[Boycott - Other News]
UN rejects Jewish National Fund's application for consultative status
Ma'an News Agency
28 May 2007
Bethlehem - Ma'an - On 18 May 2007, the United Nations' Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) rejected the application of the Jewish National Fund (JNF)-USA for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) by a vote of 8 to 7 with three abstentions.
According to a press release from BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, who petitioned against JNF-USA's inclusion, consultative status enables NGOs to circulate statements and participate in relevant international conferences convened by the UN and in the meetings of their preparatory bodies. The Committee on NGOs, which is comprised of 19 Member States, decides upon whether or not to afford NGO-applicants consultative status. Over 2,700 NGOs from all over the world have been afforded consultative status.
The eight countries that voted against the granting of status to the JNF-USA were Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, Guinea, Russian Federation, Qatar, and Sudan; the seven countries voting in favour were Colombia, Israel, Peru, Romania, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States; and the three countries abstaining were Angola, India, and Pakistan.
The JNF-USA lobbied hard to gain ECOSOC status and provided letters of support for its application from powerful members of the US Congress, such as Senator Hillary Clinton. However, country representatives and the Palestine Observer Mission to the UN expressed concern about the affiliation between the JNF-USA and the JNF-KKL (Keren Kayameth LeIsrael), which carries out land development and settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT).
The JNF-USA told the Committee that it was independent and involved in water, environmental and development projects in the Middle East. However, according to BADIL's press release, country representatives stated that they were unable to distinguish between the activities of the JNF-USA and JNF-KKL. Another main reason cited for why the application should be rejected was that the JNF's work violated the principles of the UN Charter, which emphasizes respect for human rights and equality.
Adalah and its partner organizations, Habitat International Coalition and BADIL, have been closely monitoring these developments before the Committee on NGOs. The human rights organizations have also been advocating strenuously before UN human rights bodies to urge Israel to cease discriminatory land allocation practices using institutions such as the JNF, which controls 13% of the land in Israel, exclusively for the benefit of the Jewish population.
In the JNF's own words:
"The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel... The JNF, in relation to being an owner of land, 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, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state" (Response of the JNF, dated December 2004, to a petition filed by Adalah to the Supreme Court of Israel - HC 9205/04).
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), for example, in its concluding observations issued in March 2007, urged Israel to ensure that the JNF, the World Zionist Organization, and the Jewish Agency are "bound by the principle of non-discrimination in the exercise of their functions."
Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee - JNF Charitable Trust (PE779)
Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee Official Report
27 October 2004
The Convener: Petition PE779, from Ivan Clark, on behalf of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, calls for the Parliament to take all possible measures to ensure that the JNF Charitable Trust and similar organisations will not continue to benefit from charitable status in Scotland. Before being formally lodged, the petition was hosted on the e-petitioner site, where it gathered 687 signatures from 13 July 2004 to 30 September 2004. Background material from the petitioners has been circulated to members, as has a letter from the JNF. Ivan Clark is here to give a brief statement to the committee in support of the petition. He is accompanied by Anita Shanley and Hugh Mackay.
Ivan Clark (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign): Thank you, convener, for inviting us here to speak on behalf of the petition's signatories.
The Parliament is considering a bill—the draft Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill—that would amend the law on charitable status in Scotland. That status is a public endorsement by the law of the activities of private organisations and is based on an assumption that society regards such organisations in a particularly positive light. Charitable status brings substantial advantages under the tax system and it is no exaggeration to say that all of us, as taxpayers, contribute financially to the organisation that we are here to discuss.
We are here to tell you that we find the charitable status of the JNF Charitable Trust offensive and that we object to subsiding it through the tax system. We reject the public endorsement that is represented by its charitable status.
The JNF Charitable Trust is one of a group of organisations that are known collectively as the Jewish National Fund, which is active in the areas of land acquisition, development and administration in Israel. The objection to the JNF is that it is an active part of the system that denies Palestinians their fundamental human rights with respect to land. The relationship between the United Kingdom organisation with charitable status and the JNF as it operates in Israel is complex, but funds that are raised here are transferred there for the activities of the JNF.
