Appeal Against Acre Housing for Religious Jews Fails

In February, the Israel Lands Administration issued a tender for 200 housing units in Acre to two Orthodox housing associations that started marketing the homes exclusively to religious Jewish families.

The Haifa District Court on Monday denied a petition to revoke the tender for a housing development in Acre because it was being marketed exclusively to religious Jewish families.

The petition was filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Al-Yater, an Acre civil rights group and Haifa University's legal clinic for human rights. Judge Ron Shapiro ruled that the petition was "theoretic and academic," and was based on assumptions that were insufficient to call off the tender. He also said that because the petition was submitted very late, a revocation would infringe on the interests of the associations marketing the apartments.

The construction site in Acre, April 23, 2012.
Yaron Kaminsky

The judge stressed, however, that denial of the petition does not exempt the Israel Lands Administration or the Housing and Construction Ministry from supervising the associations, and making sure they do not discriminate against anyone who wants to buy housing in the development.

In February, the ILA issued a tender for some 200 housing units on public land in Acre to two Orthodox housing associations. They both started marketing the homes exclusively to religious Jewish families. The two neighborhoods planned on the site in the north of the town are close to a yeshiva recently built there and to the Western Galilee College.

The petition cited the state's commitment to add a clause to every housing tender stipulating that the ILA may revoke the tender if it transpires the housing company marketed the apartments in a discriminatory way.

The state made this commitment following ACRI's failed petition in 2010 against a company that was planning to build a religious neighborhood in Jaffa. In that case, the High Court of Justice rejected the petition, saying that purchasers already had rights to property, but it required the state to pledge that every construction tender would feature a clause that the ILA may cancel the tender if the winner markets the housing in a discriminatory manner. Such a clause appears in the tenders won by the two Orthodox associations.

ACRI attorney Gil Gan-Mor, who represented the petitioners, said yesterday the Acre project was built on public land and should serve the entire public. Instead, he said, the project was advertised and marketed solely to religious Jews, contrary to the clause in their tenders.

Gan-Mor notes that Israeli law, in the footsteps of American law, recognizes that discriminatory advertising is sufficient proof of discrimination, as a person would be unlikely to risk humiliating rejection or go to live where he is clearly unwanted. "Regrettably, the court did not accept our argument that the discriminating marketing in this case justifies canceling the tender," he said.

The judge wrote in his verdict that the issue of whether land allocation to a group with singular cultural or religious characteristics was tantamount to discrimination is a complex one. It should be examined according to the tender's specific conditions and in view of all ILA tenders, to ascertain whether the administration allocated land in an equal way to various parts of the population, he said.

In this case the land allocation was done as part of a public, egalitarian tender and nothing prevented other groups from applying to buy a home in the housing development, he said.

He also ruled the petitioners failed to prove their claims that the associations had discriminated against potential buyers. Nothing refuted the associations' assertion that they had received no request by Arabs, secular or religious, to buy housing, and had refused none, he said.

One association's ad, posted on the Galilee Development Authority's website, said it had won a tender to build 153 homes in "a religious neighborhood for families in Acre."

The other group's ad, for 43 lots, stated that it has "houses with yards, single-family and two-family dwellings, in a new religious neighborhood in Acre." It described the advantages of living in the neighborhood, including proximity to a hesder yeshiva.