An open letter to the Australian environment movement from Jews Against the Occupation (Sydney and Melbourne)


Alongside gains made by environmental campaigns and activists in Australia and worldwide, there has been a rise of opportunistic organizations appropriating the concerns of environmentalism, and taking advantage of public support for environmental projects. This trend is known as ‘greenwashing.’ It is the aim of our collectives, Jews Against the Occupation (Melbourne) and Jews Against the Occupation (Sydney) to bring attention to the way in which greenwashing is being carried out by the Israel-based Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The JNF holds official charity, tax-exempt status, and receives fundraising from countries worldwide, including Australia. The JNF promotes itself as an environmental charity, “greening the State of Israel through the creation, improvement and maintenance of forests and the preservation of natural landscapes and open spaces”1. In reality, “its primary goals [are] the development and conservation of land it holds on behalf of the Jewish people.” While the JNF was established as a private organization for the benefit of Jews, it has been given quasi-government status by Israeli legislation. This orientation towards developing land in Israel exclusively for the Jewish people is inherently discriminatory. Israel has often obtained land by violent and extra-legal means. Some of these actions have been condemned as being complicit in war crimes. In fact, many of the “open spaces” that the JNF claims to be preserving are actually the ruins of Palestinian villages, from which residents were forcefully exiled. The JNF then plants forests in these areas, which prevent any chance of Palestinian return.

Currently, the JNF is involved in a plan to “revitalize, develop and preserve the Negev desert,2” in the south of Israel. This involves projects that forcefully displace Bedouins, who are non-Jewish citizens of Israel, to make way for exclusively Jewish areas. Some of these Bedouins have had to rebuild their demolished homes over thirty times3. These actions reflect the racism in the JNF’s policies, leading a number of prominent figures to speak out against their actions. One JNF board member, Seth Morrison, recently resigned after “learning that JNF is a force in preventing long-term peace4.” The Rabbis for Human Rights organization has condemned JNF’s actions, stating it is “deeply concerned …with the human rights of all people living under Israel’s control5.” For this reason, some environmentally-conscious groups have supported calls to create awareness around JNF’s practices. Stan Blackley, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, has said, “our organisation is pleased to join the call for the revocation for the JNF’s charitable status in the UK and to help raise awareness on this little known issue6.“ The Greens party of Scotland, England and Wales have also officially condemned JNF actions. Greens member, Deborah Fink, stated,

the Greens Party stands for environmental and social justice, the upholding of human rights, is against racism and is officially in solidarity with the Palestinian people who have called for this campaign.  The JNF is a major impediment to realisation of Green Party policy on the Middle East…As a charity, the JNF gets tax advantages, so through our taxes, we are subsidising injustice.”7  

As a charity that touts itself as being committed to the development of the natural landscapes, in actuality the JNF’s practices violate both environmental and social justice standards. A number of Israeli professionals within the environmental sciences have acknowledged the JNF’s work in combating threats such as soil erosion, but have simultaneously condemned the ways in which the JNF is damaging land in the Negev desert and other areas through the planting of non-native species, such as pine trees. Often pine trees are planted in areas exposed to extreme dry heat, in which “the JNF’s trees go up like tinder8 causing devastating forest fires, such as the Carmel wildfires in 2010. Additionally, animals that have developed in the desert landscape have historically lived off only shrubs. When trees have been planted there, birds of prey like shrikes or kestrels have come to the area to destroy local fauna, such as the leopard fringe-fingered lizard, a rare species that lives only in the Be’er Sheva area, and which is devoured by invading species9. Despite attempts at addressing these issues with the JNF, the JNF has not responded adequately. Through its promotion of a Eurocentric, afforested conception of environmentalism, the JNF’s practices have not only contributed to the destruction of indigenous ecosystems, but have also undermined and undervalued the knowledge of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants.

JNF’s actions are relevant to all environmentally-concerned groups in Australia. This comes with the understanding that humans are part of the natural world; that social justice is part of environmental justice. Environmentalists need to recognize that the JNF is not an environmental organization. Its racist ideology contributes to colonial exploitation of the environment of Palestinian people. It aims to secure land for Jews only, with no regard for the lives of non-Jews it may affect. The JNF promotes itself as an environmental organization at global summits and conferences. Environmental groups need to expose the JNF for its unethical practices.

Environmentally-concerned groups are asked to:

  1. Recognise that JNF does not meet the ethical standards of an environmental movement
  2. Raise awareness of greenwashing amongst environmental organizations
  3. Support efforts to remove the charitable and tax exempt status of the JNF

If you want more information about Stop the JNF campaign or want to get involved go to http://stopthejnf.org/, or email us at jaomelbourne@gmail.com

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