A controversial vote by the Keren Kayemeth Le’Yisrael (KKL) Board of Directors on whether to authorize land purchases in the West Bank was called off Thursday by chairman Avraham Duvdevani.
Left-wing and centrist representatives in KKL oppose using the organization’s funds to buy land for settlement expansion in Judea and Samaria, across the Green Line in the West Bank, arguing that KKL funds, a significant portion of which come from Diaspora donations, should not be used for a purpose which is so contentious in Israel and the Jewish world.
Following the victory of right-wing and religious factions in elections to the World Zionist Congress efforts have been advanced to purchase private Palestinian property abutting settlements, to allow them to expand.
Two preliminary votes on the resolution in February and earlier this month were successfully passed with the narrow advantage enjoyed by the right-wing and religious factions in KKL.
However, the left and centrist groups lobbied intensely to stall the vote, reaching out to major Jewish organizations in the US, including Hadassah, WIZO, Maccabi Olami, Bnei Brith and Naamat USA.
Sources within the Masorti Movement told The Jerusalem Post that these organizations “understood how this would politicize one of the national institutions in a way that would harm the core interests of the Jewish people,” and said that “out of a sense of caution and responsibility” they demanded that the vote be postponed.
Officials from these organizations reportedly contacted Duvdevani and others and urged that the vote be suspended.
Duvdevani sent a message to board members just before noon on Thursday saying that “because of contacts made [with me] by members of the board [and] a number of organizations and movements, and some KKL offices around the world who wish to discuss the matter more deeply and examine their position more foundationally, I decided to listen to the requests and postpone the scheduled board meeting.”
There are 37 members on the board, 15 of whom filed a legal petition earlier this week against any land purchases in the West Bank by KKL.
Board members from the above mentioned organizations expressed an inclination to abstain, and then on Thursday morning David Yaari, chairman of the World Confederation of United Zionists, a WZO faction with representation in KKL, published an op-ed in the Post stating his opposition to the timing of the vote and aspects of the resolution itself.
Back in February, Yaari voted in favor of the resolution which narrowly passed, arguing that KKL should be able to buy land in the settlement blocs which, it is widely considered, will always be part of the State of Israel.
Without the votes of the World Confederation of United Zionists there was no majority for the resolution, and by Thursday Duvdevani understood he did not have the votes to pass it.
“We need to engage global Jewish communities and factor them in, to come to a greater consensus,” Yaari told the Post.
“We won’t ever get 100 percent consensus, but we shouldn’t pass resolutions of this magnitude by just one vote or with narrow majorities, and I commend the chairman for suspending the vote,” he added.
“The KKL was set up by the Jewish people, it serves the Jewish people, and should represent and reflect as broad a consensus as possible. The leadership of KKL should be credited for deciding to engage with the Jewish people and it has handled this situation in the right way.”
MK and Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Labor Party who was heavily involved in lobbying against the resolution, noted, following the suspension of the vote, that KKL enjoys a special status and independence of action in Israel based on Knesset legislation, and that to maintain that status it needs the support of all Zionist parties in the Knesset and WZO.
“The KKL cannot expect support from center and left-wing Zionist parties if it becomes the long arm of the settlement movement, and similarly right-wing parties wouldn’t support KKL if it became a branch of Peace Now,” said Kariv.
“If the KKL leadership wants to maintain the support of the entire Zionist political spectrum, they need to work in areas which enjoy consensus,” he added.
Professor Eugene Kontorovich, Director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, criticized the left and centrist groups’ pressure as “racial discrimination” against Jews for impeding their private property rights and against Palestinians for stopping them from selling land to Jews.
He said such groups were “beginning to legitimize the idea that Jews should not be able to engage in private property transactions in certain areas,” adding, “I think that is a fundamentally discriminatory position.