The chairman of JNF has spoken publicly for the first time about a five-month-long row over donations.
Samuel Hayek explained why the charity has not passed on more than £250,000 to a Negev-based Israeli non-governmental organisation (NGO), Project Or.
The money was part of more than £600,000 raised at a dinner in London in January 2007 organised by businessman Cyril Stein, who has taken up the cudgels on Or’s behalf.
Mr Stein has now decided to take the dispute to the London Beth Din. Mr Hayek responded: “It’s unlikely we would say ‘no’ as we are a Jewish organisation.”
Mr Stein has been in correspondence with Mr Hayek since December asking why the money raised at the 2007 dinner has not been passed on to Project Or.
In letters seen by the JC, it is clear that Mr Stein had become increasingly impatient and had thus decided to go to the Beth Din.
Project Or founder Ofir Fisher said in February that Or was owed £687,000 and that the delay in forwarding the funds was holding up projects.
Mr Hayek said: “The JNF board has approved the transfer of £255,000, subject to it being used for the purpose for which it was donated. We have been asked, why don’t we send it to them?
“The JNF board has concerns about how the £321,000 we have sent Or already has been used. If people donate money for a school in the Negev, Project Or can’t use it for a building in the Galilee.
“We have asked them since last year to confirm that the money we had sent them already was being used only for the purpose for which it was raised, and that the same would be true for money that we still owe them. We became more concerned when we did not get answers to those questions.
“In February, Project Or said they had answered every question we asked — they did not. They accused us of delaying tactics — we didn’t delay anything. They haven’t given the answers.”
Mr Hayek said that £50,000 had been sent to Or to pass on to Shomriya, a former Negev kibbutz used to provide a home for 100 families displaced from Gaza, but that Or had used it for their own expenses — a claim that Or denies strenuously.
He added: “JNF doesn’t wish to have a fight with Cyril Stein. The new board has inherited this from the old leadership. JNF supports the Negev projects and has sent millions of pounds there. We merely want to fulfil our duty as trustees.”
JNF has now introduced a system where every new project for which it has raised the funds must have a signed donation contract.
“The aim is that everything JNF does should be as transparent as possible at every stage,” Mr Hayek said.