On December 4, 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court heard a petition arguing that the "Admissions Committee Law," which allows small towns in the Galilee and Negev to reject applicants who do not fit in with the "social-cultural fabric" of the community, is discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. In the following op-ed, which was originally published in Hebrew in Haaretz, IDI researcher Attorney Amir Fuchs explains why he sees this law as an insult to Israel's democracy.
On December 4, 2012, an expanded panel of judges of the Israeli Supreme Court heard a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against the "Admissions Committee Law." This law allows small towns of up to 400 homes in the Negev and the Galilee to screen candidates who have applied to acquire land or houses in the town and reject them for a variety of reasons. These candidates are subjected to a meeting of the town's "admission's committee," which is comprised of representatives of the town who are the candidate's potential neighbors. Beyond this, the applicants are required to undergo a number of evaluations in diagnostic institutes as part of a process that resembles screening procedures for job applications; sometimes applicants must undergo a psychological evaluation or have their handwriting analyzed by a graphologist, while other times, they are asked humiliating questions about their family status, social standing, and emotional health. The grounds for rejection that are permitted by the law include "incompatibility with the social-cultural fabric of the town," in cases in which there is "reason to believe that the candidate may damage that fabric."
From start to finish, the Admissions Committee Law violates the candidate’s human dignity. Even if the candidate is ultimately accepted and is allowed to live in the town, the requirement that applicants be subjected to an examination by such an invasive committee, which has the authority to investigate the most intimate details of the candidate’s life, is humiliating and infuriating. Even if this law did not rest on the unacceptable goal of preventing Arabs from living in such towns, this violation of dignity should be grounds for its rejection. But of course, if we consider the group to which the applicant belongs and not just the individual, the humiliation is many times greater. The insult to Arab applicants, Ethiopian applicants, or single parents, who are being rejected on the grounds that they endanger the cultural-social character of the town is unbearable. This rejection contains an inherent violation of the right to equality, which is an essential tenet of a democratic state. The non-discrimination clause that is included in the law is merely an attempt to hide the law’s discriminatory nature. Of course, candidates are not going to be told that the reason why they were rejected was because they were Arab or Ethiopian, but this type of reason for rejection is among the reasons allowed by the law.
It is impossible to justify the Admissions Committee Law under the restriction clause of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which specifies acceptable violations of rights, as the Admissions Committee Law fails to meet the very first requirement of the restriction clause: a worthy purpose. Despite the attempt to conceal the purpose of the law and to frame it as a law that is intended to “protect the social cohesion of communities,” the illegitimate purpose of the law is as clear as day: to exclude the “Other” from exclusive, small towns. While this is aimed mainly at Arabs, they are not the only group that is impacted by the law. The practice of having admissions committees also negatively affects many Jews who belong to groups that are considered to be undesirable by potential future neighbors: senior citizens, new immigrants, single-parent families, and more.
The improper purpose of this law is not even hidden by some of the initiators and proponents of the law, who justify it as being in the interest of the town. The stated purpose of the law – to protect the social cohesion of small communities – is indeed protecting an interest of the residents of those communities, who wish to continue to maintain their right to choose their neighbors and to preserve their elitist image. But why should that be considered a “worthy purpose”? And how is the “communal nature” of these small towns in the Negev and the Galilee, which is used to justify this law, different from the communal nature of small neighborhoods or rural suburb of a city, given that these small towns do not have joint ownership of land or a common economic structure (in contrast to a moshav or kibbutz) and are not based on the unique character of a minority group?
Another factor that must be taken into consideration is the effect that the law will have in practice. Beyond the institutional approval that it gives to racism, the Admissions Committee Law promotes and even incites racism. Even people who are not racist or exclusionary by nature tend to choose neighbors who are similar to them, even if unintentionally. This law promotes such choices. Thus, beyond the damage that it does to the right to dignity and equality, the law gives civilians a destructive power and is essentially an invitation to racism.
It is hoped that the High Court of Justice will rule that the law is unconstitutional. It is not just the majority that deserves to have its right to dignity and equality protected, as seen from the efforts to abolish the Tal Law and bring about equality in military service for all in Israel. Minority groups deserve such protection as well.
Attorney Amir Fuchs is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.
A version of this article was published in Hebrew in Haaretz on December 4, 2012.