An Israeli family – father, mother and their two small children – submitted its candidacy to live in the community of Nes Ammim. The mother is a lawyer, the father an author and journalist. Both are middle class and able to pay the 1.6 million shekels ($400,000) for the house they wanted to live in. Both are educated and strong-minded and their application to Nes Ammim was based on a solid ideology of coexistence.
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Nes Ammim (Banner of the Nations) was set up in 1963 by European Christians, based on the worldview that Christians must make up for their treatment of Jews over the ages and strive for dialogue between the religions. It is only natural that this community seemed to the Israeli couple a worthy place to call home. But apparently this Israeli family had a fatal flaw – they’re Arabs.
Since the vetting committee that interviewed attorney Abeer Baker and her husband Ala Hlehel did not disclose the reason for rejecting the family, and did not respond to Haaretz’s reporter Amira Hass’ questions, one is left to conclude that the couple’s opinions and worldview were the stumbling block.
The vetting committee, none of whose members is Arab, held an inexplicable interview with the couple, one that consisted of questions such as, “What will you do if the community invites you to a barbecue on Independence Day?” The committee did not learn about the couple’s opinions only from that interview, but also from articles Hlehel had published in the media, articles that the committee did not like.
The community broke no law by rejecting Baker and Hlehel’s application. Nes Ammim was set up on private land purchased from an Arab citizen, so it is not subject to the Israeli law stipulating that vetting committees’ decisions be transparent and non-discriminatory.
But by rejecting the couple, the community has set a milestone in Israeli racism. Jewish communities have so far used the High Court of Justice ruling allowing them to vet candidates on the basis of “incompatibility with the social-cultural fabric” as an excuse to exclude Arabs. Some communities insist on their residents being religious, or that they adopt the community’s way of life as a condition of acceptance.
But in this case the opinions of candidates for residency have evidently become a criterion for acceptance. The community’s decision may serve as inspiration to other communities. Nes Ammim, which wanted to raise the banner of communication between the nations living in Israel, can no longer serve as a model.