Discriminatory Screening of Would-be Neighbors in Israel

A High Court judge once warned that special screening institutes would become fig leaves for communities seeking to keep out would-be members. Turns out he was right

The Galilee community of Atzmon.
Hagai Frid

The 2011 admission-committees law grants communities a liberal and vague authority to reject applications by people seeking to move in. One common justification to excuse the screening of would-be residents is the label “unsuitable candidate for the community’s social life.” Under the law, such a claim must be based on the “professional opinion” of a screening institute.

But in the guise of professionalism there is always a close link between the community and the institute contracted to do the evaluation, especially in cases where the community isn’t keen to accept the person or people.

This isn’t solely about sending candidates’ cases to a certain institute, but building a system of evaluations in accordance with specific characteristics and demands. You can find institutes that promise to ensure “an orderly process of communication with the community,” or the “coordination of expectations and positions about the applicants.”

Sometimes, such as in a case uncovered by Haaretz’s Or Kashti over the weekend, a screening institute even dramatically amends its original opinion about a family, after the community appeals. In the case Kashti looked into, two opinions that were provided over a space of months came out vastly different.

>> The exclusive Israeli communities that shun Arabs, Mizrahim and anyone else 'incompatible'

The original grade given the father in the category “social characteristics” tumbled. Positive comments about him and his family were removed, including the conclusion that the family was “suitable” for the community. A new conclusion appeared: “There is potential for creating a subcommunity or at the very least harming the character of the existing community.”

The first version of the opinion by the Adam Milo Institute did not contain the “subcommunity” concept. The introduction of that term doesn’t seem a coincidence; it was a reason to allow the rejection of the application. The term also appears in the community’s appeal after it believed that the original evaluation was too positive.

Also, the process for the appeal was kept secret; even members of the government board that reviews such appeals didn’t know what the procedure was. Nor did anyone tell the family about the appeal or suggest that they seek a new evaluation.

In 2014 the High Court of Justice rejected appeals against the admission committees by a 5:4 vote. The court said that at issue was a general discussion, not a specific case. But in light of the case that Kashti looked into, the petition should be revived because of the unconstitutionality of the law.

In a minority opinion, then-Justice Salim Joubran cautioned that the screening institutes would have trouble standing up to “the wishes of their employers – the communities,” and would become “fig leaves for admission committees’ decisions.” The justification for this fear has been borne out by reality. The next step to take is to repeal all the laws that allow such discrimination.

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