There are few symbols more foundational in the American Jewish experience than the Jewish National Fund’s donation tins, the famous “little blue box” that is still commonly found in Hebrew school classrooms, summer camps, synagogues, and on kitchen countertops. The boxes have occupied a central place in the Jewish imagination for nearly a century, and the JNF’s work is closely associated with Zionist pioneers in pre-state Palestine “making the desert bloom” or planting trees in Israel to mark a life-cycle event.

It is perhaps because of the JNF’s ubiquity that many American Jews find the organization’s role in the West Bank settlement movement so troubling. The JNF—including both its U.S. and Israeli branches—is hardly a newcomer to the occupied territories, but recent developments have brought their record there to the forefront of public attention. On Sunday, the executive committee of the Israeli JNF—Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, or KKL—moved to advance a policy of purchasing privately-owned Palestinian land in Area C of the West Bank for Jewish settlements there. The decision will now be passed on to the group’s directorate for final approval, although no vote will be scheduled until after the March Knesset election. KKL already carries out projects in the West Bank and has even purchased land there, including through an arm of the organization called Himnuta. Still, a public decision represents a move to take on a more active and more open role in facilitating settlement expansion. The KKL has since faced rebukes from a number of American Jewish groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest denomination in the United States, as well as a fairly non-specific criticism from U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price.

It is worth noting here the distinction between the American and Israeli JNF. JNF U.S. retains institutional ties with its Israeli counterpart, but has significantly drawn down its operational relationship. By the middle of the last decade, only one percent of the American JNF grants were made out to KKL, a sharp decline from 60 percent in 2008. JNF U.S.’s draw-down in support for KKL in favor of projects directed by its own American donor base does not mean it has no presence in the West Bank. On the contrary, the organization proudly reports its support for the Gush Etzion Visitor Center in the eponymous settlement bloc. The American JNF has also not disavowed KKL’s decision, instead seeking to distance itself from the controversy altogether.

In Israel, KKL is not simply a charity but a highly influential entity charged with quasi-governmental responsibilities. KKL owns over a tenth of the land within the Green Line and only leases land to Jews. This has created problems for Israeli Arabs, even in urban areas previously owned by the KKL that were subsequently traded with the Israeli authorities for undeveloped land.

These issues effectively amount to redlining against Israel’s Arab minority and have been subject to litigation in Israeli courts. But there is also the question of KKL’s broader West Bank activity. Problems with KKL work in the West Bank run deeper than last Sunday’s decision or the mere fact that it works with the settlement enterprise, which many will find unsavory to begin with. KKL has often executed decisions related to the West Bank in an opaque manner, such as in purchasing land without the foreknowledge of some of the group’s leadership or operating through subsidiaries and front organizations to dislodge Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem.

Given this track record, KKL’s decision on Sunday is not so much of a departure from its values but a move that brings long standing organizational priorities out into the open. Nevertheless, the KKL’s latest course of action makes the criticism from American Jews unsurprising. Last year, many American Jewish organizations leveraged their platforms to speak out against the prospect of formal West Bank annexation, and while that threat has temporarily subsided with the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, institutions like KKL remain key to advancing de facto entrenchment of Israeli control in the occupied territories, amounting to “creeping annexation.” If something productive can be drawn from the current controversy, it should be renewed scrutiny of such practices. Even if the KKL’s new policy is altered or shot down by the directorate after the March election, its general trajectory cannot be ignored.

Author’s note: this piece has been updated to clarify that the new KKL policy on West Bank land purchases is still pending final approval by the organization’s directorate