WHY WE PICKETED THE NEGEV DINNER
re: “Three honoured at Negev Dinner”, June 26, page A4
The Spec didn’t cover our protest but, as usual, members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada and other human rights activists picketed the annual Negev Dinner in Hamilton. Here’s why.
Imagine if there were a gala black-tie dinner every year in Hamilton featuring big name Canadian performers, honouring local dignitaries, and raising money for a charity collecting funds to expropriate lands belonging to native people in Canada, so that those lands could be made available exclusively to non-natives? Picture yourself in a tuxedo or gown attending such a dinner, hobnobbing with Hamilton’s upper crust, and getting a tax deduction for purchasing your ticket and any other contribution you might make.
Can’t picture it? I don’t blame you. A charity like that would not be allowed in Canada in 2017. The Canadian Supreme Court outlawed discrimination in deeds of land decades ago.
Yet, since 1901, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has been raising funds to obtain Palestinian lands and making them available exclusively to Jews in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and has had charitable status in Canada since 1967. On an annual basis, the JNF raises about $13 million in Canada. That means that all Canadians subsidize the JNF’s dispossession of Palestinians.
This year’s Negev Dinner focussed on a Jerusalem medical clinic as its pet project. However, three years ago, using the name of TV personality, Steve Paikin, it raised money for a facility in Mitzpe Ramon, a Jewish settlement in the Israeli Negev (south) on lands expropriated from Israeli Bedouin (semi-nomadic shepherds). Seventy thousand indigenous Bedouin are being forced off their traditional lands and being “concentrated” (the Israeli government’s term) in five “Bedouin” towns. Their traditional lands are being seized for Jewish settlements. Yet the Bedouin and their allies resist. One Bedouin settlement, Al Araquib, has been destroyed an incredible 114 times and rebuilt each time.
The Jewish National Fund is also active in East Jerusalem and the West Bank where a process of “Judaization” (Israel’s own term) is taking place. That process means evicting Palestinians from their homes and replacing them with Jewish settlers.
One of the JNF’s most notorious projects is Ayalon Canada Park. This park was created over the ruins of three Palestinian villages shortly after the Israeli conquest of the West Bank in 1967. Ten thousand villagers were forcibly evicted from their homes and their towns were demolished in violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions to which Canada was a “High Consenting Party.” The JNF planted trees in the park to conceal the villages and to prevent the return of the villagers. Over fifteen million dollars was raised in Canada for this park, for which Canadian donors received tax deductions. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker presided over the opening of the park for whom the access road is still named today.
The JNF is part of the Israeli colonial project to carve out a Jewish state at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians who have lived there for hundreds of years. It now owns 13% of all lands in Israel. In its own words, the JNF states it is “not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF… does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state.” (JNF, December 2004)
Independent Jewish Voices Canada is currently working towards a formal complaint to the Minister of National Revenue asking for the revocation of the JNF’s charitable status in Canada. On its website ((http://ijvcanada.org/minister-of-national-revenue-revoke-jnf-canadas-charitable-status/) is a petition to the minister and a four-minute video explaining the background.
The Spectator reported on Hamilton’s Negev Dinner again this year. A comment by one of the doctor-honourees was that the project “focus(es) on an area for children.. no matter what religion, race, colour, gender.” Actually, within Israel’s 1948 boundaries, that statement might hold true. But there’s little chance of Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories ever seeing the inside of that clinic.
The three Jewish physicians who were “honoured” this year should remember their Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm!”
Regrettably, the Jewish National Fund has done a lot of harm to the Palestinians since 1901. It’s shameful that the Canadian government affords it charitable status. That’s why we picketed the Negev Dinner this year.
Ken Stone is a longtime antiwar, environmental, labour, and anti-racist activist in Hamilton.