Mr. Prime Minister, Douse the Flames of Racism

Netanyahu was right to condemn the rabbis' letter; now he must prevent the passage of the admission committees' bill which could be used to prevent the admission of Arabs to small communities.

"How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?" asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [speaking at the National Bible Contest for Adults]. "We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbors." He added: "Such things cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one. The State of Israel rejects these sayings." ("Netanyahu slams top rabbis' call to forbid renting homes to Arabs," Haaretz, Dec. 8 )

The prime minister spoke properly and correctly when he came out against the racist, despicable call by municipal chief rabbis not to sell or rent apartments to Arabs. But if the legislation concerning community admission committees' right to accept or reject potential members passes its upcoming second and third readings - the message promoted by those rabbis will receive additional validation from the Knesset. If they don't vigorously oppose that bill and try to prevent its passage, the Knesset, the government and the prime minister will in essence be saying that words are one thing, but deeds are another.

On the one hand, the rabbis' racism is condemned and democracy is praised. On the other hand, a law may be passed that allows membership committees to disqualify candidates from living in small locales on the basis of "the candidate's lack of suitability for the social-cultural fabric of the community." Meaning, disqualifying those who are not Zionist - in other words, Arabs.

It is worthwhile to point out that that supporters of the law do not even try to hide its purpose, which is to "Judaize" the Negev and Galilee and enable residents of small communities "to choose their neighbors," according to unclear criteria that make it possible to exclude minorities and other weak populations.

In our view, passage of such a law is like putting an obstacle in the way of a blind man. The law unleashes the racist "evil urge" that exists in one form or another in virtually everyone - the same urge that pushes people to want to live with neighbors like them and to reject the alien, the different, the minority. Even someone who is not a racist and never even thought about screening his neighbors, may do so the moment this law gives him the tools to do so. In this way the legislation in question is not only an expression of racism, but it also aids and abets it.

This bill - beyond its grave violation of the dignity of the person undergoing the admissions process, with its screening, labeling and diagnosis, just because he wants to live in a small community - will serve opponents of Israel in their claims that this is a racist apartheid state. If it becomes law, it could also serve anti-Semites who want to exclude Jews from their communities. In such cases Israel will not be able to protest, as the prime minister said, because a similar discriminatory and racist law will be on its books.

That is why it's time to turn Netanyahu's justified position into deeds. He must throw his entire weight and responsibility behind preventing passage of the admission committees' bill in the Knesset plenum.

The fire of racism fanned by this bill will not be doused by any super-tanker plane, and we certainly will not receive any help from the international community in this matter. The responsibility for heading it off rests with the prime minister and the Knesset.

Prof. Kremnitzer is vice president for research at the Israeli Democracy Institute. Attorney Fuchs is a researcher in the institute.