Shut Down the JNF: A Colonial Conference in Boston’s Wealthiest, Whitest Enclave
On November 4-6 2022, some of the most notorious colonizers of Palestine will gather in Boston, Massachusetts. The occasion is the 2022 national conference of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is a zionist organization which since its founding in 1901 has facilitated the theft of Palestinian lands and the displacement of Palestinian people, in order to advance an overtly racist and colonial mission of expanded Jewish settlement across Palestine.
The JNF chose a fitting place for this gathering: the Omni Hotel is located in Boston’s seaport district, an area which has become the wealthiest, whitest enclave in the city of Boston.
Below, we outline some of the JNF’s colonial crimes and Omni Hotel’s complicity in similar colonization taking place here in Boston. The Mapping Project recognizes that colonial projects where we live and the colonization of Palestine are functionally interconnected, and that in order to effectively resist colonization anywhere, we must resist it everywhere. We urge everyone in the Northeastern "United States" to join the recent call for a regional mobilization to Boston on Saturday November 5th starting at 2:00pm to shut down the JNF's 2022 national conference.
JNF: The Non-Profit that Steals Land for the Zionist Project
The Jewish National Fund (JNF; also known by its Hebrew acronym, KKL) is a “non-profit” organization founded in 1901 as a subsidiary of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Ever since, the JNF has played a central role within the broader zionist project of expropriating Palestinian lands for Jewish settlement. The JNF’s charter states that the land it controls must be reserved for members of the “Jewish race” and their descendants, and originally only Jewish settlers who held shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust – an English bank that raised funds for zionist colonization – could receive land from the JNF.
Once the zionist state was formed, the JNF became its close collaborator. As one example, Yosef Weitz was the director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the Jewish National Fund (starting in the early 1930s). While holding this position in the JNF, Weitz also became a member of the "Transfer Committee" of Israel's first government. As its name suggests, Israel's "Transfer Committee" facilitated the Nakba("the catastrophe") of 1948, in which zionist militias violently expelled some 800,000 Palestinians, who were subsequently prevented from returning to their lands by the newly-formed state of Israel. In 1953, the state of Israel recognized the JNF for this colonial accomplishment and authorized the JNF to manage state lands – a development which shows that the JNF is not in reality the “non-governmental organization” it claims to be.
Today, the JNF controls 13% of the land in '48 Palestine, much of which it purchased from the Israeli government using staggering amounts of money it has raised internationally. The JNF uses both legal tactics and physical barriers to drive Palestinians from this land and then prevent them from returning to it. The JNF explicitly stipulates that only Jewish people can buy, mortgage, or lease the land it controls. When Palestinian groups challenged this overtly racist practice in the Israeli legal system, the JNF stated:
The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel ... The JNF, in relation to being an owner of land, is not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state.
The JNF is currently focusing its energy and resources on developing infrastructure to attract increased Jewish settlement of the Naqab Desert (in the South of '48 Palestine) and al-jalil (the so-called "Galilee," in the North of '48 Palestine). These Northern and Southern regions of '48 Palestine are sparsely populated by settlers relative to the concentrations of settler populations in the so-called "Tel-Aviv Jerusalem Corridor," which runs across the middle of '48 Palestine.
While less densely populated by settlers, the Naqab and al-jalil are inhabited by Indigenous Palestinians, including Palestinians in northern cities such as Nazareth and Bedouins in the Naqab Desert. Accordingly, the JNF's current push to raise funds to enable increased Jewish settlement in the Naqab and al-jalil requires and will continue to require the violent displacement of Palestinians, many of whom have lived on these lands for centuries.
Fundraising for Colonization while Indoctrinating Youth
To date, JNF-USA's “Billion-Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade” campaign has raised over $856 million dollars. In support of the Roadmap campaign, JNF-USA runs seventeen different task forces, including the "Central Negev Task Force," "Go North West Task Force," and "Go North East Task Force" (the latter two of which make reference to "Go West, young man," the phrase used to promote US westward colonial expansion in centuries past). Each of these task forces focuses on increasing the colonization of lands that are currently less densely populated by settlers. JNF board members contribute thousands of dollars annually to the JNF for inclusion in these task forces. Because JNF-USA is a 501c3 charitable entity in the "United States," such donations to JNF-USA can be made tax-free.
Last year, donations to JNF-USA from New England accounted for the single largest regional donation to JNF-USA's Billion-Dollar Roadmap campaign, with New England donors contributing $11.4 million to the campaign in 2021 alone. Recognizing the potential of its New England supporters to mobilize funds for its projects, JNF-USA recently expanded the size of its New England Board of Directors, before committing to host its 2022 National Conference at the Omni Hotel in Boston's Seaport district.
Emblematic of the Jewish National Fund's present focus on further colonizing the North and South of '48 Palestine, the program for its 2022 national conference includes meetings of its "Go North East Task Force," "Go North West Task Force," and "Gaza Envelope Task Force," along with a session titled "The Magic of the Eastern and Western Galilee in Northern Israel."
