David Cameron and the JNF

The British PM’s decision to resign his patronage of the JNF speaks to the next stage of Israel delegitimization, war on Zionism in Diaspora.

June 6, 2011 23:20
4 minute read.
British Prime Minister David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to resign his patronage of the Jewish National Fund speaks to the next stage of Israel delegitimization and the war on Zionism in the Diaspora.

As the 1949 Armistice Demarcation Lines, the “1967 lines” are transfigured into merely the basis of a peace agreement, and Israel’s enemies are now working at the next encroachment: the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel’s recognized territory, irrespective of the establishment of an independent Palestine. This was one of the “core issues,” as President Barack Obama put it, which are, he alleged a couple of weeks ago, the real matters still to be negotiated. So the “1967 lines” are a given, apparently; that means the Palestinian “right of return” becomes a legitimate issue for negotiation, and therefore can be lobbied for. The result is that Israel is one step closer to the Arabs’ much longed-for relocation to the sea.

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So how does the news that Cameron has resigned his patronage of the JNF relate?

First, some background: Since 1901, the sitting British prime minister has always been a patron of the JNF. Without comment from the JNF, Cameron’s name has been removed from the list of patrons, presumably at Downing Street’s request. Initially, the Prime Minister’s Office explained that the resignation was part of a wider review of Cameron’s charitable activities – a review launched as part of the coalition agreement, and which several other charities (unnamed) had also suffered. It also noted that “time constraints” on the prime minister meant he was unable to retain the position.

However, Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s patronage of the JNF lasted throughout their premierships and continues today, which makes the “time constraints” excuse dubious. Moreover, “time constraints” implies a logistical issue; a coalition review suggests politics.

Consequently, observers were dissatisfied, so Downing Street tried again a few days later, explaining, according to the Jewish Chronicle, that the matter had been discussed with the JNF late last year, and that “one of the issues was having an organization that was specifically focused around work in one specific country,” and that the JNF was one of a “handful” of (again, unnamed) organizations that had been dropped, including another with links to a specific country. This had nothing do to with a policy issue or any anti-Israel campaign, it clarified, and, to reassure us of Cameron’s “clear views” on Israel, we could consult the record. As if that would be reassuring.

TO CONTEXTUALIZE these events, the Stop The JNF campaign was launched in March on Land Day by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others, and its members are claiming credit for Cameron’s decision. Whether these speculations are accurate or not, Stop The JNF spokespeople are probably right to point out that “given the establishment support that the JNF has received, it’s not a decision he [Cameron] will have taken lightly,” and “this decline in political support for the JNF at the highest levels of the political tree may be a sign of the increasing awareness in official quarters that a robust defence of the activities of the JNF may not be sustainable.”

Indeed, back in March, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn tabled an early day motion in Parliament welcoming the establishment of Stop The JNF, noting the JNF’s purported “ongoing illegal expropriation of Palestinian land, concealing of destroyed Palestinian villages beneath parks and forests, and prevention of refugees from returning to their homes.”

The motion went on to regret the prime minister’s patronage of the JNF.

What we have in this episode is an example of the next encroachment: It is not Judea and Samaria, but all of Israel – in particular its internationally recognized borders – that is now explicitly under assault. And JNF’s alleged role in preventing the return of Palestinian refugees is at the heart of this movement; the writings of these campaigners are replete with references to the pre- 1948 Jewish immigration, settlement and cultivation of the land, led by the JNF, as “conquest” and “settler-colonialism,” and condemn the JNF’s alleged concealment of this harsh history, as referenced by Corbyn in the motion. This phenomenon is, of course, not new, but now with the “’67 lines” under their belt, Israel’s enemies are likely to focus on this next battlefield.

Moreover, it should be noted that this attack on the JNF is largely not for the purported forcible removal of people from their homes (although, naturally, these claims feature), but simply for the purchase of land. So illegitimate is the Jewish presence in Israel that, evidently, even legal transactions are offensive. This is familiar territory, however: The most contentious places in Israel today were, according to the Bible, bought for the Jewish people, including the Temple Mount and the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Cameron’s resignation underscores, then, the terrain on which Israel is now forced to defend itself. The campaigns against Judea and Samaria have, in fact, largely been about all of Israel, but that was not always obvious. It is now.

Whether Cameron’s decision was indeed due to pressure, or simply the zeitgeist, it does not bode well.

The writer is a graduate of Cambridge and the LSE. He writes and teaches, and works in the non-profit sector.

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