Ninety-three per cent of the land in Israel is in a form of public administration, most of it having been appropriated by the state following the war in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians—including my colleague Anita Shanley—were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes. The fact that the land is in public administration means that, if someone wants to live in a house in Israel, they do not buy it or rent it from a private landlord; they have to apply for a lease from an organisation called the Israel Lands Administration.
The JNF has a dominant influence in the ILA, appointing 50 per cent of the council members and owning 17 per cent of the land that is under ILA administration. The JNF refuses to lease its land to non-Jews. That means that I would be able to apply for many leases in Israel because, although I was born in Scotland and have lived most of my life here, I am also Jewish. However, Anita would not be able to apply. That applies not only to refugees such as Anita, but to around 19 per cent of the citizens of Israel, who are of Arab origin. The situation has been described by the United Nations as an institutionalised form of discrimination and was also criticised in last year's human rights report from the United States Department of State.
There is evidence to suggest that the JNF has been involved in the acquisition and development of land for Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, which is—as I am sure members will know—illegal under the Geneva convention regarding occupied territory. It is also generally considered to be one of the major obstacles to a peace agreement in the middle east. The UK charity is particularly identified with the project to develop a settlement in an area of Israel that had been offered as part of a future Palestinian state in a proposed land exchange deal at the Taba summit in 2001. It seems likely that the project is being supported by the Israeli Government in order to prevent a similar offer from ever being repeated.
To summarise, the JNF Charitable Trust is part of a group that is involved in the denial of land rights to Palestinians. We object to subsidising the organisation through the tax system and we ask the Parliament, in considering the draft Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill, to take measures to monitor the activities of charities that operate overseas and to include some reference to human rights abuses in the bill.
The Convener: Thank you very much. I open up the debate for questions from members.
Mike Watson: I preface my remarks by declaring that I am a member of the Scottish Friends of Palestine and that I was a founding member of the cross-party group on Palestine.
I was interested to read, in the correspondence that you sent us, the information about the British park in Israel, of which I was not aware and which I find quite amazing, not to say worrying. I was also interested to read the exchange of correspondence with the representative of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, who effectively says that the commission does not see anything wrong with this. You wrote in May and she replied in May; you wrote again and she replied in July. Have you subsequently responded to the points that she made? The specific questions that you asked were not really addressed.
Ivan Clark: They were simply ignored. For that reason, I have not responded but have focused our efforts on getting this petition to the Scottish Parliament, especially in view of the fact that a bill is proposed that will amend the laws relating to charitable status. We ask the Parliament to ensure that, after the bill is passed, the Scottish charity regulator will be required to investigate substantive complaints and make public the results of all their investigations. The letter that I received from the Charity Commission says simply that it contacted the trust, that it is satisfied and that no public information is available.
Mike Watson: In your second letter, you ask the Charity Commission what kind of investigation it has carried out and in its response it refers to correspondence with the JNF dating back to 2002, although your letter was written only this year. Do you know what that refers to? Had a complaint been made previously against the JNF's charitable status?
Ivan Clark: I believe that complaints have been made by many individuals and groups over a number of years. I also believe that the Scottish Friends of Palestine has been involved.
Mike Watson: One other aspect that I want to follow up is the report that the JNF threatened legal action. I know that it claimed that the petition was ultra vires. The Parliament's lawyers have said that that is not the case, otherwise we would not be discussing it today. Did anything come of that legal action?
Ivan Clark: Nothing came of that legal action. It was merely a threat.
Mike Watson: Finally, I notice that the JNF copied its letter to Jane Ryder, who is the Scottish charity regulator. As an organisation, have you been in contact with her on the issue?
Ivan Clark: Yes, some members wrote to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and were directed to the Charity Commission for England and Wales because, under the present legal arrangements, that is the responsible body. The draft Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill proposes to change that.
The Convener: Before I come to Sandra White, I make it clear that the admissibility of the petition was checked out and the petition was found to be admissible. There is no doubt about it whatsoever.
Ms White: In your opening statement, you mentioned the ILA buying land and granting leases. I note from our papers that there is a dispute with KKL, which buys land in Israel with moneys that are given to it from the charitable trust. Anita Shanley is a refugee. How does that situation affect you or anyone who is living in the area?
