JERUSALEM (Jul. 31)
Israel is launching a drive to settle Jews in a region awash with Arabs — but its plans are not for the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
For the first time in the history of the World Zionist Organization, the group’s settlement department is planning settlements inside the Green Line, the boundary that divides Israel proper from the West Bank. The goal is to build 30 new settlements in the Negev and Galilee.
Both regions have large numbers of Arabs. The agency aims to bolster the Jewish population in the Galilee and Negev by 10 percent within the next five years, part of the ongoing struggle to fortify Israel’s Jewish majority.
“For the first time, the WZO returns to the Green Line. This is a significant political statement,” Shai Hermesh, treasurer for the Jewish Agency for Israel, told JTA. “If we do not change the entire settlement scene within five to 10 years, we will lose the battle.”
As the WZO’s partner organization, the Jewish Agency is the driving force behind the plan, which is designed to relieve a sense of isolation among Jewish residents in parts of the Galilee.
Adopted last October by the Jewish Agency’s board of trustees, the program is called “The New Challenge: A Zionist Majority in the Negev and Galilee.”
A special task force, headed by the incoming chairman of the board of the United Jewish Communities, Robert Goldberg, is charged with working out details of the new settlement drive.
With the exclusion of Haifa and other cities along Israel’s northern coast, Arabs comprise 75 percent of northern Israel’s population. Hermesh said the settlement drive is the only way to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish state.
In the past, the WZO has served as a kind of subcontractor for the government, building settlements over the Green Line — but with money from the government, not the Jewish Agency.
The new operation will be the largest settlement effort since the establishment of a chain of Jewish outposts throughout the Galilee 25 years ago. At the time, the Galilee was almost exclusively Arab.
This time, the settlement drive also will include the Negev, with special emphasis on single-family farms that will encompass large plots of land. The aim is to offset the rapid growth of the Bedouin population in the area.
Three new Negev settlements — Gvaot-Bar, near the Gaza Strip; Merhav-Am, in the central Negev; and Tzukim, in the Arava — already have been established.
Some Arab leaders, like Knesset member Azmi Bishara, are denouncing the new settlement plan as an indirect way to promote the “transfer” of Arabs out of Israel, Jewish Agency officials said.
The agency has not concealed its aim of tipping the demographic scale in favor of Zionists — not only Jews, but also Druze and Circassian communities in northern Israel.
But agency officials say their mandate is to serve the Jewish people.
“The government of Israel is the government of all its citizens,” Hermesh said. “The Jewish Agency is the government of the Jewish people.”
For 15 years, Hermesh served as mayor of a regional council in the Negev before taking the Jewish Agency post about a year ago. He now is trying to reverse the agency’s decision — taken six years ago — to get out of the settlement business.
The new settlement drive in the Galilee will focus on strengthening the “heart of the Galilee” region — the district of Carmel, Upper Nazareth, Ma’alot, Migdal Ha’emek and Afula — where Arabs constitute 78 percent of the population.
In the Negev, settlement efforts will focus on the “arc,” which begins in the northwestern Negev, the seam line with the Gaza Strip, and runs to the Hebron region.
The Jewish Agency is expected to spend $40 million in each of the project’s first two years, and officials hope Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will make good on his promise to provide $5 for every Jewish Agency dollar. The project is part of Partnership 2000, a Jewish Agency program that links Diaspora Jewish communities with Israeli communities.
The program will focus on building the necessary infrastructure for new settlements and paving new roads in the western Negev.
Environmentalists also oppose the new program, arguing that massive construction projects in the region will cause irreparable damage to the environment. They also fear that a new settlement drive will weaken existing towns and settlements, spur increased use of private cars and will require large investments in infrastructure, waste water and energy.
According to the Ministry of Environment, a crowded country like Israel simply cannot afford dispersed settlements like those called for in the Jewish Agency’s plans.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel also announced its objection to the new settlements.
“Whatever open space is left in Israel, they try to put new settlements in,” said Yohanan Darom, director of the society’s northern branch office.
Darom said there was no justification for the establishment of new settlements while many existing settlements are suffering from social and economic difficulties.
Hermesh disagreed, however.
“The ‘Greens’ must decide whether they prefer a Jewish majority with the problems of single-family farms, or no such farms with an Arab majority,” he said.
To attract Jewish families to Arab regions, the Jewish Agency plans to invest heavily in local educational resources. Already, about $1 million has been allocated to draw better teachers, enable longer school days, build student dormitories and upgrade regional colleges.
“Education and higher education play a special role in influencing the younger population, whether as working persons whose career is greatly affected by their level of education or as parents seeking the best education system for their children,” Hermesh said.
Funding also will go toward infrastructure development, bolstering existing settlements and providing incentives for small businesses.
“Small businesses will lead to further business,” Hermesh said.
Jews for Jesus’ sign is controversial
and British Jews want it taken down LONDON, July 31 (JTA) — British Jews are furious about a new Jews for Jesus advertising campaign.
The advertisements, which hit Britain in July, show a group of fervently Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. One of them is wearing a bright red Jews for Jesus T-shirt. The ad’s slogan urges, “Think for Yourself.”
The ads have appeared in two national newspapers and on four billboards in Jewish areas of London.
The Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews, has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the campaign.
“This advertisement is clearly based upon the principle that the majority of Jews are unable to ‘think for themselves’ — i.e., believe in Jesus,” the board’s director general, Neville Nagler, wrote in the complaint.
“This is a highly objectionable notion, and one that gives great offense to the vast majority of Jewish people in this country. We call for the immediate withdrawal of the advertisement,” he wrote.
The Advertising Standards Authority has opened an investigation into the campaign after receiving nearly 20 complaints, a spokeswoman told JTA.
The authority has compiled a report summarizing the complaints and requested a response from Jews for Jesus.
The regulators expect to rule on the case by the end of August and could order the missionary organization to take the billboards down.
Joseph Steinberg, the U.K. director of Jews for Jesus, said the idea for the billboard — which features him in the Jews for Jesus T-shirt — came from a similar campaign used in the United States a few years ago.
He said the current advertising campaign was part of an international missionary drive being spearheaded this summer.
“We are now in a very large outreach worldwide. London is a place where we have been very proactive,” he said.
The group has been active in Britain for 13 years, he said, and currently has a paid staff of nine, as well as volunteers.
A sizeable proportion of the people behind Jews for Jesus are not actually Jews, but Christians.
Steinberg said the ads were supposed to be funny.
“It was done tongue in cheek,” he said. “The only thing I can think is that Jews are offended by the message, which is that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus.”
But Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, head of the U.K. anti-missionary group Operation Judaism, said there are several reasons Jews are upset.
For starters, he said, the implication that fervently Orthodox Jews do not “think for themselves” is outrageous.
“These are people who would be spending hours a day studying the Torah. The inference that they” — Jews for Jesus — “think and we don’t is such an affront,” he said. “It’s absolute chutzpah and that’s what riles people — and they’re entitled to be riled.”
In addition to the slogan, Arkush said, the missionary movement is problematic.
“Let’s call a spade a spade: You have a group of publicity-seeking individuals who are trying to peddle the impossible,” he said.
For a Jew to believe in Jesus is “theologically without foundation. You have Jews, and you have Christians. You can’t dance at both weddings.”
There are a whole raft of registered charities who specialize in targeting Jews for conversion, he said.
“That puts a wedge between faith groups. We need religious authorities to promote respect between religions,” he argued.
And he rejected Steinberg’s argument that Jews who were upset had missed the joke.
“If he considers this to be amusing,” Arkush said, “then I hope he has another job.”