On Not Giving Fire Trucks to the JNF

If you asked me, "Hey, Goldblog, of all the people you know, who cares the most about the physical, moral and spiritual health of Israel?' I would put the commentator and scholar Daniel Gordis at the top of the list. Many other people of great devotion would do the same. So those of you out there -- and you know who you are! -- who have accused this blog of self-hatred for sneering at the Jewish National Fund's fire truck shnorring (shnorring -- wheedling, begging) in the wake of the avoidable Carmel Forest disaster, please read Gordis on the terrible state of affairs in Israel right now:

It took only a few minutes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's nauseatingly self-congratulatory impromptu press conference on Saturday night to confirm what we all knew too well - this country is in infinitely worse shape than we might wish to admit. The prime minister had every right to list the many countries he'd called upon for help, to exult in the number of planes that would soon be joining the battle to snuff out the Carmel Forest flames, and to assure Israelis that soon this country would soon have its very own airborne firefighting force, just as real countries do.

It would have been nice, however, to have heard some semblance of an admission that the government had failed its citizens yet again, some acknowledgement that it's been almost a decade since the IAF said it could no longer fight fires with its helicopters. Everyone in power has known for at least that long that we were dangerously unprotected against the kind of inevitable catastrophe that finally struck last week.

People ask me why I won't donate money right now to the Jewish National Fund. It's simple: There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel. Some of the e-mails I've been receiving on this subject are outrageous: One interlocutor, from Kibbutz Yahel, wrote, "Understand when you attack JNF you attack Israel, and I believe your own people." Who thinks this way anymore? The Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over! This is the way people think in the un-free parts of the Middle East. Please don't make the mistake of conflating a group of bureaucrats with the entirety of the Jewish people.

If you're looking for something worthy to donate funds to while we wait to learn just who exactly is at fault in this mess, consider the Yemin Orde youth village, which was severely damaged in the fire. Yemin Orde, named after one of the great Englishmen of all history, cares for hundreds of children who are either orphans or come from dysfunctional homes. It has always been a project of the Jewish people, ever since it took in its first Shoah survivors, in 1953, and it needs help desperately.   

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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