It Isn't for the State to Promote Arab-Jewish Coexistence

A recently passed law allows admission committees to bar new residents who 'do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community'; this legislation is not nice, but certainly not racist.

Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg

My three children studied at an elementary school with both religious and secular pupils. But I think it would be a mistake to impose such a setting on all of the country's children. I support feminist group prayer, and despite my Orthodox background, I have no particular problem with synagogues sitting men and women together. However, I would strenuously object should someone try to impose that approach to prayer on every synagogue in Israel.

The recently passed law allowing admission committees in small communities in the north and south so residents who share a common purpose may bar new residents who "do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community" (primarily that means: Arabs ) should be approached in that spirit. It is appropriate to encourage opportunities for Jews and Arabs to interact and live together, but it is inappropriate to impose this kind of coexistence by law.

Aharon Barak, former president of Israeli Supreme Court, attorney general, dean of Hebrew University Faculty of Law, and now head of IDC's doctoral program in law.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

This legislation is not "nice" (but certainly not "racist" ). It would never have seen the light of day had Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak not insisted earlier on attempting to impose coexistence by court order.

There is an inherent contradiction in the stance of opponents to the admissions committee law. The vast majority of them identify with those seeking to end Israeli control over Judea and Samaria, removing all of the Jews living there by force, out of concern, inter alia, that otherwise Israel will become a binational state and have difficulty functioning. Why isn't separation that is appropriate for an entire country also appropriate for a small community? Are the law's detractors interested in creating endless daily disputes in these communities, for example, over how to mark the Hebrew date the 5th of Iyar, either as Israeli Independence Day or as a catastrophe - Nakba Day? If the argument is that very few Arabs are likely to seek to live in these communities, this raises an even more serious issue. Is it being suggested that the number of Arabs allowed to join any such community be limited through some kind of Israeli version of numerus clausus quotas?

The rationale behind the establishment of these communities is the desire of individuals to live with others who share a basic, common lifestyle, certainly when it comes to national identity. One can oppose the very existence of such a desire and bar the establishment of such small communities, but you can't both permit them and bar them from fulfilling the rationale for their existence.

There are explicit expressions in the constitution of the kibbutz movement that identify the kibbutzim only with Jews. Does one define the kibbutz movement throughout its history as racist, and are the kibbutzim comparable to the ideology of the rabbinical letter encouraging the public not to rent or sell to Arabs? Or will we understand the difference between a small community and a large city, and particularly that there's a difference between a community's right to decide - in a positive sense - for whom it is designed and the prohibitive laws, either civil or halakhic, that allow generalized ethnic and religious discrimination?

The heart of the problem lies in the basic tension between the law and real life. The law must reflect life's complexity and not try to enforce one-dimensional principles, which will not stand up to the test of reality and will also lead to chaos. In the current context, this means that the highly appropriate fight for Arab-Jewish coexistence and equality must begin at a much more basic level. Above all, there should be equality in the allocation of resources - for example, allocating land to Arabs interested in establishing their own similar small communities. Needed are the largest number of settings - schools, community centers, sports teams, etc. - where interaction can take place, but with the understanding they make sense only if the participants coalesce and function voluntarily.



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism