May 4, 2011
Philadelphians Protest Jewish National Fund’s Poker Tournament Fundraiser
More than two dozen local residents gathered outside Del Frisco’s restaurant in Center City on Wednesday evening for a noisy picket of the Jewish National Fund’s “Philadelphia Poker & Blackjack Tournament.” Proceeds from the annual fundraising event, which is co-sponsored by prominent Philadelphia corporations and firms, support the Jewish National Fund’s activities in Israel. The protesters oppose the organization’s treatment of Palestinian land and people.
As the poker players arrived at the restaurant on the corner of 15th and Chestnut Streets, they were greeted by a vocal picket line denouncing the JNF’s role in the ongoing destruction of Palestinian villages. Carrying signs reading “Land Theft is Not Charity,” the protesters took aim at the JNF’s status as a charity that pays no taxes under U.S. law. “It’s absurd that an organization involved in ethnic cleansing gets to count as a charity,” said Susan Landau, who took part in the protest. “Why are American taxpayers subsidizing an organization whose mission is to support land acquisition for one ethnic group only? I’m Jewish, it’s my ethnic group, but I don’t support what they do.”
“The JNF is at the heart of Israel’s ongoing dispossession of Palestinians from their land,” said Elliott batTzedek, another picketer. “For over 60 years, the JNF has been destroying Palestinian homes and villages. They cover up the destruction by planting forests over the ruins and calling them parks. One village in the Negev desert has been leveled over a dozen times in the last year to make room for a JNF forest.”
Founded in 1901, the Jewish National Fund originally collected money from Jews throughout the world to “redeem the land of Israel” by purchasing land in Palestine. Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the JNF has raised tens of millions of dollars for planting trees in Israel, many of which are planted on the ruins of demolished Palestinian Arab villages. For example, after the Israeli army’s 1967 capture of the Palestinian village of Imwas – which was the town of Emmaus in Biblical times – the population was forcibly expelled and the town was bulldozed. The Jewish National Fund’s “Canada Park” was built over the ruins.
The protesters said that much of the land controlled by the JNF was never actually purchased at all. “After 1948, the Israelis didn’t have to buy land, the state just took it and then sold it to the JNF,” explained batTzedek. “Under Israeli law, any land that comes under the control of the Jewish National Fund then becomes available only to Jews forever. So while Israel claims to be a democracy that respects equality and justice, in fact more than 90 percent of its land is inaccessible to Palestinians, who make up more than 20 percent of the population in Israel.”
“The JNF wants to be thought of as an environmental organization, but what they planted were non-native trees that actually hurt the natural environment,” noted Landau. “A long time ago, I believed the Jewish National Fund did good things. I hope some of the people who came to play poker tonight will eventually understand that the JNF exists in order to maintain an apartheid system in Israel and Palestine.”
Some of the poker players seemed disturbed by the protest. A few stopped to argue, with a few using epithets. One man denounced the picketers as “Nazis.” Most paused briefly to watch and listen before entering the restaurant for an evening of festivities and high rolling.
Outside, the protesters distributed postcards explaining their action and continued their chant: “Dirty money, dirty dealing: Palestine is what you’re stealing!”