January 14, 2021 – י״ב שְׁבָט תשפ״ב
As the leadership of the Reform Movement in North America, ARZENU – The international Reform Zionist Organization and its Israeli representatives to the Zionist National Institutions, including IMPJ Chair Yair Lootsteen, we are concerned about this week’s events in the Negev stemming from Keren Kayemet LeYisrael – Jewish National Fund’s tree planting and ensuing protests from the Bedouin community.
This is a very difficult and complicated story, and we are working to help identify an amicable solution. We are thankful that for the moment, the work has ceased, and hope a sense of calm is restored to the area. We must be sensitive to the local Bedouin communities and clearly state that Bedouins are citizens of the State of Israel and must be treated equally and not as second class. We encourage the government of the State of Israel as it strives to find a way to move forward with Bedouin communities receiving municipal recognition and in clearly establishing their presence and proprietorship over specific areas.
We call for calmer heads to prevail in finding solutions to this complex matter and beseech all involved to desist from all forms of violence.
While this crisis has escalated to threaten the stability of Israel’s coalition, we also worry that this episode will have adverse effects on Diaspora Jewish communities, who have little tolerance for perceived unjust treatment towards minorities, including particularly the Bedouin community in Israel.
Together with their partners, our leadership and representatives at KKL – JNF have demanded its Executive Committee be convened this coming Sunday to ensure continued oversight as we move forward.
As we look forward to celebrating Tu BiShvat next week, we think about this as both anעֵת לָטַעַת – a time to plant, and a time when we must not cause additional damage to our environment and our community. We strongly condemn those rabbinic and extremist voices who encourage violating the laws of the Shmita (Sabbatical) year to plant trees only to ensure a Jewish presence in specific areas. As Jews, we have an obligation to settle the Land of Israel, and we also have an obligation for there to be one law equally applied to all citizens.