KKL bill still in limbo ahead of Knesset vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the KKL-JNF's money must be channeled to the needs of the state.

KKL-JNF logo and Emblem of State of Israel (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
KKL-JNF logo and Emblem of State of Israel
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Marathon negotiations between the Finance Ministry and officials of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund were expected to continue through Monday afternoon ahead of a vote in the Knesset plenum Monday evening on a bill that would force the KKL-JNF to give a hefty sum to the state.
Sources informed about the status of the negotiations said both sides had significant problems with the legislation.
The Finance Ministry is concerned about threats by the KKL-JNF to take the state to court, which could make planning the next state budget nearly impossible.
The compromise proposal that passed in the Knesset Finance Committee on Thursday would require KKLJNF to annually transfer 65% of its revenues to the Finance Ministry to help fund state-run national infrastructure projects or risk losing its tax-exempt status.
That sum could be nearly NIS 2 billion, but the organization would remain exempt from taxes through the end of 2023.
But the bill also allows the KKLJNF to already give up its tax-exempt status, in which case it would pay some NIS 200 million to NIS 300m. a year in taxes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the KKL-JNF’s money must be channeled to the needs of the state. Coalition chairman David Bitan has threatened new elections if the bill is not passed, but Histadrut labor federation chief Avi Nissenkorn vowed to fight the legislation.
“We will not let the KKL’s reform be done on the backs of its workers and pensioners,” Nissenkorn said.
Leaders of KKL-JNF offices around the world have made an appeal to Netanyahu, calling on him to not harm the future of the KKL-JNF.
“For 116 years KKL-JNF has been supporting critical environmental projects in Israel,” said JNF Australia president Peter Smaller. “We believe that any action to expropriate funds from the organization could cause serious damage to it. We fervently request that you do not in any way pass laws that change the status of KKL-JNF.”
KKL-JNF Belgium president Jacky Benzennou wrote that such a decision should not have been taken without consulting all the KKL-JNF offices of the Diaspora, because the KKL-JNF was created by the Jewish Diaspora in 1901.
“The government’s proposal ignores the will of the Jewish people and its long-standing [investors] from around the world who understood the importance of redeeming land in the State of Israel,” Benzennou wrote Netanyahu. “We appeal to you not to take this decision and prevent this destructive step that will harm the citizens of Israel and the Jewish people, and will cause great damage to the connection with the Jewish communities around the world.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh heads Tony Gelbart and Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, whose organization partners with KKL-JNF in encouraging immigration from North America to the Israeli periphery, also wrote a letter of concern to Netanyahu.
Some 800 KKL-JNF workers from across the country demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Office during Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting. The workers threatened to copy the tactics of handicapped protesters and shut down streets.
“We are here to protest the foolish decision to hurt the absolute, most significant body for the State of Israel, the most Zionist, the one that established Israel by acquiring lands,” said Saer Ismael, a KKL-JNF Northern Region Implementation Unit employee.
“This is the only body that invests in the periphery, both in the North and in the South, in all disciplines – in land development, in building reservoirs.
This is the most socially minded organization there ever was that operates today with no political considerations for the general public – both Jewish and non-Jewish – investing immensely in reducing social gaps.”
Ismael said he has been a member of the Likud Party since 1993 and was ashamed that such a decision was being made by a Likud-led government.