American organizations that advocate equal rights for Arab residents of Israel were critical of a bill passed by the Knesset in an early stage last week that would limit the sale of Jewish National Fund land sales to Jews. The bill, approved in its first reading by a 64-16 vote, would bypass a 2004 court ruling and in effect bar the Israel Lands Authority from selling JNF land to Israeli Arabs.
The Abraham Fund Initiatives, “regrets” the Knesset action, according to a statement. “This proposed law perpetuates and institutionalizes the discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens in general and specifically regarding the issue of land allocation.”
In a letter to Knesset member Ze’ev Elkin of the Kadima Party, who introduced the legislation, Ameinu, the U.S. affiliate of the World Labor Zionist Movement, wrote: “At a time when Israel is trying to show the world that there is no contradiction between a Jewish state and a democratic one, every effort must be made to enforce the principle of equality and equal opportunity for all Israeli citizens.”
Larry Garber, CEO of the New Israel Fund, a civil rights organization, said the bill’s final passage is not certain, but “What’s troubling here is the large number of Knesset members who voted in favor of it.”
Although JNF controls only 13 percent of Israeli land, “the symbol of having the state involved in a policy that allows discrimination is clearly going to be see as problematic,” Garber said.