Jews worldwide were up in arms Monday over the Jewish National Fund's donation of trees to a housing project being administered by the Palestinian Authority.
The city of Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian community
, lies about 6 miles north of Ramallah and is expected to house 40,000 people and employ 10,000. The project will also mark the first planting of a major forest, 25,000 trees in total, by Palestinians in Samaria in 42 years.
That 3,000 of those trees were donated in late November by the JNF, though, has many critics crying foul.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has
been one of the most vocal of these, arguing that the JNF is a time-honored symbol of Zionism and that for it to make donations to the PA is just not right.
"We are deeply critical and indeed shocked by the decision of the JNF to donate thousands of trees, grown with money donated by Jews from around the world, to the PA," ZOA national president Morton A. Klein said on Monday. "Has it really come to this? That a venerable Zionist organization with only one purpose - the building-up of a sovereign Jewish national existence - takes money from Jews and then uses [the] funds to make a gift of trees to Israel's unreconstructed enemies?"
Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel expressed similar frustration Monday, saying the JNF contribution showed that the "system has gone haywire."
"The country has gone crazy when it plants trees for the PA in Judea and Samaria at the same time that it forbids Jews to build. The system does not know who it is representing - us, the Palestinian Authority or the Americans," he said.
Klein called on the JNF to admit it had made a mistake.
"If [the] JNF is to retain the confidence of American and world Jewry as to its dedicated purpose of building up the Jewish state of Israel, it is vital that the JNF publicly acknowledge its error and apologize for this clear misuse of funds it has raised. For the JNF to do otherwise would be to raise money from world Jewry under false pretenses. It is vital that [the] JNF never repeat this decision," he said.
Alon Badihi, executive director of JNF Jerusalem's offices, defended the organization's decision to The Jerusalem Post
on Monday, stating that "the KKL-JNF was mandated by the Israeli government as the national forest service for the Land of Israel. This project was carried out under that mandate."
He added that "no JNF-US donors paid for this project."