora could support the continued development and continued success of the state of Israel.  Whether you were motivated by a desire to protect Israel’s environment, or a broader concern for the nation’s long-term viability in a hostile neighborhood,  the JNF was about as controversial as the United Way or American Red Cross.

Harriet Sherwood’s efforts to paint the JNF as some sort of instrument of oppression is but another form of delegitimization – an effort to pry those susceptible to such facile and intellectually unserious ideas away from support for the Jewish state.  In short, it’s an attack on Zionism itself – an assault on our rights to finally, as Herzl dreamed, “be a free people in our land.” 

The word “resistance” is one that’s sadly been co-opted by the radical (Guardian-style) left, anti-Zionists, and Islamists to denote resistance to “Western oppression”.  Yet the word, in its true sense, uncorrupted by its explicit defense of violence and politically reactionary movements, conveys what is desperately needed in our post-modern, post-colonial world – an appeal to garner the strength necessary to defeat the enemies of the Jewish people, and not to submit to moral relativism, cynicism or defeatism.

Resistance to the allure of intellectual fads of our day, which serve to weaken our resolve to defend progressive democracies more broadly, and the Jewish democratic state in particular – the radical chic pose which Harriet Sherwood and her political fellow travelers have so cravenly succumb to – represents “resistance” that true progressives should rightfully be engaged in, and is the broader objective of the fierce battles our blog (me and my loyal colleagues) are engaged in daily.

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