Bill to Let Israeli Towns Screen Applicants for Residency Moves Forward

Critics of bill contend that even in its amended form, legislation would allow small communities to bar Arabs, immigrants, or same-sex couples.

The Knesset Constitution Committee approved a modified version of a bill on Wednesday that would allow some small communities to maintain admissions committees to screen candidates for residency.

The new version of the bill restricts such committees to communities with up to 400 households, instead of 500 as proposed originally, and only in the north and south. The prior proposal would have applied nationwide, including in the center of the country.

But critics of the bill contend that even in its amended form, the legislation would allow small communities to bar Arabs, immigrants, single-parent families or same-sex couples.

The version the committee approved yesterday was proposed by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ), who said the revisions were necessary to strike a proper balance in the bill. "The law permits us to uphold priorities that we have lived by for the past 100 years," he said, citing in particular the "national mission" of populating the Galilee and Negev.

But MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ), an immigrant from Ethiopia, opposed the bill, saying it would give "a stamp of approval to Ethiopians not being accepted" in these communities.

"Under the proposed law, not one Ethiopian will be able to get accepted by these communities, due to their financial means and also due to the social fabric," he said, referring to a provision that allows admissions committees to reject applicants it deems unsuited to the community's "social and cultural fabric."

During the debate, an argument broke out between Hebrew University law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, one of several intellectuals who came to oppose the bill, and Kadima MK Shai Hermesh, who sponsored it. Kremnitzer enraged Hermesh by saying the bill would bar admission to anyone who lacked the proper social status. He also called it "neither Jewish nor democratic" and charged that it would serve as a model for anti-Semitic exclusion of Jews around the world.

As long as the bill allows applicants to be rejected due to incompatibility with the "social and cultural fabric," all the other amendments are of no significance, Kremnitzer said.

MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) said the bill "sends a message to all citizens about how to treat Arab citizens. This law will give legitimacy and power to those racist [admissions] committees."

The Labor Party's MKs skipped the vote on the bill. But MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) told the panel that reducing the size of the communities where it would apply and limiting it to the north and south did not change the bill's character, which she called "discriminatory and racist."