An Unfair Attack on the JNF — From an Unlikely Source
The official journal of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has published an article depicting the Jewish National Fund (JNF) as a colonialist exploiter of the Palestinian Arabs. Is this an appropriate way for a Federally-funded museum — that is mandated to teach about the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people — to be using taxpayers’ dollars?
The article was authored by Amy Weiss, a young Holocaust scholar from New Jersey. It appears in the latest issue (Fall 2019) of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the museum’s official journal, which is edited by Richard D. Breitman.
Weiss accuses the JNF of secretly plotting in the 1930s to plant more pine trees, and fewer olive trees, in its forests, thereby “alter[ing] a Palestinian landscape to resemble a European one more familiar to Jewish pioneers and Holocaust survivors.”
According to Weiss, the JNF continued this European-colonialist conspiracy after the 1948 war: “Erecting JNF forests where Palestinian villages and olive groves once stood promised to erase the connection to that land of the former residents who had fled or been expelled.”
The hook for Weiss’ article is an obscure episode from the 1940s, in which some American Christians planted a small forest in Israel to commemorate child victims of the Holocaust. But the story of that forest is not what Weiss wanted to bring attention to; Weiss concentrates her firepower on depicting the JNF and its forestry work in as negative a light as possible.
Weiss mocks the JNF’s claim that its work help revive the Land of Israel. She calls it “the myth of ‘making the desert bloom,’” and dismisses the centuries of Arab neglect of the land as the “purported languishing” of the land under Arab rule. According to Weiss, Zionist leaders concocted this “environmental degradation narrative” in order to “justify” the JNF’s land-grab policy.
“While publicly speaking of environmental improvement and jobs, in actuality [the JNF] strove for Jewish colonization,” Weiss asserts, suggesting the JNF was disingenuously advancing a secret and sinister agenda.
After the 1948 war, the JNF’s colonialist conspiracy continued, according to Weiss: “JNF pine trees figured in the planting over of ‘abandoned’ Arab villages.”
Notice the quotation marks that she put around “abandoned.” Weiss clearly doesn’t believe they were abandoned. In fact, when she refers to Palestinian Arabs who emigrated during the war, she calls them “700,000 people [who] either had been forcibly driven from their homes or voluntarily fled.” Weiss’ wording is apparently intended to create the impression that the number who were expelled and the number who fled was roughly equal.
But many other authors have claimed that a large majority of the Palestinian Arabs chose to flee in order to get out of the way of battle areas. Only a small number were expelled, and most of those cases were because of specific local wartime emergencies, not as part of any Zionist plot to get rid of the Arabs.
For Amy Weiss, however, the work of the JNF is clothed in sin. The JNF was carrying out what she has described in her lectures as a “politicized land reclamation project to secure land” for the Zionist movement and Israel. The organization was trying to “erase” Arab villages and replace them with a “European” model. And she alleges that the JNF caused “devastating damage” to the environment to boot.
In Weiss’ distorted version of history, some Jews are alien, land-grabbing desecrators of the ecology, while Palestinian Arabs are the noble indigenous planters of olive trees. “The planting of olive trees consequently became a symbol of struggle for Palestinians,” Weiss asserts. That’s an ironic statement, considering how often Palestinian Arab terrorists set fire to the land for which they are “struggling.”
Why did Richard Breitman, the editor of the journal, decide to publish Weiss’ harsh attack on a venerable and respected Jewish institution like the JNF? Why did he permit a journal that is supposed to showcase legitimate Holocaust research to be used to present such a twisted version of history?
Do the leaders of the Holocaust Museum endorse Breitman’s action? And if the Museum leaders do not agree with what Breitman did, what are they going to do about it? The public — which funds the Museum through its tax dollars — has a right to some answers.
Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s US division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/. A version of this article was originally published by The Jewish Press.