Anita Shanley (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign): I am very involved in a lot of Palestinian activities, because I am aware of the pain and suffering that people are undergoing. I was expelled in 1948 from my home. I was sent away to Lebanon in a car, because they were bombing my school. My family hung on a bit longer, but it became very dangerous, and they were warned that they should leave.
That affected me at the time, because I arrived in Lebanon and had no passport. I was going to bring my British mandate passport today. It dawns on you that you are nobody. You have no home.
You have no country. You have no identity. I was stripped of my identity. Luckily, now I have a British identity, so last year I could visit. There are so many refugees from Ajjur and Zakariyya, which are in the British park. Walid Khalidi says that people from at least 410 villages have been what is called "transferred".
Ms White: I just wanted clarification. You have given us the background of what happened to you. We see from our papers that the JNF gives money to a business to buy land. You are now a British citizen. If you wished to go back to your country and buy a piece of land to build a house, would you be able to?
Anita Shanley: I do not think so, because my passport says that I was born in Jerusalem.
Ms White: I believe that charities are supposed to be for everyone. As you are Palestinian, you would not be able to buy the land. The charity buys up land through the other JNF board. The letter from the Charity Commission for England and Wales points out that the stated objective of the JNF Charitable Trust is to take action that will be "in the opinion of the Association ... directly of benefit to persons who, in the opinion of the Association, are of Jewish religion, race or origin."
What do you make of that? That is the charity's statement about who should buy up land in Palestine.
Anita Shanley: The charity says that it is for everybody—
Ms White: We believe that when charities gather money in Scotland or Britain, that money should be available to everyone, but the JNF UK states that it is for people of "Jewish religion, race or origin."
Anita Shanley: In that statement, the charity says that it exists to serve Jews, but we must consider at whose expense that is done. The building is not being done in an empty country. The Palestinians are people who have roots in the land and people are expelled to allow the building to be done. That is the Zionist agenda. We are not against the Jews or Judaism, but we are against Zionism, which is the political ideology of those who want to drive out the people of the land who have been there from the beginning and to have that for themselves only.
That is why we must look beyond what the charity says to see how the purpose is really being achieving. On the surface, a park with trees and birds sounds lovely, but the villagers of Ajjur and Zakariyya have been shoved from pillar to post. They have not been made refugees only once: they arrived in Ramallah, then they went to Jericho, then in 1967 they were shoved to Gaza and now they have been shifted somewhere else. There is a strategy of moving a lot of people around. The people involved do not care about that, as long as they have the land. The strategy is put in a lovely package, but we must go beyond that.
Ms White: I understand completely. I just wanted to put those points across to make it plain exactly what the charity does.
Ivan Clark: To clarify an issue that relates to your first question, KKL is the Hebrew acronym standing for the Jewish National Fund. The JNF Charitable Trust states that it is a UK charity that is not part of the Jewish National Fund but which remits moneys to Israel and employs the Israeli JNF to carry out charitable activities for it. I submitted a page from the trust's financial statement because it is evidence that money has been spent on the purchase of land. I presume that it is administered according to the JNF rules, which in other words means exclusively for Jews and against refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Rosie Kane: JNF UK, which has charitable status, has planted a British park, within which is the village of Ajjur, which in the charity's literature is described as abandoned. Will you describe what that abandonment meant?
Anita Shanley: The charity says that it is abandoned. Amos Oz has said that people got up and left. How can people get up and leave their agricultural land? How can they let their families traipse along the way, dying from hunger until they reach the border with Lebanon or another of our borders? Someone does not just wake up one day and leave their house, family and land. We know about the massacre of Deir Yassin and about all of the other massacres.
Rosie Kane: The people and their families who once lived in the area that is now in effect the British park now live in refugee camps. That does not seem very charitable. It is clear that the cleansing of the area could be seen as a war crime. What view does the Charity Commission take of that?
Ivan Clark: The committee has seen the letters that we received from the Charity Commission. The commission is not forthcoming on its views on the activities of the JNF.
