Israel’s segregated ‘acceptance committee’ society
In Sderot seventy percent of the people voted for right-wing and religious parties and only 1% voted Meretz and 3% Labor.
Moshav Taoz in the Judean Hills Photo: Seth J. Frantzman
Looking at the election breakdowns for small communities in Israel recently, I
was struck by something: In Sderot seventy percent of the people voted for
right-wing and religious parties and only 1% voted Meretz and 3%
Yet in the seven small communities (mostly kibbutzim) around
Sderot the vote was a mirror image. Why the black-and-white difference? IN
ANOTHER country one might see a gradual transition in voting patterns between
proximate communities, but in Israel, the stark difference is due to one factor:
The acceptance committees that prevent people from Sderot from moving to the
surrounding Kibbutzim and other rural communities.
There is an ethnic
difference as well, reinforced by this phenomenon; Sderot is primarily Mizrahi,
Russian and Ethiopian, while the surrounding communities are secular and
A majority of people in the State of Israel, Jewish or
non-Jewish, are barred from living in almost every rural community, of which
there are more than a 1,000, by the institution of the “acceptance
Those wishing to live in these communities must submit to a
lengthy approval process (sometimes years in duration) in which their personal
lives are probed.
Doesn’t it seem strange that 60 years ago my
grandfather, a Jew in a Christianmajority country, had more freedom to live
where he pleased than do most Jews in the Jewish state?
But this phenomenon of
geographic discrimination that prevents Israel’s citizens from living where they
desire, not because of financial inability, but due to race, ethnicity, marital
status, sexual orientation, political ideology, education level, personality,
bad handwriting (some acceptance committees require handwriting samples) or
level of religious observance, is rarely acknowledged.
committee” is a uniquely Israeli invention; no other country in the world allows
90% of its rural communities to operate committees that restrict who may live in
them. The committees were set up by the initial Labor Zionist immigrants who
believed that those joining their communities had to be uniquely determined to
work together to carve settlements out of the hostile environment.
selecting people for a business venture in a foreign country, it made sense to
discriminate against the lazy, poor and the weak. But after the founding of the
state, as the country was flooded with Jewish immigrants, the swamps had been
drained and the Arab citizens reduced to a minority, there was no longer any
need for such rigorous selection processes.
Moreover, in a state where
93% of the land was state land which was provided free of charge to new
agricultural settlements there was no compelling reason why people should suffer
discrimination preventing them from living on a public resource.
new history of Israel, Israeli Professor Anita Shapira excuses the
discrimination, noting that the new immigrants from Muslim countries had
“neither experience nor inclination towards agriculture” and that the new
immigrants lacked a tradition of “physical work.”
Yet when these rural
settlements lost their agricultural aspect, privatized and stopped running
cooperative businesses, they became mere bucolic suburbs, whose committees were
used to isolate themselves.
For instance, at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, from 1996
to 2011 not one new member was admitted.
Today almost all the physical
labor on kibbutzim is carried out by outside workers, usually from Asia, and yet
those workers, despite experience in physical labor, have no chance of being
allowed to live as equals in these communities.
immigrants, despite coming from an agricultural background, were never permitted
to be members of the kibbutz.
Only one conclusion can be drawn: The
acceptance committees have nothing to do with agricultural and labor skill, and
everything to do with race, class and ethnicity.
TODAY, NOT only do the
selection committees remain but they were extended to new communities that had
no communal characteristic, to the extent that almost every single rural
community has a selection committee. Civil rights NGOs have challenged a law
permitting the committees, but no one has ever challenged the existence of the
Advocates of the committees, on the Right and
Left, argue that they exist to maintain “unique” communities. Thus left-wing
Meretz voters at Kibbutz Lahav (where 60% voted Labor or Meretz) may tell you
that their “unique” wealthy Ashkenazi-Jewish left-wing social fabric must not be
bruised by exposure to other elements. Right-wingers in the West Bank will tell
you stories about how “without the selection committee the Arabs would take the
Yet the majority of those rejected by the committees are not
Arabs, but Jews.
“Social cohesion,” “unique community” – these are the
signposts of discrimination.
