The Dubious Ties That Help Israeli Communities Keep Out Unwanted Applicants

Admission committees have already been widely criticized for allegedly denying entry to Israeli Arabs. They may also be taking improper steps to keep out certain Jews, too

The Adam Milo Institute in Haifa, December 2018.
Rami Shllush

A Jewish family whose application to join a cooperative village in the north was rejected by the admission committee found that an expert opinion on their suitability was greatly revised to their detriment – and the applicants never learned about the change or received a chance to appeal.

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Documents obtained by Haaretz show that the admission committee appealed because of the “gap between the opinion of the person who wrote the report and the committee’s impression.” A representative of the community added that “there was no compatibility” between the description of the family and the institute’s evaluation.

The family only received the second report and discovered the existence of the first version only seven years later as part of the debate over an appeal by the Israel Land Authority’s “reservations committee.”

In an unusual move, in the case in question, the admission committee disqualified both opinions by the institute, but still rejected the family.

Israel’s admission committees have already been widely criticized for denying entry to Israeli Arabs, but evidence also seems to exist of overly close ties between communities and screening institutes.

Eight years ago the Jewish family asked to join the community as full members; the family had moved in two years earlier and hoped to become full members ahead of the community’s plans to expand and sell plots to more families.

The admissions committee referred the family, as customary, to the Adam Milo Institute for evaluation, and the institute recommended rejecting the family’s request due to the father’s “unsuitability” to the “community’s character.”

But after receiving the institute’s first opinion, the community appealed and the institute issued a second version. The family was not notified about the first opinion or the appeal. Even the members of the government committee that reviews appeals against admission committees' decisions did not know about it.

The Adam Milo Institute decided to comment.

A community in northern Israel, May 2018.
Rami Shllush

The use of such institutes to screen applicants is extremely common following the amendment to the 2011 admission-committees law that allowed the use of such institutes if it’s deemed that a candidate might be “socially unsuitable.”

'Tool to harm'

Attorney Adi Nir-Binyamini, of Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic, says that “contrary to the law, which envisioned a professional objective procedure to protect the applicant from arbitrary decisions, the institutes’ evaluation process is used by the communities and admission committees as a tool to harm the applicants.”

As she put it, “The screening institute was required – and agreed – to adjust its opinion to that of the community that ordered it.”

About six months ago Binyamini asked the Justice Ministry, the Israel Land Authority and the Registrar of Cooperative Societies to set a procedure “to ensure the severing of ties between the screening institutes and the communities.” She says the applicant should choose the institute, while the authorities should review the efforts of the committees and institutes.

Speaking to Haaretz, the Israel Land Authority declined to comment, and the Justice Ministry said the “issue is being examined at the Israel Land Authority.”

The two opinions on the family were issued about seven years ago, a few months apart. The Adam Milo employee who received the appeal wrote that the father had “a potential for difficulty in integrating into the community.”

But after receiving the appeal from the community and reevaluating the findings, it was decided to disqualify the couple due to the potential “for creating a subcommunity and harming the existing community’s character.”

According to Nir-Binyamini, the first version of the opinion did not use the term “subcommunity” at all. “Subcommunity” is one reason allowing a community to reject applicants.

The differences between the two reports are considerable. For example, in the clause “ability to contribute to the community” and “managerial capability,” the father’s grade fell to 3 from 7. For “ability to fit into an interpersonal system,” “tolerance for other people – attentiveness, caring and empathy for others” and “ability to cooperate in a team,” the number fell to 3 from 6.

For “personal integrity,” the father’s grade fell to “mediocre” from “good.” For “personality strength to endure adjustment,” a high mark fell to “mediocre.”

Also, in the later opinion, comments on the father were removed such as “is willing to compromise,” “doesn’t openly come out against others” and doesn’t appear to “favor processes for a sweeping change of the community’s way of life.”

Also deleted was a sentence depicting the man as an “individualist who chooses his way” and “isn’t looking to unite with others but to be unique.” Instead, a comment was added that the man’s “behavior could create a subcommunity and harm the existing community’s character.”

Overall, the first opinion gave the father an overall grade of 6 on a scale of 1 to 9 – “recommended with reservation.” He then dropped to 3 – “not recommended.” The family’s grade overall dropped to 3 from 7 (“recommended”).

'Ensuring full satisfaction'

The descriptive part was also revised. Deleted were sentences about both parents “seeing themselves involved and contributing to the community, and both are characterized as seeking a stable, relaxed atmosphere without unnecessary friction.”

The conclusions that the family “is suitable for admission” and the father “is not expected to create a subgroup or enter into confrontations” disappeared. Instead, a new sentence was added saying that “there is potential for creating a subcommunity or at the very least harming the character of the existing community.”

Both the community and the institute said the changes were made as part of an orderly procedure including the input of a senior psychologist who was not part of the psychologist team in the first report.

“The conduct of the community and admission committee is extremely problematic regarding the screening institute, because they had to inform the applicants about the results of the first opinion,” the Israel Land Authority’s reservations committee said at the time.

Meanwhile, other institutes appear to maintain direct ties with various communities, while building their screening process based on specific requirements.

For example, a major institute’s website boasts of ties with a community, knowing its features and demands, and guiding the admission committee in using the evaluation reports.

Another institute promises that “to ensure the clients’ full satisfaction, the institute encourages a preliminary meeting” with the admission committee “to coordinate expectations and positions about the applicants and draft criteria for preliminary selection.”

In 2014 the High Court of Justice denied a petition by human rights groups against the law regulating admission committees.

“It seems that the institutes’ professional involvement in screening applicants is not a real supervision system that can resist the clients’ – the communities’ – desires," one of the justices at the time, Salim Joubran, said in his minority opinion. "This raises fears that the institutes will serve as fig leaves for the admission committees’ decisions.”

He added that the “professional opinion is not subjected to administrative oversight or legal review.”