I want to thank Achinoam Nini (Noa) from the bottom of my heart for her moving Facebook post calling on the Keren Kayemet (KKL) in Israel to cease their unjust efforts to evict the Sumarin family from their home in East Jerusalem, and calling on JNF USA to take responsibility for their part in this humanitarian tragedy. (Click, or see her post below.) Achinoam, who participated in a JNF USA fundraiser just last Sunday, makes it clear that she expresses her disappointment as somebody who supports much of the work that JNF USA does. In last week’s dvar Torah (for Shlakh L’Kha-being read this week outside of Israel) I published the words of another of Sunday’s performer’s, Ethan Herschenfeld. While their messages are different, and while other performers have chosen to engage JNF USA privately on this issue, the common denominator is that they each take their steps with a proven track record of love for Israel and willingness to support that which is positive in the work of JNF USA. This resonates with me personally. There is a JNF forest dedicated by the Pittsburgh community to my sister and brother n law. I also know that they have done laudable work to purchase land for the Jewish People, and for the environment. I was also pleased to know that there is no destroyed Arab village at the heart of the forest dedicated to my sister. That is the dark side of the KKL-JNF. They have always worked hand in glove with Israeli governments for the purpose of land control at the expense of non-Jews. In many JNF forests there are the remains of former Arab villages. Putting aside the debate to what extent Arabs fled in 1948, and to what extent they were expelled (there are examples of both), these forests served to prevent Israeli Palestinians from returning, even if they never left Israel’s borders when they temporarily sought safety elsewhere.
Achinoam writes, “Only those that love you, will bother to point out what is wrong, so that you can make it right. That should be true for any organization which truly loves Israel.”
In Israel, our Torah portion this week is “Korakh,” the story of a serious rebellion against Moses’ leadership. In our haftarah, Samuel sees the demand of the people for a king as a lack of appreciation of his leadership. In fact, a big part of the problem was the fact that his children were not as honest and just as he was, “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons judges over Israel…But his sons did not follow in his ways; they were bent on gain, they accepted bribes, and they subverted justice.” (I Samuel 8:1,3) As far as we know, Moses never tried to promote his children to any leadership position.
The words of Moses and of Samuel are very similar. Moses says to God, “I have not taken the ass of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them.” (Numbers: 16:15) Samuel tells the people, “Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way? I will return it to you.” (I Samuel 12:3). How telling it is what both Moses and Samuel deem to be most important in their defense. They do not point to military prowess or the miracles they have wrought. They wanted it to be clear that they had never acted unjustly towards anybody. They had not stolen or defrauded, or taken bribes, or looked the other way when others acted unjustly.
Perhaps I am idealizing the past, but early documents of the KKL-JNF include strict rules even for the purchase of Arab lands. Land had to be purchased without pressure, and when people truly wished to do so.
Like Samuel’s children, the successors of the KKL-JNF’s founders have not followed in their ways. They have been bent on gain and have subverted justice. JNF USA’s primary defense is that, even when the KKL-JNF asked the Custodian for Absentee property to falsely declare the Sumarin family abandoned when family members were living in the home, and even when the KKL-JNF began a relentless thirty year legal battle to evict the family they built on their own property and have lived in ever since, they were “only” transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Even if their claim was true that they “had no influence.” (it is clear to me that they did), it would mean that they were looking the other way.
The blaring headline in today’s “Makor Rishon” newspaper is “The Campaign (our campaign A.A.) That Intends To Prevent The Redemption Of A Strategic Property In The City Of David.” Unlike Moses and Samuel, who care about people and justice, what is of ultimate importance is redeeming (Judaizing through theft) strategic property.
When justice is subverted, and when even good people turn the other way, people are hurt. In this case, it is the 18 members of the Sumarin family. Even if we prevent the KKL-JNF from throwing three generations out of the home they love, and Elad does not get its hands on the home they covet, what can ever heal 30 years of trauma? I can only hope that at least the family knows they have not been abandoned, any more than their property ever was. They are not alone, as Achinoam notes that we were alone so often in our history.
We must not turn away. We must not abuse our power to defraud and rob people through the legal system.
