Ofir Kalfa has two academic degrees and heads a flagship project in the southern Israeli town of Sderot to create 16 "smart classrooms" and six computer learning centers. Kalfa, 32, also runs a pilot program to connect the community's kindergartens to the Internet. In his spare time he volunteers with a program that encourages young people to settle in Sderot.
But the admissions committee for a new community set to rise nearby, on land owned by Kibbutz Gevim, rejected Kalfa and his wife, Danalee Kron Kalfa, as "incompatible with the social life of the community." The new neighborhood is slated to contain 140 new homes.
Kron Kalfa, 27, is studying for a degree in administration and public policy. The Kalfas, whose one-year-old daughter goes to day care at Gevim, have petitioned the High Court of Justice against a law passed last year that allows certain types of communities in Israel to screen potential residents.
"Incompatibility with the social life of the community" is one of the criteria that admission committees of "community towns" or cooperative agricultural communities that are expanding into public lands can use to disqualify candidates. The law applies only to around 300 communities in the Galilee and the Negev with no more than 400 families each.
Two other petitions against the law have been submitted recently to the High Court.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told the High Court last month in response to the earlier petitions that he thought the new law struck a balance between the need to admit new members who would contribute to the community's social cohesion on the one hand, and the duty to allocate lands in a nondiscriminatory manner on the other.
Weinstein said the new law was an improvement over the previous arrangements, carried out through the Israel Lands Administration Council, because it was restricted geographically and clearly prohibited rejecting candidates on the basis of race, religion, gender or nationality.
Kalfa says he and his wife wanted to join the new community to improve their quality of life and gain access to better schools. a quality education system. He said the application forms they received last year included questions about their job histories, military service, criminal convictions, if any, as well as any pending criminal or civil cases. They were also asked about any debts incurring from civil suits or the Bailiff's Office.
After meeting with three kibbutz members both Ofir and Danalee underwent an evaluation that took six hours and included various tests and an interview with a psychologist.
Kalfa said the interviewer asked him and Kron Kalfa invasive, embarrassing questions about their marital relationship.
According to Kalfa, after he told the psychologist that he had been diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder he sensed the interviewer's attitude toward him changed as a result. Kalfa said the psychologist asked him a number of questions about the issue, in what he characterized as a critical tone.
Six weeks later the coordinator of the admissions committee invited the Kalfas to a meeting at the regional council. When they arrived they found their situation being discussed by a committee consisting of one representative from the regional council, two representatives from Gevim, one from the Kibbutz Movement and one from the Housing and Construction Ministry.
During the hour-long meeting the Kalfas say there were asked whether they "knew what community life is."
Kalfa said he and his wife felt the questions seemed designed to trip them up, and that some of the committee members laughed derisively at some of their responses.
A few days later the Kalfas received the rejection letter citing the couple's "incompatibility" as the reason. The letter said the decision was based on expert opinions as well as the committee's impressions from its meeting with the Kalfas.
A request to see the results of the evaluation, which the Kalfas had paid for, was denied.
"I would understand if Gevim was a religious kibbutz, but how is it different than a neighborhood in north Tel Aviv with a high level of services?" Kalfa said.
Michael Eitan, minister for the improvement of government services was behind the Sderot computerization projects and knows Kalfa well. Eitan said on Saturday that during the legislation process last year the law's proponents had promised, in discussions in the Knesset, that the committees would be "Zionist."
The nationality factor
Eitan said that although the bill received political support because of the "nationality," in fact "the number of Arabs asking to join these communities and being rejected is negligible compared to the thousands of families being rejected for alien or nonegalitarian reasons."
Eitan is calling for an investigation into the conduct of the admissions committees.
Naftali Sivan, who heads the admission committees in five new communities in the western Negev, including Gevim, declined to discuss the Kalfas' case because it is in legal proceedings. But he said that in principle, any new community that grows out of an existing community has special characteristics that cannot be ignored when evaluating candidates for entry.
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