Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Troubling questions for Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the congregants of Anshe Sholom, and all of us who give to JNF

Many of you in Chicago and around the US know our old friend Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the Orthodox rabbi who leads Anshei Sholom, the shul where Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff (and possibly the next Mayor of Chicago), and his family belong.

Rabbi Lopatin, who has been recognized as one of the top 25 pulpit rabbis in the US, announced that he is making aliyah with his family next year and bringing with him some 100 congregant families to Israel, to create a new “pluralistic, diverse and environmentally sound community” in the northern Negev near Beer Sheva.

But Rebecca Manski’s report - and the work of environmental justice pioneer Devorah Brous - uncovers facts that raise deeply troubling questions for Rabbi Lopatin and the hundreds of congregants he plans to lead to the Promised Land - and all of us who give to the JNF:
  • The Israeli government tacitly and extra-legally encouraged Jewish settlers—just like those in the OR Movement today—to construct private homes and out-buildings on state land in the Negev and elsewhere in Israel, and offered them annual subsidies to engage in cultivation.

  • American-Israeli planning scholars such as Daniel Orenstein—a former JNF-America board member—consider the OR Movement an illegal settlement movement dedicated to staking out lands for Jews in order to offset the presence of Arabs on Israeli lands.

  • Thanks to OR Negev’s extra-legal settlement activity, a scattering of new settlements now form a triangle in the region around the Negev’s urban center, Beersheva.

  • In 2009, the OR Movement was the third largest recipient of funds from JNF-US.

  • Today the settlements established through the southern wing of the movement, OR Negev, are the basis of JNF’s Blueprint Negev, a plan to establish dozens of new Jewish-only communities in the Negev and attract 250,000 Jews.

  • While the Israeli government uses tainted law to render Bedouin villages and land claims “illegal,” forcing Bedouin Israelis from their lands into crime-infested urban towns with no jobs, it retroactively legalizes OR’s illegal settlements exclusively for Jews.

  • Contrary to JNF’s claim that it has nothing to do with the destruction of Bedouin villages and the expulsion of Bedouin families from their homes, in fact, JNF-Israel, by law, nominates ten of the Israel Land Administration’s (ILA) twenty-two directors. When the ILA opts to destroy an "unrecognised village," JNF is deeply involved.

  • The Jewish National Fund forest to be planted on the new ruins of al-‘Araqib is part of a larger effort to green the image of the Negev, in order to encourage more Jewish immigration to the south of the country.

  • When the American wing of the JNF raises money for an "Ambassador's Forest" to replace the Negev Bedouin village of al-'Araqib, the line between demolition, and “greening,” is blurred.

Dear Rabbi Lopatin and our friends at Anshe Sholom, how can you justify being party to this injustice? Is your conscience not troubled?

Did the prophet Isaiah not teach that “Zion shall be redeemed with justice?” (1: 27 - 28)

Does God not command us to “faithfully observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the land to which I bring you to settle spew you out?” (Leviticus, 20:22)

Did the prophet Ezekiel not warn: “You stand upon your sword, you carry out disgusting deeds...and shall you possess the land?” (33: 23 – 26).

To learn more about Devorah and Rebecca’s distressing Negev discoveries, read “Blueprint Negev.”

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