What if JNF's fundraisers were like their land policies in Israel?
This piece of satire is a guest post by Clark Kempt, a mild-mannered reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper. By day.
A Toronto fundraising dinner set to be the largest of its kind ever held in Canada was thrown into turmoil Thursday when local organizers found themselves in caught between their donors and the cause they hoped to support.
The fundraiser aimed to raise money in support of the Jewish National Fund, a 112-year-old trust established to purchase land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the JNF held large swaths of land and used the flow of donations to maintain much of it for public parks, recreation, and bird sanctuaries.
But controversy erupted in Toronto when the Canadian chapter of the JNF accidentally broke one of the Fund’s core principles in its effort to raise money to plant trees in Israel.
The Canadian chapter hoped to sell sell eight-person dinner tables to donors, aiming to bring 4,000 people together in support of Israel. However, the local chapter may have promoted the event too widely, and sold tables to not just within the Jewish community but to Torontonians at large, including to several city law firms, local real estate developers, city councillors, and other officials.
But someone failed to notify local JNF volunteers the Fund has a strict policy to not sell tables to non-Jews. Senior executives quickly learned of this oversight and informed the local chapter that the sale of tables to non-Jews violated the founding charter of the institution. But it was too late.
The local chapter’s initial reaction was to attempt to refund the donations – and the tables purchased – to all the non-Jewish donors. However, several of the donors were offended when they saw their cheques returned, and several filed a suit against the local chapter organizers.
Under Canadian law, businesses and charities cannot discriminate in who they take take donations from, or who they sell services to. But while the local chapter is subject to these laws, the international JNF is not.
The local chapter responded to the suit with an appeal to the Supreme Court of Ontario for an injunction on religious grounds, claiming that Canada’s anti-descrimination laws unfairly discriminated against their religious and political organization’s efforts to raise money.
However, it soon became apparent to the dinner organizers that not all the moneys could be refunded, as they had already put down a deposit on the banquet hall, and the musicians had demanded payment up front.
Organizers quickly canceled the refund cheques and dropped their plans to counter-sue, instead appealing to the central JNF board for a temporary suspension of table-selling policy.
JNF executives refused to budge, asserting that the charter is clear, and that their tables were held in trust for the Jewish People, for all generations, and that somethings as precious as their birthright could not be suspended.
But one executive proposed a compromise, whereby the sales of the tables to non-Jewish donors could be changed to mere ‘leases.’ This sparked a heated discussion among the executives about slippery slopes. A solution was reached within the executive board when one member suggested that for every table ‘leased’ to a non-Jew, the local chapter would compensate the parent organization by transferring a new table of equal size to the Fund, for JNF to hold in trust for future fundraisers.
This last minute agreement quelled fears that donors would be turned away at the door, but resulted in organizers having to to buy, pack up, and ship a number of large, round tables each capable of seating eight comfortably, but which could fit ten if needed.