JNF say no to UK Arab task force

A young Bedouin woman rebuilds her home after houses were demolished in al-Arakib village last August

A young Bedouin woman rebuilds her home after houses were demolished in al-Arakib village last August

JNF UK has decided to keep its distance from a recently established task force to increase awareness among British Jews of issues faced by Israel's Arab citizens.

Lord Beecham, vice-chairman of the New Israel Fund UK, one of the task force's founder organisations, said that the JNF should follow others such as the UJIA, Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation by joining it.

"JNF UK is the largest relevant organisation that is not a member of the task force," he said.

But a spokesman for JNF UK said: " We are concerned that our involvement in the UK Task Force on Arab-Israeli issues would stray into territory that is rightfully and properly that of the democratically elected government of Israel - and consequently we have no plans to join it."

Lord Beecham has also quizzed the charity over its position on the destruction of Bedouin villages regarded by Israel as illegally established on state land in the Negev. The southern region is the primary focus of JNF UK's work in Israel.

JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek, responding to Lord Beecham, said that the issue of the Bedouins, while an "understandable emotive one" was "not our primary concern." The situation was being addressed by the Israeli government and the Israel Lands Adminstration, he explained. But Lord Beecham said that JNF had "a responsibility to the Bedouin community as a leading agent of development in the Negev. That's not consistent with, at best, looking the other way while unrecognised villages are demolished."

JNF UK vice-chairman Michael Sinclair maintained that Bedouins benefited from the charity's aid to the Negev. "We are particularly proud of our involvement in the Schaller Medical Centre in Arad in the Negev where approximately 60 per cent of the patients treated are from the local Bedouin community," he said. "There are a number of Bedouin members of staff including doctors and care givers, and a Bedouin doctor is on the centre's management committee."

Last updated: 2:18pm, February 24 2011