Knesset to Water Down Bill Barring Arabs From Jewish Towns

Association for Civil Rights in Israel: Law is still discriminatory despite the changes, will constitute a stain on the country's law books.

Substantive changes will be made in the controversial bill that allows small communities to reject candidates who do not meet specific selection criteria, under an agreement reached Monday between the legislation's sponsors and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ).

Rivlin had refused to bring the bill for its second and third readings in the plenum unless changes were made.

The sponsors have agreed that the bill will be limited to communities comprising up to 400 families, down from 500 in the original proposal. In addition, it will apply only in the Negev and Galilee, and not throughout the country.

The sponsors said this will still allow small communities in the periphery to preserve their social and cultural character.

Rivlin had objected to the original bill because critics feared it would be used to bar Arabs, immigrants, single-parent families, homosexuals and the poor from these communities.

Atzmon Haggai Frid
Haggai Frid

But the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said Monday that the changes did nothing to mitigate these concerns and warned that if the law passes, it would petition the High Court of Justice.

"The law is still discriminatory and will constitute a stain on the country's law books," ACRI attorney Gil Gan-Mor said yesterday, noting that it will still apply to hundreds of communities.

Applicants to these communities "will still have to undergo a hurtful and humiliating screening process and are liable to be rejected just because someone on the admissions committee thinks, if only because of a gut feeling, that they aren't 'suited' to the community's social and cultural character," Gan-Mor explained.

But the sponsors - Kadima MKs Israel Hasson and Shai Hermesh and Knesset Constitution Committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) - rejected this claim.

"The bill reflects the Knesset's commitment to work to preserve the ability to realize the Zionist dream in practice in the State of Israel," Hasson said. "Small communities in the Negev and Galilee were meant to realize the government's goal of population dispersal and to enable residents to lead a community-oriented, rural lifestyle based on social and cultural cohesiveness. Realization of these goals obliged us as legislators to ensure the existence of a screening mechanism for applicants to these communities."

He stressed that the bill creates an appeals process to prevent improper discrimination. But "in a small community, creating a sense of community is a necessary condition for survival and growth."

The bill states that new residents can move to such communities only with the approval of an admissions committee. The committee will consist of five members: two from the community itself, one from the movement with which the community is affiliated (for instance, the kibbutz or moshav movement ), one from the Jewish Agency or World Zionist Organization, and one from the regional council in which the community is located.

The committee will be able to reject applicants who are minors, who lack the financial means to build a house, who do not plan to make the community their main dwelling place, who are deemed unsuited to community life by a professional, or who don't suit the community's "social and cultural character." However, the law forbids barring an applicant "solely for reasons of race, religion, gender, nationality or disability."