Is the State of Israel Becoming an Anachronism?

The new law banning discrimination when deciding on new members of a community makes it essential to now set clear limits to the quasi-official status of Zionist institutions.

The State of Israel, wrote Ze'ev Sternhell in Haaretz, is turning into an anachronism before our very eyes in the wake of the passage of legislation that "makes ethnic inequality a legal norm."

But what does the Acceptance Committee Law really say about ethnic discrimination? It says "The acceptance committee will not refuse to accept a candidate for reasons of race, religion, sex, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual proclivity, country of origin, opinions or political affiliation."

Obviously, one can expect there will be attempts to prevent acceptance of candidates because of all these prohibited reasons. However, this is no simple matter. A refusal like this is destined to find its way to the High Court of Justice and to be decided there.

If indeed the law had permitted manifestations of ethnic discrimination, the law itself would be invalid. Since the opposite is true, it is clear how the Supreme Court justices will lean in the case of a refusal suspected as illegitimate.

Under the law, a refusal requires a reasoned decision in writing. The prohibition on refusing a candidate for reasons of opinion makes it very difficult to circumvent the prohibition on ethic discrimination by questions like a candidate's attitude toward Zionism, for example. According to the language of the law, it is doubtful that this a legal question, since this too is a matter of "opinion."

And in the end, as we have said, the justices will decide. In any case the claim that the law has made ethnic discrimination into a legal principle the state is openly adopting is simply the opposite of true.

It must be recalled that this is not a matter of setting up a new mechanism that may in practice enable discrimination even if it is officially prohibited. The law does not establish the acceptance committees. These have been in existence for decades, to a larger extent than what the new law allows.

In the wake of Israeli law's liberalizing direction, doubt arose as to whether this arrangement would now stand the test of the High Court of Justice.

The law is an attempt to protect the acceptance committees from judicial invalidation at the price of reducing the scope their applicability and subjecting them to a long list of prohibitions on discrimination.

This does not mean it is a good law. There is scope for arguing that such acceptance committees, when it comes to allocations of land by the state, are not deserving of the legal protection.

There is one provision in the law that is clearly not legitimate: An acceptance committee is supposed to include a representative of a Zionist movement or of the Jewish Agency. It is unacceptable that representatives of the Zionist institutions will become a governmental or quasi-legal authority over an Arab citizen.

Every Israeli citizen must be subject only to institutions deriving their authority from the public of country's citizens - the entire public of citizens and the public of citizens alone.

This provision of the law must be invalidated. This is also the right opportunity to set clear limits to the quasi-official status of the Zionist institutions: Their status can exist in order to express the connection between the state and the Jews of the Diaspora (there are analogies to this elsewhere in the world ) but this must be limited in scope in a way that will prevent infringements of civil equality and democracy.

Prohibitions on discrimination and other restrictions were introduced into the law, gradually, during the process of legislation - both because of awareness of legal limitations and because of political pressures (including by the Knesset speaker ). When it comes to legislation, there is often a tremendous difference between what is proposed at the outset of the process and what is passed in the end.

Is Israel becoming an anachronism? Let's assume it is, for purposes of this discussion. But even an anachronism deserves to be criticized fairly and to have the truth and only the truth said about it.