Members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement protested the Jewish National Fund’s award to Chairman of the Board of Trustees David Cohen yesterday.
Cohen received JNF’s Tree of Life Award at a gala last night at 600 N. Broad Street. Philly BDS organized a protest of about 30 people outside of JNF’s event. PennBDS and Temple University Students for Justice in Palestine also participated.
BDS is a pro-Palestinian movement that attempts to pressure Israel to change its policy toward the Palestinian people.
Cohen received the award for his “outstanding community involvement, dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship, and … devotion to peace and the security of human life,” wrote JNF Regional Director Marina Furman in an email.
Cohen wrote in an email that he was honored to receive the award and praised the organization.
“JNF is an organization to a safe, secure, and developed Israel, and those are goals that I share,” Cohen wrote. He added that JNF has played a major role in Israel’s economic development.
According to Susan Landau, a founding member of Philly BDS, JNF plants non-indigenous trees over ruined Palestinian villages.
To protest this, the BDS protesters held leaves to symbolize Palestinian orchards and wore costumes made from painted cardboard boxes to represent houses. They then held a painted cardboard cut-out of a bulldozer and “bulldozed” the houses and trees to the ground.
“We have to bring what happens every day under the watch of the JNF … to the streets of Philadelphia,” said College freshman and PennBDS member Sahir Doshi with a megaphone. “They have not made the desert bloom, they have made the desert bleed.”
But according to Furman, JNF is “greening the desert” by planting trees, building parks, creating communities, increasing Israel’s water supply, educating people and developing arid-agriculture techniques.
The protesters also engaged in call-and-response chants, such as, “Dirty money, dirty dealing, Palestine is what they’re stealing!”
Those who held signs facing the street were met with several honking cars.
“It’s our intention to shine light on the misrepresentation of facts and the history and present actions of the JNF,” Landau said. At the JNF gala this time last year, Philly BDS also organized a protest.
Philly BDS also disputes JNF’s tax-exempt status in the U.S.
“JNF is a law abiding organization working in a democratic country based on a set of laws,” Furman wrote. “To say we promote land theft says to me that people either have no idea what they’re talking about or are choosing not to know.”
Neither Cohen nor Furman disputed Philly BDS’s right to protest, both citing the First Amendment.
“We respond to the BDS protests by working even harder at what we do,” Furman wrote, “building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.”
Three Philadelphia police officers oversaw the protest.
At one point, the protesters were asked to move to the edge of the venue’s property.
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