Rosie Kane: What are your feelings about that? If the Charity Commission can overlook that sort of thing, I am concerned about the sort of organisation that can get charitable status.
Ivan Clark: Obviously. Perhaps the question should be addressed to the commission. My suspicion is that it might have been influenced by political considerations.
Helen Eadie: Has anyone in your campaigning organisation written to the Inland Revenue? Having worked with a variety of voluntary organisations, I understand that one of the first things that an organisation has to do in order to gain charitable status is to send the wording of its constitution to the Inland Revenue for approval. Has that check been carried out? What did the Inland Revenue say when you raised the issue?
Ivan Clark: We have not contacted the Inland Revenue. I understand that the initial decision on whether to grant charitable status is made by the Charity Commission.
Helen Eadie: During my lifetime, I have been involved in the setting up of about half a dozen charities. Although I lived in London for 17 years, I am sure that the setting up of the charities with which I was involved in the Scottish context began with an application to the Inland Revenue. Ultimately, it was the Inland Revenue that negotiated the wording of the constitution. I am absolutely clear that certain criteria had to be followed before charitable status could be granted. I am therefore surprised to hear that that basic check was not carried out.
Perhaps the committee could write to the Inland Revenue to ask about the extent to which it considers the political involvement of an organisation that seeks charitable status. In due course, the Scottish Executive is to establish a charities regulator. At the moment, however, the only regulator in the Scottish context is the Inland Revenue.
Hugh Mackay (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign): May I volunteer a comment on the subject? I have been involved in writing to the Inland Revenue in connection with requests to change the purposes of charities. I am aware of the correspondence that has to take place in that respect in Scotland. However, given that the JNF is an English-registered charity, the procedure is different. Although I could be wrong on the subject, is it not the case that, under present law, the Inland Revenue is the equivalent body in Scotland to the Charity Commission for England and Wales? In other words, if I were living in England and wanted to change the purposes of a charity or set up a new charity, I would take up the matter directly with the charity commissioners.
Helen Eadie: I have been involved fairly recently in setting up charities and we had to ensure that the wording went to the Inland Revenue.
Hugh Mackay: In Scotland?
Helen Eadie: Yes. We are to take a decision on whether to pass PE779 to the Communities Committee. Perhaps before we do so, we should clarify the point with the Inland Revenue.
Rosie Kane: I wonder whether it would be possible for us to write to some of the JNF's honorary patrons such as Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Leader of the Opposition Michael Howard and the Rt Hon Charles Kennedy. Convener, you seem concerned by that suggestion.
The Convener: I just wonder why we should do that. If we pick out individuals in such a way, should we not write to every patron of every organisation?
Rosie Kane: Oh, but these people are not just any old patrons.
The Convener: I understand that, but we do not want to set precedents in the committee. Can you justify why we should single out those three individuals and not the other patrons of the organisation? Indeed, can you justify why we should single out any patrons at all?
Rosie Kane: Given what we have learned today, they might seek to distance themselves from the organisation. In any case, I would certainly like to hear their opinion and find out why they think that the JNF is a good organisation to be an honorary patron of. Perhaps they could also examine the decisions of the Charity Commission in this respect and then tell us why they feel that the organisation should have charitable status.
The Convener: Surely that is a matter for the Charity Commission, not this committee. Do we question every individual who takes part in any organisation because we are interested to hear their views?
Rosie Kane: We should do so if one of the individuals in question is the Prime Minister. I asked earlier why the Charity Commission has not responded to obvious concerns about the JNF's involvement with the British park. I am concerned that the involvement of certain honorary patrons might be the reason why the commission is quivering a little about providing an effective response. It is very clear that these are matters of great concern.
The Convener: I understand that, but it is a matter of record that these people are patrons. I would like you to justify why the committee should ask them why they are patrons of this charity when we do not do so with any other charity.
Rosie Kane: I want to let them know what has happened at today's meeting, given that their names are included in the list of patrons for the organisation.
The Convener: So you want to write to them for information.
Rosie Kane: Yes.
The Convener: So we would not ask them any questions. We would simply write to them for information.
Rosie Kane: I think that we should flag the matter up.
