JERUSALEM (May. 5)
The Jewish National Fund says it has become the target of a worldwide propaganda war against Israel.
Moshe Rivlin, JNF chairman, himself encountered a raucous pro-Palestinian demonstration in Basel, Switzerland, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Tuesday.
He said Arab propagandists in the United States and Europe increasingly are focusing on JNF’s long history of land reclamation, acquisition and development, pillorying them as anti-Arab activities.
Rivlin said JNF has opened its archives to a group of Hebrew University academicians who are compiling a rejoinder to a recent, purportedly scholarly, study of JNF by Walter Lehn and Uri Davis.
This book, entitled “The Jewish National Fund,” appeared this year under the prestigious Keagan Paul label in London and New York.
In other ad-hoc defensive actions, JNF has vigorously and successfully shown:
That the Switzerland Forest, on the hills above Tiberias, is planted on land designated for afforestation by the British Mandate and not, as claimed in a Swiss newspaper, on the land of six Arab villages.
That the Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands Forest also was planted on land reserved for trees. Dutch television had questioned the queen’s visit to Israel two years ago on the grounds that the area of the forest belonged to a local Arab village. The headman of that village, in fact, attended the forest dedication ceremony and personally presented a gift to the queen.
In a wide-ranging interview with JTA, Rivlin noted a shrinkage in the size of JNF missions to Israel, but no decrease in the number of those missions as a result of concern over the security situation here.
He stressed that JNF income for the 1987-1988 fiscal year, just ended, was statistically up, and indicators for 1988-1989 are favorable.
NO EFFECT ON FINANCIAL SUPPORT
Rivlin said the same situation was reflected in United Jewish Appeal and Keren Hayesod forecasts. “Jews are asking lots of questions,” Rivlin said, “but they are not stopping their financial support.”
Rivlin’s own recent experience in the propaganda war took place on what was to have been a festive planting in Basel of 40 trees, brought specially from Israel by the canton to mark Israel’s 40th anniversary and to hark back to the city’s role in the cradle of the Zionist undertaking. The first Zionist Congress was held in Basel in 1897.
The JNF chairman and his cousin, David Rivlin, the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland, were invited to attend the ceremony, which the canton parliament was determined to hold, despite public pressure to cancel the event.
About 400 hundred people took part in a demonstration protesting the planting. The Swiss police allowed 50 of them to attend the ceremony itself for just five minutes.
Rivlin recalls the Palestine Liberation Organization flags and kaffiyeh scarves, the whistling and jeering as the Israeli ambassador began his address.
The hostility of that anti-Israel demonstration contrasted sharply, Rivlin said, with the atmosphere of “true friendship” at an official dinner later that day, attended by most of the canton ministers and the speaker of the canton parliament.
Moving on to the subject of JNF financing, Rivlin stressed that although there had been no fall in income, JNF could achieve more if it had more funds.
The total budget for the present fiscal year is $75 million, of which more than two-thirds is allocated for actual land development. This pays for heavy earth-moving equipment, wages for tractors, drivers and foresters, as well as sapling nursery costs. The balance covers rents, debt payments, educational projects, public relations and administration.
Two recent JNF projects which have already proven themselves, Rivlin said, are the Reshafim Dam in the Bet Shean Valley and the Eshet-Hadassah Dam in the northern Negev. These dams saved precious water that would otherwise have been lost during this year’s heavy rains. “Now,” Rivlin added, “the JNF has to cope with pressure from everyone to build more dams.”
Another area of JNF activity is road-building for small new settlements. “The future of these outposts depends on the availability of education for the local children,” Rivlin stressed. Each small settlement cannot support its own school, so there is an urgent need for roads to link them together.
A STADIUM FOR GALILEE
One current project in Galilee, which JNF is working around-the-clock to complete by July, will provide badly needed employment in the North and will also draw tourists to the area.
The project is an unusual one for JNF. Workers are preparing the earthworks for a large stadium in Carmiel, to be completed in time for a dance festival organized as part of Israel’s 40th anniversary celebrations.
“We are working with the aid of the Jews of Montreal,” Rivlin said, “to bring 20,000 people to the center of the Galilee.”
All over the country JNF also continues in its traditional afforestation role. Nearly a third of all the plantings this year will be in the Negev, Rivlin said, as part of the ongoing effort to push back the desert.
More trees will be allocated for the hills around the Sea of Galilee to create shady areas for vacationers who at present compete for space at the lakeshore.
As the green belt being planted by JNF around Jerusalem matures, more picnic areas and sports facilities can be developed. The forests to the west of the city are already planted and developed, Rivlin said.
The areas to the north are now ready for development, and JNF plans to double the number of trees in the Shalom Forest, on the eastern side of the capital, overlooking the Judean desert.