Israel's Attempts to Preserve a Racist Heritage

New legislation reflects the desire to approve at the constitutional level the establishment of 'Arab-free'communities around the country

File photo: The Israeli community of Mitzpe Aviv, which only accepts residents approved by a committee.
Yaron Kaminsky

It would be interesting to see Israel’s response if some other country passed a constitutional amendment letting communities that exclude Jews be established. Under the radar of public attention, robust committee discussions continue on a new Basic Law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. On Tuesday a committee will discuss a particularly scandalous clause under the heading “preservation of heritage.” The clause states: “The state may permit a community, including the members of a single religion or the members of a single nationality, to establish separate community settlements.”

There is no doubt that unlike many other clauses in the bill, which it is said enshrines the legal status quo, this is a desire to change the legal situation and strike a blow against the High Court ruling in the Kadan case and other cases that stated that “separate cannot be equal.” The very fact of separation, and the fact that a person is prevented from joining a community only because of his or her race, religion or skin color, harms equality. This precedent was set in the United States in the 1954 ruling in which segregation in schools (and elsewhere) between African-Americans and white Americans was deemed unconstitutional.

The “heritage preservation” clause damages democracy and Judaism. Let’s say the Knesset decides, contrary to the current state of affairs, that despite the right to equality and human dignity, precedence should be given to people’s desire to live in homogenous communities “clean” of those who are different. Why is this decision connected to the fact that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people? “Judaism” isn’t a synonym for racism and elitism.

The fact that this clause appears in the nation-state bill reveals the real motive behind it: the desire to approve at the constitutional level the establishment of “Arab-free” communities. And this desire manifests itself despite the harsh blow to the right to dignity enshrined in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

When the “acceptance committee law” was passed, letting small communities in the Negev and Galilee filter candidates based on “a lack of suitability to the community’s sociocultural fabric,” the Knesset tried to whitewash it by inserting another clause that prohibits discrimination in a community’s acceptance process based on religion, race, nationality and similar metrics. The High Court therefore did not intervene.

The clause now proposed in the nation-state bill in fact brings to light the true goal of the acceptance committee law: exclusion based on racism. It’s clear that from the moment the law permits segregation in small communities, the fire of racism will spread to larger communities. The nation-state bill was unnecessary from the outset, but the “heritage preservation” clause is a black flag.

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