State seeking billions from Israel's JNF

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 27, 2014
Cash grab: Livni

Cash grab: Livni

Israel's Finance and Justice Ministries are set to propose a law that would nationalise the income of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Ministers Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid are leading a growing faction in the coalition in favour of exerting more control over JNF, which holds around 15 per cent of all land in Israel while claiming to be an independent entity representing all Jewish people.

On average, the JNF makes around NIS 1 billion (£170 million) a year from land sales. While some of that finances forestry and environmental projects, it has accumulated reserves of NIS 4 billion (£680m). The organisation has offered to hand the government NIS 750 million (£128m) for various projects, but the ministers claim its entire structure in Israel is anachronistic and both the land it holds and its income should belong to the state.

The JNF is expected to mobilise a significant lobby in the Knesset and among international Jewish organisations to press their claim that they are acting as the custodians for the Jewish population and that the land they administer was bought with the contributions of Jews worldwide.

The JNF in Israel has been the focus of intense scrutiny in recent months, with claims of cronyism and bloated PR budgets. They have fuelled demands from officials in both ministries for greater state scrutiny, a demand the JNF board has strenuously rejected. JNF in Israel is a separate entity to JNF-UK and JNF-USA, which are organisations that raise money for various projects in Israel.

Last updated: 1:45pm, June 27 2014