With more than 240 million trees planted and 89 reservoirs built in Israel, the Jewish National Fund can claim to know a little something about water and environmental issues.
And as nations across the globe struggle with finding access to clean water supplies and creating sustainable development, officials at JNF's American branch — it is made up of more than 35 independent organizations worldwide — said the group would like nothing more than to share its knowledge.
One way to do that would be to testify at official hearings organized by the United Nation's Economic and Social Council. There's just one problem; in order to do so, JNF must be granted "consultative status" by the U.N. This is, of course, where Mideast politics comes into play.
According to Rabbi Eric Lankin, chief of institutional advancement at JNF-U.S., the American branch of JNF applied for such status in 2000, but, at the time, the Syrian and Palestinian representatives to the committee that handles such requests essentially blocked the bid.
Lankin explained that three Jewish organizations — B'nai Brith, Hadassah and Yad Sarah — have been granted the status, but added that JNF's role in buying land prior to the establishment of the State of Israel makes it anathema to many in the region.
"Our dedication has been from the beginning to the Zionist enterprise and that is most troubling to some of Israel's Arab neighbors," said Lankin.
Lankin said that JNF had asked the nomination to be tabled until the committee had a more favorable makeup. But even though Israel now sits on the review committee, Lankin said that it's become clear that JNF will never be approved unanimously, so it has asked for an up-or-down vote.
To build support for its cause, JNF officials asked for help from members of Congress. According to Lankin, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have spearheaded the effort to get 14 senators and 43 House members to sign a letter addressed to the 19 permanent members of the committee that review applications for consultive status.
"We believe that granting the Jewish National Fund of the United States general consultive status with the U.N. ECOSOC is an appropriate step that recognizes its constructive efforts on behalf of environmental protection and regional integration in the Middle East," the letter reads. Lankin said a committee vote has not yet been scheduled.