High Court Orders Israeli Government to Explain Discrimination in Town Admissions

State has sixty days to defend 'vetting' law which allows communities to bar potential applicants who 'do not suit the lifestyle' of the village.

The High Court of Justice yesterday issued an order nisi in the matter of the Admissions Committee Law, obliging the state to explain within 60 days why it should not revoke the legislation. A panel of nine High Court judges is to hear two petitions filed against the controversial law, which allows admissions committees to bar new residents who "do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community."

The petitions were filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI ) together with the Abraham Fund and a group of Galilee residents, and the Adalah organization for Arab rights.

MK David Rotem
Tomer Appelbaum

The court rejected the state's request to dismiss the petitions out of hand to enable the law's implementation.

ACRI and the Abraham Fund's petition says most rural communities no longer lead a collective way of life; their residents have no common characteristic but the desire for a high living standard. The law would continue the discrimination in admitting residents to the community, using vague, fuzzy criteria of "suitable to the lifestyle or social fabric of the community."

ACRI said vetting committees would be used to reject people from "undesirable" groups such as Arabs, disabled people, single mothers, Jews from Arab countries or religious people.

The petition cites statements of Knesset members who advanced the bill, headed by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), saying it was intended to preserve the communities for Jews only.

In the petition, a resident of Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch's expanded community said that the vetting panel members told her the screening process was intended to prevent selling property to Arabs or ultra-Orthodox families in a way that bypassed the High Court ruling forbidding discrimination.

The petition lists cases of people who were rejected by the vetting committees, including a disabled military vet's family, Arab families, a new immigrant family, and Jews of Mizrahi origin.

In a debate about a previous petition against the admissions committees, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch blasted the committees and their invasive inquiries.

Petitioner Eliyahu Stern, of the Yaad community, said he had taken part in several admissions committees, "and in many cases they are used for unjustified discrimination."

ACRI attorney Gil Gan-Mor said yesterday the High Court will have to determine whether certain communities' desire to be "gated communities" and keep out those they don't fancy, overrides "the civil right to live wherever we choose and our right for equality and dignity."

The bill's sponsor, MK Israel Hasson (Kadima ), said it is a balance between the equality principle and the freedom and right to choose neighbors in small peripheral communities.

An Adalah official said he hoped the High Court would ultimately void the law "which creates a sub-state of collective societies that will have exclusive power to decide who may reside in vast areas of more than 700 communities."

(Jack Khoury contributed to this report)