The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

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T'nuat Or

There is a great vacuum in the Negev...           —Roni Flamer, T'nuat Or's executive director

In the 7th century AD the Negev settlements collapsed and the Bedouins that invaded the area turned farming lands into grazing,* leaving the Negev almost desolate for many generations to come, until the Jews started to return and settle in it.

          —from T'nuat Or's original website.*

If you watch T'nuat Or's inspirational video about pioneering the Negev, there's one thing you won't see any trace of: Bedouin. What you will see are lots of beautiful Jewish children, teenagers and young families sitting, playing and drinking coffee on green lawns. In this still shot, you can see one man reaching down to turn on the sprinkler.
Ron Lauder, the past president of JNF-US, is featured in this video, though his affiliation, "President, JNF", will mean Israel's Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, the JNF in Israel, to most English-speaking viewers. (Likewise Zevi Kahanov, another spokesperson in the video, is JNF-US's representative in Israel.) Ron Lauder's agenda has been described by others as right-wing. He has come out in strong support of the so-called "JNF bill" which would give the JNF and the ILA special dispensation to discriminate against Arabs. (KKL has not supported this bill.) We are hopeful that as JNF-US, post-Ron Lauder, reviews its agenda, it is embracing a more universal vision of what the Negev is and what it can become.

JNF-US's publicity about Blueprint Negev has made it sound as though the plan is part of KKL-JNF-Israel, even though partners like T'nuat Or have no relationship to KKL and no environmental expertise. T'nuat Or lists three partners in their Negev projects: JNF-UK, JNF-US and Nefesh b'Nefesh. KKL has already severed relations with JNF-UK, largely because JNF-UK was giving most of its monies to other recipients besides KKL. We hope JNF-UK does not represent what will heppen to JNF-US.

T'nuat Or has used language that sounds like a fairly right-wing vision of the Negev: besides the quotes above, it talks about cities like Rahat that "concentrate" the Bedouin. T'nuat Or also talks in that same section about improving the lives of the Bedouin in Rahat, but it's hard to tell what the real message is, vs. what is window dressing.

There's no question that a significant effort involving Jewish Israelis that would develop Rahat could be a great thing, and it appears to have become a major goal of Blueprint Negev under CEO Russell Robinson. It's not clear from T'nuat Or's website whether they themselves are putting resources into this development or just commending it. strongly supports developing Rahat and creating jobs and education for the Bedouin, as long as the Bedouin people are free to choose where they live and are not forced to move out of the villages. (We include in the category of force not just home demolitions, crop destruction, and herd confiscation, but also the continued denial of basic human services, electricity, water and medical clinics, to the unrecognized villages.)

Thankfully, the T'nuat Or page where the quote about Bedouin "invading the Negev" appeared was changed in response to our criticisms. The page now reads: "In the 7th century CE, the Negev settlements fell into ruin. Bedouins entered the area, turning the farmland into pastures. Thus the Negev remained uninhabited for many generations - until the Jews began to return in the early 19th century." The problem is, even in the new version, the Bedouin apparently still do not count as "inhabitants".

Also, T'nuat Or continues to deny the fact that the Bedouin farm, when in fact they have always farmed. For example, you can see terraced gardens in the satellite image of the (now demolished) Bedouin village of A-tir. For T'nuat Or, grazing and herding seem to imply a lesser form of habitation (or humanity?). However, even if the Bedouin were only herdsmen, I seem to remember a few well-regarded herdsmen among our ancestors, e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons.

We have been bringing instances of problematic language on Or's website to the attention of the JNF-US, which has put some effort into asking Or to make changes. You can help SavetheNegev—and T'nuat Or, in the best sense—by monitoring T'nuat Or's English and Hebrew websites, as well as JNF sites, to help us flag problematic language like this.

Links:       T'nuat Or's movie, funded by Ron Lauder       T'nuat Or's website

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Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006