Knesset Speaker to Oppose Bill Giving Israeli Towns Right to Free Selection

Critics of the bill say it could be used to reject potential members from minority groups such as Arabs, recent immigrants, single-parent families or families with same gender parents.

The bill permitting communities to reject candidates for residency who do not meet their criteria will be brought unchanged for its second and third readings in the Knesset in the coming week, after talks between its sponsors and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin collapsed. Haaretz has learned that Rivlin informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he intends to vote against the bill.

rivlin - Emil Salman - November 29 2010
Emil Salman

The talks aimed to find a more moderate wording for the bill, which in its current form applies to communities of up to 500 households, or 68 percent of all Israeli communities. On Thursday, one of the authors, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), rejected a compromise offered by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon and attorney Sigal Kogot of the Knesset legal office. The compromise proposed the bill would apply only to communities of up to 400 households, and only to those in the Negev and Galilee, rather than throughout the country.

The changes would have reduced the number of communities that could reject potential members from minority groups such as Arabs, recent immigrants, single-parent families or families with same gender parents.

Last month, Knesset Speaker Rivlin told the bill's sponsors he would not allow it to be brought to a vote before significant changes were made, and has delayed the vote for the past four weeks as attempts at a compromise were being made.

Rivlin's decision came after critics of the bill said that although the law does not allow discriminating against anyone on the basis of their religious, sexual or social identity, the bill's clauses could still be used to block various individuals from being accepted as residents based on these criteria.

Rivlin met with the bill's sponsors, Rotem and two Kadima MKs, Yisrael Hasson and Shai Hermesh, to try and win their support for his compromise offer. Hasson and Hermesh relented, but Rotem rejected the proposal out of hand.

Hasson had said earlier that the bill "reflects the Knesset's commitment to preserve the ability of realizing the Zionist vision in Israel."

Following the failure of the talks, Rivlin informed the prime minister and opposition and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni that the bill as it stands has drawn searing public criticism, and that he will vote against it.

Weeks ago, the Association for Civil Rights Israel said the more moderate version of the bill was dangerous and discriminatory, and that the organization would petition the High Court if the bill is passed.

"The [proposed] law is still discriminatory and will be a stain on the law books," attorney Gil Gan-Mor of ACRI said at the time. "Anyone seeking to live in one of the hundreds of communities in the Negev and Galilee will be asked to undergo an invasive and offensive filtering process and be rejected if someone on the committee thinks, if only on a hunch, that the candidate does not match the sociocultural fabric of the community."

The bill states that "allocation of land to a person for the purpose of purchasing rights in a community which has a reception committee will be done only with committee's permission." Such a committee, the bill says, would be made up of two representatives of the community, a representative of the movement of which the community is a member, a representative of the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Federation, and a representative of the regional council. Rejected applicants may appeal to a separate committee, chaired by a public figure with a background in law, social work or social sciences, to be appointed by the justice minister.