JNF battle reaches UK High Court of Justice

JNF told JNF-UK it was severing all ties with the UK organization.

jnf 88 (photo credit: )
jnf 88
(photo credit: )
The British branch of the Jewish National Fund ratcheted up its clash with the worldwide Zionist organization's Israel office on Friday, asking England's High Court of Justice to order the JNF not to use that acronym or the name Jewish National Fund. The court issued that injunction, which drew a fierce response from Jerusalem and brought what was already a bitter and critical battle in the world of Zionist fundraising to a new level of ugliness. At stake are millions of pounds in donations each year, as well as relations between Israel and one of its most important Diaspora communities. Three weeks ago, the JNF sent a letter to the JNF-UK, announcing that it was severing all ties with the British organization. It also bought advertisements in the Israeli press and in English newspapers that announced the end of relations between the two bodies, making it clear that JNF-UK no longer represented the century-old parent organization. The main reason for the breakup was that JNF-UK had broken an agreement it had signed six years ago by refusing to disclose financial information and by channeling funds to charitable projects in Israel that are unrelated to the JNF's mandate. JNF world chairman Yehiel Leket told The Jerusalem Post then that the JNF-UK, under the leadership of Gail Seal, had undermined the Zionist agency, costing it dearly in potential donations. In the papers filed on Friday, Seal turned the tables by arguing to the court that the JNF harms the British charity through its use of the name, which both sides claim as their own. The name - or, rather, the names - that the organizations use for their operations in Britain are a crucial matter of contention, as both sides claim that the other's use of the names deceives the public. The origin of the name Jewish National Fund is in the establishment at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1901, of the Juedischer Nationalfonds. In Hebrew, the fund became known as the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, or KKL. But around the world - the JNF has 109 affiliates - the Hebrew and English acronyms were joined to create the KKL-JNF, and it is this name or some minor derivation of it by which Jews around the world know the organization. In England, the JNF began operations in 1907 but was incorporated in 1939. Its main purpose was to purchase land in Palestine, which was then under British control. Although much of the Zionist leadership of the organization had already been in Palestine for many years, it was only after the founding of the State of Israel that the JNF could be said to have official status in this country and, by extension, have official ties with its branches abroad. Until now, KKL has also been known in England as the Jewish National Fund. This is the same name that its British counterpart used, as Seal states in the injunction request papers she signed and presented to the court on Friday, from 1939 until 1997-98. From that time, she states - around the same time that Seal took over as president - the public had come to know the British charity by the acronym JNF. That is also the time at which the organization decided to register the name JNF Charitable Trust as a trademark. Since then, the JNF-UK's contributions to the JNF have plummeted. In 1996, it sent nearly 3.7 million to the JNF, after raising around 4.9 million. In 2004, its contributions to the JNF amounted to some 440,000, although Seal states that the charity raised just over 12m. last year. The discrepancy is part of what Leket termed the JNF-UK's deceit of British donors. What he called "the last straw" was the establishment by the JNF-UK of another charitable company under the name KKL Charity Accounts. It also owns a company named KKL Executor and Trustee Limited. Both companies use or reference the name JNF as well. When the fighting between the two organizations came to a head in 1999 and the JNF very nearly severed ties, it set up a company named KKL Charitable Trust, but kept it dormant. The JNF revived KKL Charitable Trust last month, after breaking its relationship with JNF-UK. This, Seal argues, is an infringement of the trademark of her organization's aforementioned subsidiaries. "This claim," said Leket on Saturday, "is like the demand of a child, rebelling against his parents, that they stop using their family name - the name they passed on to him - as if the family name should belong only to him. "The chutzpah of Mrs. Seal, who uses the historical name of the JNF and exploits this name for other purposes," continued Leket, "has now reached new levels with her attempt to drag us to court in England in order to prevent us from using our own historical name which we have carried for more than 100 years." The right to use the name JNF in England is not the only issue that has divided Seal and Leket, however. The question of ownership of various parcels of land in Israel has been a rather thorny issue for the two, and it is a subject that is likely to be revived as the relationship between the two organizations continues its rapid deterioration.