Ms White: I understand Rosie Kane's position. However, instead of having the committee write to Tony Blair and the other people whom she mentioned, I would prefer to write to them as an MSP. It would be much better if such letters came from individual members.
In light of the draft Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill, I think that we should refer the petition and our comments to the Communities Committee. I am quite disgusted by some of the material that we received and think it disgraceful that the Charity Commission and the JNF have said that we have no powers to do anything. We have powers; the Communities Committee will consider the bill at some point and the petition should be referred to it as part of its consideration.
I am also very disturbed by some of the JNF's language, particularly the comment that I quoted that the charity benefits only people from the Jewish religion and with a Jewish background. That is not charitable in any way. If the Scottish people knew about that, they might not be so willing to give to the charity. I am sure that that will all come out in the Communities Committee's investigation. I am quite happy to write to Tony Blair, Charles Kennedy and Michael Howard as an individual MSP to highlight my concerns about what has been brought to my attention. I am sure that Rosie Kane would be happy to do the same.
The Convener: That point is valid. I am always careful not to set precedents in the committee. Up to now, every time we have discussed a petition about organisations with patrons, we have not had to write to and question those people about their patronage—
Rosie Kane: But this is a different matter. The Prime Minister is involved.
The Convener: I accept your point to an extent. However, what is the purpose of writing to the three people whom you mentioned and not the other patrons? If we write to those patrons, should we not write to every patron of every organisation that is mentioned in a petition? If we set a precedent in this case, we will have to follow it through with other petitions. After all, we must be seen to be even handed.
As Sandra White has said, the petition could be referred to the Communities Committee. We also have to take timescales into consideration. If we write to those patrons seeking their views, we will have to wait for that information to come back before we can act on Sandra's request and refer it to the Communities Committee. In writing to the patrons, we might delay acting on the petition.
Rosie Kane: Which MSPs round this table will write to the named patrons?
Ms White: I will.
The Convener: I will do it. If you want the committee to write to the patrons on a point of information, we would just be advising them of our discussion; we would not be waiting for a response from them before we took any other action. If you want me to write to them on behalf of the committee with that information, that is fine—we have acted in such a way on several occasions. However, to ask people to say why they are patrons of an organisation just because their name appears on a letter that accompanies the petition would be to set a precedent that we do not want to follow.
Mike Watson: The convener's suggestion is the right way forward. We should, nonetheless, refer the petition to the Communities Committee, which is considering the organisation of Scottish charities.
Helen Eadie: Does that mean that you will not lose sight of my request that we also write to the Inland Revenue?
The Convener: We must consider the timescale. We could write to the Communities Committee and ask it to put the question to the Inland Revenue as part of its investigation. If we were to write to the Inland Revenue, we would not be able to send the petition to the Communities Committee until we had received a response. It might be better to suggest to the Communities Committee that it writes to the Inland Revenue.
John Scott: When we write to the Communities Committee, we should invite its members to consider what is a politically suitable charity, although I am not sure how they would achieve that. We cannot name just one charity as being unsuitable—although the JNF has political aims by definition, so do many others. A level of vetting would have to be put in place by the Scottish equivalent of the Charity Commission. The Communities Committee will have to consider that as well.
The Convener: Given the evidence that we have heard this morning and the political nature of some organisations that have charitable status, it is important that we flag up the issue to the Communities Committee to ensure that it asks the relevant questions about political involvement in charitable trusts. On that point alone, the petition should be addressed by the Communities Committee.
With the committee's agreement, we will write to the Communities Committee with those specific requests, ask that it takes account of John Scott's point and suggest that it seeks information from the Inland Revenue about the establishment of charitable status for such organisations.
Ivan Clark: The draft Charities and Trustees Investment (Scotland) Bill suggests that there should be a charity test based on public benefit. We suggested in our proposal for an amendment, which we circulated to members, that the bill should contain a list of activities that are incompatible with charitable status. That would exclude certain organisations, of which the JNF might be an example.
The Convener: Thank you for that information. I clarify that I will write to the patrons of the JNF for information and advise them of our discussion this morning.
I suspend the meeting for five minutes, after which we will consider further items.
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