If the acceptance committees were only used
to protect the unique way of life of a few minority groups, such as Samaritans
or Karaite Jews, or of several kibbutzim that fully shared all their assets, it
might be justified. But when every rural community has such a committee, it has
nothing to do with protecting a unique way of life, but merely keeps one elite
group apart from everyone else.
Every unique minority group in Israel,
from the Black Hebrews of Dimona to the Ahmadiya in Haifa, live in communities
without acceptance committees, and yet they thrive as unique groups without the
“protection” of the discriminatory bureaucracy.
THE ACCEPTANCE committees
are an affront to human dignity. Their proceedings are kept secret and no data
on their decisions are published. In short, a multiplicity of shadow groups
operating in secret determines the destiny of those “permitted” to live on the
more than three million dunams of state land controlled by kibbutzim and
Thus in the Megiddo Regional Council of rural communities
around 9,000 people control access to 170,000 dunams, while in the town of
Hadera, where there is no committee, some 80,000 people are crammed into 53,000
One could still balance the need to restrict urban sprawl in
rural areas without having acceptance committees. Simply restrict the ability to
build new houses in rural communities, and let the color of one’s cash, rather
than the color of one’s skin, determine who lives where. A free market and
individual rights should determine where people live, not arbitrary
bureaucracies based on outdated models.
THE ACCEPTANCE committees are an
affront to the Zionist logic which underpins the state of Israel. The Bnei
Menashe, new immigrants from India, are not told when they receive their
identity cards that they can never freely move to any kibbutz or moshav in
Israel, solely due to the fact that they are not from the “right
Ethiopian immigrants housed at absorption centers at kibbutzim
like Ayelet Hashahar never receive an explanation as to why, no matter how many
kibbutz members’ houses they clean to earn a tiny wage, they will never be
accepted as members.
Instead, they are “settled” by the government in
tract housing in urban areas such as Kiryat Gat.
The doyens of the
acceptance committee will tell you that the real reason Ethiopians can’t live on
kibbutzim is that they “don’t understand community living.”
seem strange that an Ethiopian Jew could live in any town or village in the UK,
France, Germany or the USA, but in the Jewish state he may not because he
“doesn’t understand community living”? WHEN OFIR and Danalee Kalfa wanted to
move from Sderot to Kibbutz Gevim they were denied on the grounds that they
“don’t understand what it means to live in a small community.” A kibbutz
representative told Haaretz, “We are trying to introduce new blood into the
community, but new blood needs to match was is already there.”
eugenics-based nonsense about certain groups not being “appropriate human
material” was once used to justify discriminatory policies in the West in the
Israel is living in 2012 and its acceptance committees are a relic
of a different era.
Consider another way to look at the acceptance
committee phenomenon. People on Birthright programs that seek to introduce Jews
to Israel aren’t told that almost every single rural community in the country is
entirely homogeneous, that each one is either an “Ashkenazi” community or a
“Sephardi” community, a “haredi” community or an “Arab” community.
order to replicate in the US what is done in rural Israel one would have to
segregate every rural community, not merely by black and white, but by Catholic
and Protestant, Italian and Chinese, Republican and Democrat, and then one would
have to create artificial administrative committees that would investigate the
family background of anyone wishing to move to a community.
vetting, including handwriting analysis and psychiatric tests, is not even
undergone by NASA astronauts.
WHAT IS most shocking is that Jews would
never tolerate such a situation in another country. In France, Germany, Russia,
the UK, Australia, Argentina or the US, Jews would never tolerate being asked
about their religion, ethnic background, politics and marital status before
being “allowed” to move to a suburban neighborhood.
tolerate having to submit handwriting samples and go to psychologists to prove
they are “fit to live in community” in order to move somewhere.
long foreign Jews have coddled the racism and discrimination inherent in the
acceptance committee culture of the kibbutzim. Numerous programs of study for
potential immigrants are housed on kibbutzim, where Jewish youth are taught
“social justice” by a communities manifestly unjust in their
Why coddle a discrimination regime whose main function is
to discriminate against Jews in the Jewish state? The fences around these
communities have, since 1948, represented a fence between two Israels; a state
within a state.
In one Israel the citizen may live, in the other he might
be “permitted” to reside.
The new Knesset, representing the centrist
middle class, should finally do away with the acceptance committee
It outlived its purpose in 1948 and it is time to make the
existence of such discrimination and arbitrary roadblocks to individual freedom