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Halifax activists picket Negev Dinner and Jewish National Fund (JNF)

Protesters condemn JNF's land grab

by Judy Haiven

Drummers attracted notice from those going into the dinner
Drummers attracted notice from those going into the dinner
Protesters outside Negev Dinner, at the Cunard Centre, Halifax
Protesters outside Negev Dinner, at the Cunard Centre, Halifax
Haiven with his 6 foot sign- JNF Kills Peace
Haiven with his 6 foot sign- JNF Kills Peace

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) -  More than 65 people gathered on Thursday on the grassy knoll next to the Cunard Centre on Halifax’s waterfront for a spirited protest against the Jewish National Fund’s fundraiser, the Negev Dinner.

Members of Canadians Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace, Independent Jewish Voices-Canada and Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Dalhousie University blew whistles, banged pots and pans, and beat drums to attract the attention of dinner attendees.

To anyone’s best recollection, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has not previously held a Negev Dinner in Halifax.  However, these fundraisers are common in central Canada.  For example, in Toronto, the  JNF Negev Dinner held in December 2013 honoured Prime Minister Harper for his unwavering support of Israel. 

Funds raised at Halifax’s $250-a-plate dinner will sponsor a one kilometer bike path in Independence Park in Tel Aviv – which is built on top of the Abdel Nabi Muslim cemetery!    Building a bike path on top of a burial ground is the pet project of a leading JNF contributor, Jim Spatz.  Spatz, a Halifax medical doctor turned developer, was being honoured at the Halifax Negev Dinner. 

The guest speaker at the dinner was Rex Murphy, host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup and commentator on CBC-TV’s The National

In February 2014, Canadians discovered that Murphy had routinely accepted speaking fees for pro-Tar Sands speeches.  The Sierra Club Canada Foundation saw this as a clear conflict of interest and demanded full disclosure by the CBC. 

Due to the Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s complaint, the CBC committed to post Murphy’s (and other CBC presenters’) speaking engagements online.  John Bennett, National Program Director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, noted, “Consumers of CBC programming have a right to know about, and commentators have a responsibility to declare, conflicts of interest, perceived or otherwise.  Rex Murphy needs to come clean and show Canadians the money. Perception is reality and right now the perception is very bad.” 

At the protest, speakers included  Linda Scherzinger, of Canadians Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace, Amer Hussein of Dalhousie’s Students Against Israeli Apartheid and Larry Haiven on behalf of Independent Voices – Canada. 

Haiven carried a placard that was a two-metre tall photo of a concrete Israeli guard tower along the infamous separation wall that snakes through the occupied West Bank.  On the tower, he stuck a notice:  “JNF Kills Peace.” 

It was hard to estimate how many people who bought the $250 tickets actually attended. A parade of BMWs, Mercedes and Cadillacs drove right beside the protesters and then up to the front doors --  making every effort to ignore the demonstration.  The parking lot filled quickly, and latecomers had to park further from the venue doors; many had to walk by the protest, though few took a leaflet.   When this writer leafleted businessmen who were going inside, several said sheepishly that they were there just to honour  Spatz – they had no idea about the JNF. 

The JNF, founded in 1901, is a registered charity in Canada and donations are tax deductible.  Independent Jewish Voices – Canada estimates that up to 25 per cent of JNF Canada’s budget effectively comes from our taxes. But Canadian law forbids tax status to charities that violate international law and engage in racialist practices. 

As well as owning 13 percent of Israel’s land and having significant control over a further 80  percent of public lands, the JNF aids in the expulsion of Bedouin citizens of Israel from the Negev. Moreover, the JNF’s charter prohibits it from selling or leasing land to non-Jews, even if those non-Jews are citizens of Israel. 

In 2007, the United Nationals Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) rejected the application of the JNF for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) citing that the JNF’s work violated the principles of the UN Charter, which emphasizes respect for human rights and equality. 

The protest over the Negev Dinner was the fourth and final event marking Palestinian Dispossession week  May 15-22 in Halifax.  

In 1948 and again in 1967 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed by Israel.  These refugees and their  descendants were scattered all over the world. The dispersal of the Palestinian people is known in Arabic as the Nakba.  

Other events in the week included a Rally Against Israeli Apartheid at Victoria Park on Nakba Day followed by a reception and film showing. St Andrew's United Church hosted  a screening of a new film "The Village Under the Forest" an award-winning South African documentary about the Jewish National Fund (JNF) followed by a discussion.  All these events were free and open to the public.  

This is the first time Halifax activists in favour of Palestinian human rights and against Israel’s illegal – and brutal – occupation of the West Bank and Gaza  have targeted the JNF – and it won’t be the last!

Judy Haiven is a member of Independent Jewish Voices – Canada, and Canadians Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace.  She lives in Halifax.

 


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