Israeli Kibbutz Forced to Accept Activist After High Court Appeal

Israel Land Administration accepts recommendation of appeals committee, orders Kibbutz Gevim to grant residency to Ofir and Danalee Kalfa.

The Israel Land Administration overturned a decision made by the admissions committee of  Kibbutz Gevim, a cooperative community in the western Negev, denying residence to a social activist from Sderot.

The decision came following the recommendations of the appeals committee that deliberated over the issue, and found that there was no sufficient reason to deny residency to Ofir Kalfa and his wife Danalee Kalfa.

Kalfa, a communal activist in Sderot with two academic degrees who heads a project to create 16 "smart classrooms" and six computer learning centers there, and Danalee, a management and public policy student, applied for residence at Kibbutz Gevim roughly a year ago.

The kibbutz admissions committee decided to reject the couple’s application, claiming that they are not attuned for community life. Following the decision, the couple petitioned the High Court of Justice, in opposition to the Admissions Committee Law,” which allows small communities to screen prospective residents.

In a response to the petition, the Kibbutz released a statement, saying: "Ofir and Danalee Kalfa not only don't understand what it means to live in a small community, they are also opposed to the whole concept of commitment to the community."

"Their wish to take part in the communal expansion of Gevim does not at all stem from a desire to live in a communal setting, but from a desire to upgrade their current residence as if the expansion of Gevim is merely a worthwhile real estate investment in a country-like venue, devoid of any community-oriented character,” continued the statement.

Kibbutz Gevim argued in a response to a High Court petition filed by a couple rejected by the Kibbutz that its location near Gaza exposes its members to daily challenges, which creates a high level of mutual dependence.

"The kibbutz's abilities, strength and continuity is based on a unified community that cannot allow itself to waste energy on internal friction and disagreements stemming from the incompatibility of certain potential members to life in a small community," the kibbutz said.

“This is a small community, trying to survive as a small group,” said a Kibbutz representative. “We are trying to introduce new blood into the community, but new blood needs to match what is already there, otherwise we’d die,” continued the representative.

Regarding the case of the Kalfa family, the representative said, “their surplus of talents is the problem… there is a fear those with leadership ability have a difficult time accepting those who disagree with them. They were not rejected because someone found something negative within them. It’s the surplus that is the problem.”

The appeals committee decided to uphold the couple’s appeal, in light of the convincing impression the couple made upon the committee, which displayed their ability to contribute to and integrate within a community. The Israel Land Authority decided to accept the appeals committee’s recommendations over the last few days.

Kalfa told Haaretz on Wednesday that “It is obvious that the admissions committee is arbitrarily making decisions when it comes to accepting prospective members. I don’t understand the committee’s claim of surplus talent or excess leadership ability. In fact there’s nothing bad about it – especially in a developing community, it can be seen as leverage.”

“As far as we’re concerned, this is a great achievement and the realization of our dream, but I feel pain for the many families that get rejected, and donot exercise their rights, or are unable to petition the High Court of Justice. It is important to me to say to that we must fight against discriminatory decisions made by these admissions committees any way we can,” said Kalfa.

Despite Kalfa’s victory, representatives of those petitioning against the “admissions committee law,” claim that the authorities are cancelling the committee’s decisions, [and allowing rejected applicants to move to the communities in question] only so the High Court of Justice “won’t have cause,” to abolish the law completely.

Tel Aviv University human rights law clinic Attorney Adi Nir-Binyamini, who filed the petition in the name of the Kalfa family, said that “this case is an example that time after time, attempts to attack the filtering methods and acceptance decisions based on ‘social incompatibility’ are continuously blocked.”

Nir-Binyamini continued, “As soon as a basic petition is filed attacking the law itself, people are immediately accepted into the community. The feeling is that the state is trying to prevent judicial criticism against the laws that allow for screening, when it comes to private cases that attest to the arbitrariness of committee decisions.”

Following the Israel Land Authority decision, Kalfa is expected to withdraw his petition in the High Court of Justice. Along with Kalfa’s petition, other petitions against the “admissions committee law “are currently open in the High Court, including petitions from Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Human rights in Israel.