Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Tuesday called for nationalizing Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, saying the body was corrupt and an impediment to lowering the cost of housing.
“The symbol of KKL-JNF used to be the little blue box,” he said. “Today, the symbol of KKL-JNF is corruption and the money that is transferred in the shadows from place to place without reporting to anyone, and the strange appointments, like the co-chairman and dozens of members of the board of directors and emissaries across the world.”
The fund, he said, transfers tens of millions of shekels to charities related to political parties (except Yesh Atid, he added).
In his 2015 budget plan, which never passed, Lapid tried to shift responsibility for NIS 1 billion worth of government projects onto the fund. He said that KKL-JNF’s money, which mostly comes from land sales, should be used to fatten the public purse. Likewise, he said, the more than 200,000 hectares of land it controls should be used to increase the housing supply in order to tackle the housing crisis.
Lapid promised to submit legislation nationalizing the fund on the first day of the next Knesset session, following the March 17 elections.
In response to the Yesh Atid plan, KKL-JNF accused Lapid of trying to “gather votes and grab headlines at the expense of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael” as a result of his failings as a finance minister.
“The man under whose tenure [social] gaps widened, social resilience was damaged and poverty was deepened, thinks that he can lie and get away with it,” the statement from the body said. “This man attacks the only nongovernmental organization that has invested more than NIS 1b. in developing the land for the benefit of the people and the country.”
It argued that Lapid was trying “to steal, in an illegal and populist manner, KKL-JNF’s money in order to try to conceal the precedent-setting deficit created by his failed policy.”
Pointing out that Lapid had appointed Eshkol Regional Council chairman Haim Yalin as a candidate within his party, the organization advised the Yesh Atid leader to ask him what the Finance Ministry had done for the South, compared to what KKL-JNF had done. KKL-JNF has consistently restored agricultural areas in the region and provided services to children in bomb shelters, the organization said.
Accusing Lapid of talking without taking action, the KKL-JNF statement added: “He never excelled in modesty, but it turns out now that he has achieved a record in hypocrisy and in populism.”
Representatives of the real estate industry and academia had mixed reactions to the proposal.
“In principle, I am against nationalization,” said Haim Feiglin, CEO of real estate firm Zemach Hammerman. “The government must encourage the free market and not go backward. Lapid’s proposal is absurd and cynical.”
KKL-JNF has been under the authority of the Israel Lands Authority for years, he added, but the state has not pressured it to release more land for building.
KKL-JNF is set to split from the Israel Lands Authority in about six months, ending a 1961 treaty that enabled the authority to manage the organization’s lands. In October, all 37 members of the KKL-JNF board of directors voted against renewing the convention, citing a failure of all efforts at dialogue with government representatives to stop the nationalization of the organization’s assets.
Recently the organization officially informed the government that it did not intend to renew the treaty, which KKL-JNF noted was set to expire this summer.
“Where was Lapid until now? It’s preferable for the public that KKL-JNF’s lands be managed separately,” Feiglin said. “This will create competition with the Israel Lands Authority.”
He added that KKL-JNF was not responsible for the housing crisis.
Uri Marinov, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya school of sustainability and a former Environmental Protection Ministry director, disagreed. The fund, he noted, had been created to serve several government roles before the state’s establishment.
“I think nationalizing it is a good idea. I’m not sure why we should continue to operate this organization. We’ve had a state now for over 60 years, and it’s time for all those organizations that operated before the state was established, like KKL-JNF and the Jewish Agency, to close their doors and transfer their activities to the government,” he said.
The government’s role in land planning, he said, was beneficial for environmental purposes.
“The issue of maintaining control of the land is very important – a lot of people complain about the fact that the land is owned or operated by the government, and several parties are talking about privatizing the land, and this would be a mistake,” he said.
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