Editorial |

Israel's Small-town Racism

The cooperative community of Gidona in northern Israel in 2021.
The cooperative community of Gidona in northern Israel in 2021.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

This week, under the public radar, a bill that would significantly expand the applicability of the Admissions Committees Law passed its first of four required Knesset votes.

The law, passed in 2011, initially allowed so-called cooperative communities (“yishuvim kehilati’im”) in the Negev and the Galilee with no more than 400 households to establish panels to screen potential new residents. The permissible reasons for rejecting an applicant included “the candidate’s unsuitability to the community’s social and cultural fabric, in a way that could damage this fabric.” What this means in plain language is the exclusion of undesirable population groups, especially Arabs.

Even though the original law included a provision saying applicants could not be rejected due to race, religion, gender and so forth, a provision that rescued the bill from unconstitutionality in the eyes of a majority of Supreme Court justices, its goal and the message it sent were clear – accepting people similar to the current residents and rejecting those who were different.

The current bill bemoans the existing situation, in which communities with more than 400 households, or those not in the Negev or the Galilee, cannot employ admissions committees. It therefore seeks to correct this “injustice” by greatly expanding the law’s applicability. If the amendment passes, the law will apply to communities that have “sold up to 600 building lots meant for permanent homes” – a definition that in practice would apply to many additional communities. Moreover, the amendment would apply the law not just in the Negev and the Galilee, but also in other parts of the country, as well as in West Bank settlements. The entire justification for the original law – that it applied only to very small, cohesive communities – would fall apart if expanded as per the current bill. And thus the truth has been revealed – it’s an attempt to give a legal seal of approval to a discriminatory practice.

The law in question authorizes discrimination, undermines equality and human dignity in the most basic sense of the term and also legitimizes gross invasions of privacy given the prying process to which applicants are subjected by their future neighbors. The day is not far off when even “ordinary” towns will start demanding admissions committees. Even now, there is growing talk about “Judaizing” certain cities or neighborhoods.

The Admissions Committees Law is a bad law. Not only should it not be expanded, but it should be repealed completely, and without delay.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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