Rare panel of 9 to hear discrimination case
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
Human rights groups seek to strike down law blocking Arabs, gays, disabled from living in hundreds of Galilee, Negev communities.
In what will likely be a historic decision, the High Court of Justice, with a
rare full nine-member panel, will hear on Monday a case that goes to the heart of
alleged attempts to block Arabs, homosexuals, disabled people and other groups
from living in particular communities.
The case stems from petitions
filed by a number of human rights groups led by Adalah: The Legal Center For
Arab Minority Rights In Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
(ACRI) and aims to cancel the Acceptance Committee Law, which they claim has
improper discriminatory purposes.
The petitioners do not allege that the
law explicitly prohibits a particular category of people from living in the
yishuvim covered by the law.
In fact, on its face, the law has an
explicit prohibition against discrimination. However, the petitioners say that
it is designed and being implemented in a way that allows the communities to
discriminate in practice.
The law, which was amended in March 2011 to
include some of the more controversial provisions, covers a massive number of
For example, the law allows yishuvim to require “loyalty
oaths” and a commitment to observe Jewish holidays to prove one’s Zionist
beliefs, caveats that are allegedly designed to dissuade or disqualify Arabs,
even if they have never taken any suspicious or criminal actions.
applies to 434 communities in the Negev and Galilee regions, representing 42
percent of all of the yishuvim in Israel. It covers 90% of the state’s communal
yishuvim and 57% of its agricultural yishuvim.
Adalah said that the law
gives nearly complete discretion to the yishuvim regarding the rejection of
people who request to live in the yishuvim.
It also claimed that the law,
even if it was not explicitly discriminatory, violates international law, since
it allegedly has a discriminatory purpose.
In its response, the state
said that the law is a balancing act between preserving the unique character of
the special category of yishuvim it covers and defending others’ rights to live
where they choose.
The state added that the law in large respect is also
just confirming a system already in place, in which these special yishuvim
attract similar people, and does not create a new framework in which the
communities can discriminate.
Moreover, the state said that
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had recently nullified previous legislation
that addressed the issues that the new law handled.
As such, the state
claimed that if the court nullified the law, there would be a complete legal
vacuum regarding the issues in dispute.
The state emphasized that it
believed it was too early to judge the results of the law, which is only a few
In a statement, ACRI said that the law allowed the acceptance
committees to evaluate families using vague tests like “suitability to social
life in the community” or “suitability to the community’s socio-cultural
ACRI noted that after two years, “the state is still unable to
specify which communities are permitted to employ acceptance committees, and has
failed to established appeals committees as required by the
According to ACRI, the state has no data regarding the number of
applicants who were turned down.
ACRI also said that of 128 appeals held
by the Israel Lands Authority under authority that precedes the acceptance
committee law, approximately 70% were granted, which it believed indicated that
many of the decisions are arbitrary and cannot survive appeal.
most of the rejected applicants do not appeal their decisions, said
In June 2011, the High Court, with a panel of three justices,
issued a conditional order against the constitutionality of the law, and ordered
the state to explain why the law should not be nullified.
The panel also
said that, because of the case’s constitutional importance, the final decision
on the issue would be made by the maximum and extremely unusual panel of nine
justices presided over by Supreme Court President Asher
In a related ruling in September 2011, the High Court
ordered the Rakefet acceptance committee to allow an Arab couple to buy a lot in
the yishuv within 90 days, after the community initially refused their
The ruling was seen by Adalah and others as a reaffirmation that
the High Court believed the law was leading to discrimination in reality,
confirming their contentions that the law’s purpose was
ACRI implied that the law had been passed to retrench
discriminatory practices, which it said had been rampant prior to the 2000
Ka’adan court decision that dealt with explicit discrimination.