The medieval Torah commentator Soforno states that the meaning of “nor have I wronged any one of them” is that Moses did not wrong anybody through unjust legal judgments, such as the abuse of the Absentee Property Law to take the Sumarin family home, in a way that the Israeli government itself admitted was wrong in 1995. Soforno translates Moses’ words “they cannot even accuse me of having wrongly convicted anyone of them in legal proceedings…” (Soforno to Numbers 16:15) In his commentary to I Shmuel 13:3, Abarbanel writes that “taking,” “defrauding” and “robbing” refer to using something belonging to somebody else without compensation, persuading somebody to give up something that is theirs, and taking by force. He adds three very relevant points: 1. That bribery can be when the legal authority uses its power to take possessions from people. The Sumarins were subject to unfair laws imposed upon them by the unbridled might of an occupying power. The KKL-JNF wrote to the government asking them to do apply the law in an abusive way, and then benefited. 2. Shmuel was willing to make amends if he had ever turned away and ignored injustice. That is precisely what we are asking of JNF USA. Make amends for what you ignored. If the claim of the KKL in their discussions with me is that they cannot afford to relinquish their claim to the property, surely there are many donors to JNF USA and other affiliates/former affiliates that would be proud to make amends by raising the necessary funds to “buy out” the KKL. 3. That if a judge turns away and ignores a person’s need for a legal justice, that is as bad as bribery. The entire system has worked to defraud the Sumarins.
If human beings and justice are more important to you than “redeeming strategic property” than please click here, and write yourself to the KKL in Israel, JNF USA, and other KKL_JNF affiliates worldwide.
Achinoam Nini’s post:
As a supporter and friend of JNF-USA, who has put her heart , voice and the weight of her reputation into a JNF-USA fundraiser just this past Sunday, and who is proud to support all the wonderful projects JNF-USA fund every year, I am obligated to raise the issue of the Sumarin family in Jerusalem.
I admit, I wasn’t aware of this issue when I agreed to perform. As Louis CK once said: Now I know it, and I can’t un-know it.
I call upon the KKL-JNF in Israel to immediately cease all efforts to evict this family from their home, including withdrawing their objections to what may be the family’s final possible appeal on June 30th, and officially returning to the family the title to the home that was unjustly taken from them. I call upon JNF USA to withhold the remaining funds they give to KKL-JNF until the family’s future is secure. As an alternative, I call upon JNF USA donors, and JNF donors around the world, to create a fund to “buy out” the KKL-JNF, and return the home to the family. This will be a win-win situation. The Sumarins will keep their home. The KKL-JNF will not “lose money” by giving up the home. JNF USA and its supporters will have demonstrated the values they believe in, “ve ahavta leh reacha Kamocha..Love your brother as you love yourself”.
I know that today JNF USA and the KKL-JNF in Israel are almost entirely separate. However, they were closely affiliated in 1989 when the KKL-JNF asked the Israeli government to seize the Sumarin family home as abandoned property and turn it over to them, even though the home was never abandoned. When Musa Sumarin died, his three sons who were the legal heirs were abroad, but his nephew and his nephew’s family were living in the home, and taking care of him. The Israeli government later acknowledged that the “Absentee Property Law” had been abused in many such cases and promised to refrain from using it in this way, but it was too late for the Sumarin family. JNF USA was transferring large amounts of money to the KKL-JNF when the KKL-JNF relentlessly pursued eviction from 1992 until an international letter writing campaign persuaded the KKL-JNF to freeze eviction plans in 2011. During those same years, the KKL-JNF did obtain other homes, and turned them over to groups dedicated to “Judaizing” East Jerusalem. It was also around 2011 that JNF USA began to disengage from the KKL-JNF, perhaps in part because they realized that a growing number of U.S. Jews did not support the JNF in order to evict families in East Jerusalem.
It pains me so deeply, that we, the Jewish people, who have suffered so greatly and horribly over history as a minority in the hands of those who ruled over us, who were in power and abused it, who mitigated even, trampled our humanity and demonized us, turn around and behave in exactly the same way to minorities who are now under OUR control now that WE wield the power , whom we should be the gentle and respectful custodians of, in keeping with our teachings and culture.
I believe that Jewish organizations outside of Israel, have an important role to play in expressing positive, constructive criticism, and truly working to bring “Tikkun” to Israel, in any way they can. I do not believe it is their role to unequivocally support everything Israel does…the sad and bitter ramifications of such acquiescence are evident, among others, in the sorry state of Israel’s democracy, and the tragedy of the ongoing occupation/settlement, two things that endanger Israel’s future, destabilize her and mar her image.
Only those that love you, will bother to point out what is wrong, so that you can make it right. That should be true for any organization which truly loves Israel.
I honestly believe JNF- USA truly love Israel, as I do!
I believe they will only gain by doing everything in their power to help the Sumarin Family end the nightmare they have been living for three decades, taking full responsibility for whatever connection they had in the past with KKL-JNF Israel, which has been the source of this families agonies. It is the right thing to do, the “mentsch” way to behave. And it will make me even prouder to support JNF-USA!
Now all of you good people, who have been so kind as to read this post, Know it..and you can’t unknow it.