In case anyone was worried that there might be a problem with all this open advocacy for colonialism, the program of the JNF's 2022 national conference also includes a reassuring plenary on Saturday 11/5 titled: "How can one be progressive, LGBTQ, a person of color, left wing and pro-Israel? Easily." But just to make sure this reference to progressives, LGBTQ people, people of color, and the left doesn't alienate the JNF's more overtly white-supremacist base, attendees at the JNF's 2022 conference are also invited to an opening plenary featuring Ronald Lauder – a close friend and supporter of Donald Trump and billionaire contributor to the Republican party and to anti-Muslim hate campaigns – who has historically supported such progressive luminaries as Nixon, Reagan, and Bush.
The conference program for Sunday 11/6 features a series of sessions aimed at increasing propaganda for the JNF's land grabs and zionist colonization broadly in US schools and universities, with sessions such as "Being a Zionist on Campus Today," "Leveraging Jewish National Fund-USA for Strategic Collaboration in School Settings," "What Does Zionist Education Look Like in Israel?" and "Instant Advocacy: Israel, Instagram and Engaging the Next Generation."
Colonizer Meets Colonizer: The Omni Hotel in Boston's Seaport
Consistent with its racist and colonial mission, the Jewish National Fund has chosen the recently constructed Omni Hotel in Boston's Seaport District as the site of its 2022 national conference.
The Seaport is widely recognized as Boston’s whitest, wealthiest neighborhood, in a city where rising housing costs and real estate prices are driving longtime working-class residents, disproportionately Black and Brown, out of the city or into homelessness. According to a Boston Globe article from 2017, "Lenders have issued only three residential mortgages to black buyers in the Seaport's main census tracts, out of 660 in the past decade. The population is 3 percent black and 89 percent white, with a median household income of nearly $133,000, the highest of any Boston ZIP code, according to recent US census estimates." According to the Beacon Hill Times (Sep 23, 2021), "Seaport is Boston's priciest neighborhood, where overall rent per square foot runs $5.14 monthly."
Although the Omni Hotel's construction was hyped in the local press as a model of "diversity" in its hiring of architectural and construction firms to build the project, the hotel itself caters to the high-end luxury and business conference sector, contributing to the Seaport's out-pricing of everyone except the white and wealthy. Moreover the Omni Hotel in Boston's Seaport belongs to a hotel chain, "Omni Hotels," which has a history of discrimination, both in hiring and in the treatment of customers, and of mistreating workers – including failing to pay wages for all time worked (Aquino v. Omni Hotels Management Corporation), dropping employee health insurance during the pandemic, and failing to pay workers with the millions of dollars Omni Hotels received under the Paycheck Protection Program. In this respect, Omni is similar to the organization whose conference it plans to host: The JNF, too, attempts to represent itself as a beacon of "diversity" (its 2022 conference includes sessions titled "The Future of Women in Philanthropy," and "How can one be progressive, LGBTQ, a person of color, left wing and pro‑Israel? Easily"), while in reality advancing the overtly racist and colonialobjectives of expanded Jewish-only settlement on violently expropriated Palestinian lands.
Moreover, Omni Hotels is a subsidiary of TRT Holdings, owned by the Texas billionaire Robert Rowling who invests in Republican causes such as Karl Rove's super-PAC American Crossroads and who made his initial investment capital from oil extraction. To this day, TRT Holdings invests heavily in the fossil fuel industry: One of its subsidiaries, Northern Oil and Gas, bills itself as "the largest publicly traded non-operated [oil and gas] exploration and production company." TRT Holdings' business model is to maximize profits for its shareholders by purchasing properties that are about to be drilled, and then making deals with drilling companies to externalize risk. TRT Holdings boasts that its subsidiary "Northern [Oil and Gas] focuses its efforts across the most prolific oil and gas producing basins in North America. Through the participation in over 7,000 gross producing wells since the company’s inception in 2007, Northern’s underwriting experience is a key advantage when assessing future opportunities."
Like the owner of the hotel chain hosting its 2022 conference, the JNF too is responsible for horrific environmental degradation. When it lacks sufficient settlers to hold the lands it has expropriated, the JNF covers these lands with massive pine tree forests, planted atop the ruins of Palestinian villages in order to make it illegal and impossible for Palestinians to return to the homes they have lived in for centuries. The JNF's tree-planting efforts are horribly damagingto local ecosystems. The Northern European pine tree forests the JNF has planted in the Naqab Desert, for example, fare poorly in the desert climate and catch fire hundreds of times each year.
Shut Down the JNF 2022
In response to the Jewish National Fund's plans to host its 2022 national conference at the Omni Hotel in Boston, local Palestinian community members and anti-racist allies have called for a regional mobilization to Boston Saturday November 5th at 2:00pm to shut the conference down. These Boston community members hope to disrupt the JNF's attempt to use Boston as a staging ground to raise funds for its racist and colonial mission of expanded settlement on stolen Palestinian lands. They are encouraging allies from across the Northeastern "United States" to come to Boston on November 5th to join this protest.