A proposal by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) to significantly expand the application of a law letting small communities screen potential residents is due at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday. The law currently applies to communities with up to 400 families; the new bill would increase this number to 700.
This law, the Acceptance to Communities Law, has been a stain on Israel’s lawbooks since it was passed in 2011. It lets communities in the Negev and the Galilee with up to 400 families screen those seeking to buy a house there and reject applicants based on “unsuitability to the sociocultural fabric of the community.”
This law not only legitimizes racism, exclusion, isolationism and elitism, it encourages and stokes it. The law’s criteria are vague and actually make it possible for the members of a community to exclude people they consider undesirable.
Communities that have screening committees let their residents choose their neighbors through an insulting invasion of candidates’ privacy and reject them based on their affiliation with a minority, even though the law formally “prohibits discrimination.” This is the unconcealed intent of the law’s framers: “Arab-free” communities.
Expanding the law will dramatically increase the harm. Even the original ceiling of 400 families was far from the law’s “communal” logic, which was designed to maintain “sociocultural cohesion” in small rural communities.
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The intent to raise the ceiling to 700 families brings the truth to light: This isn’t a law to protect the right of small, cohesive communities to exist, it’s a law to allow strong and well-off communities to screen out Arabs, Mizrahim, the ultra-Orthodox, the secular, single parents, LGBT people, people with disabilities and any other unwanted groups. The opponents of the original law warned that it enshrined discrimination. Now the discrimination is being ramped up a notch.
In the debate on the nation-state bill, a clause was removed that was intended – openly and without whitewashing as in the Acceptance to Communities Law – to permit separation of communities by ethnicity. It seems an attempt is now being made to achieve the same result in another way. The government must not allow this.
It should come as no surprise that with the passing of the Acceptance to Communities Law and the nation-state law, attempts are cropping up to maintain “the Jewishness of the city” – as we have seen in Afula, for example. This is a dangerous development that must be uprooted immediately. The exclusionist, isolationist and racist Acceptance to Communities Law must be abolished, not strengthened and expanded.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.