UK Palestinians put heat on Brown over JNF patronage

Other patrons of the JNF-UK include former Prime Minister Tony Blair, opposition leader David Cameron, and Chief Rabbi of Britain Jonathan Sacks.

By GEORGE CONGER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
October 14, 2007 23:04
2 minute read.

 
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Palestinian activists in Britain are pressuring Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step down as patron of the Jewish National Fund UK, claiming the JNF's refusal to sell land in Israel to Arabs is a discriminatory practice that taints the prime minister. "Scottish public opinion, if made aware of the true nature of the JNF, would join us in condemning your association with such an organization," the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign said in an October 13 letter to the prime minister. The push to separate Brown from his pro-Israel policies comes at a moment of political weakness for the prime minister, with recent polls suggesting his party's lead in the polls may have evaporated. While analysts note Brown is unlikely to honor the demand, Palestinian activists are seeking to sap Brown's support for Israel and sway public opinion by focusing on the high court trial in Israel that has challenged the JNF's policy not to sell land to Arabs. Following his appointment as prime minister on June 27, Gordon Brown accepted an invitation to become patron of the JNF-UK. "The prime minister supports a number of charities and has agreed to become a patron of the JNF-UK in order to encourage their work to promote charitable projects for everyone who lives in Israel," a Downing Street spokesman told The Jewish Chronicle in July. Other patrons of the JNF-UK, which raises £15 million a year to support charitable work in Israel, include former Prime Minister Tony Blair, opposition leader David Cameron, and Chief Rabbi of Britain Jonathan Sacks. In an April speech to the Labor Friends of Israel in April, Brown reiterated his long-standing support for Israel. His father, a Church of Scotland minister, had taught him, he said, about "the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people, about the enormous suffering and loss during the Holocaust, as well as the extraordinary struggle he described to me of people to create this magnificent homeland." Palestinian activists in Britain have charged the JNF's land policies promote "racism and apartheid" within Israel by discriminating against Arabs in favor of Jews. "Gordon Brown may try to pretend that JNF-UK is somehow insulated from the guilt of the JNF's activities in Israel and the occupied territories," Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) chair Mick Napier said, "but around the world and in particular in the Middle East his willingness to support the JNF 'brand' will be seen as evidence of the UK's support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians." The SPSC has also written to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to ask it to review whether the JNF's Scottish branch KKL Scotland's support for Israel violates the country's charitable laws. Brown is unlikely to heed the SPSC's call, as he has not responded to a similar demand made in August by the London-based Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP). The APJP, which in 2006 called for a boycott of Israeli construction firms, called Brown's support for the JNF "disturbing." "Your becoming a patron of JNF-UK can be seen as a tacit acceptance of an unacceptable status quo, and also places you in the position of not being an unbiased mediator in the peace process," said the letter signed by the group's chairman Abe Hayeem, and a number of British, Palestinian and Israeli architects. They called upon Brown to withdraw his patronage of the JNF and lend his name to other groups, naming the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions as worthy of his support.

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