Dorit Beinisch ordered the government and the Knesset on Monday to come before
an expanded panel of judges within 60 days to explain why the recently passed
law approving admission committees for rural communities should not be
A day after the law passed in the Knesset in late March, a
petition against it was filed by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel,
Adalah and the Abraham Fund Initiative, as well as by residents of the Misgav
region who oppose the committees.
The law, which passed with a vote of
35-20 and was sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem and Kadima MKs Yisrael
Hasson and Shay Hermesh, authorizes admission committees in rural villages in
the Negev and the Galilee numbering less than 400 families to vet applicants for
The law’s explanatory notes state that its purpose is to
protect the unique character of rural villages and maintain their social
cohesion. Similar arrangements already exist in many villages in the form of
local regulations, but the passing of the law gave them a formal legal
The law deals mostly with new neighborhoods being built in
moshavim and kibbutzim.
Residency in these neighborhoods requires
newcomers to join a residents’ association, and joining the association requires
applicants to go through an acceptance process.
The processes differ from
one community to another; some go so far as to require that newcomers undergo a
full day of suitability testing in evaluation institutes, similar to the tests
required for hiring in some workplaces, but all have to undergo an interview by
an admission committee.
In their petition, the NGOs argued that the law
authorized residents of more than 300 villages that meet the criteria to “filter
out” potential residents on the basis of “obscure” criteria.
that the clause in the law that enables the rejection of candidates for “lack of
suitability to the sociocultural makeup” of the village discriminates against
Arabs and other minorities. They also claimed that the law circumvented past
High Court decisions forbidding the creation of Jewish-only
Though the law specifically prohibits the refusal of candidates
on grounds of race, religion, gender, nationality, disability, age, parentage,
sexual orientation, country of origin or political affiliation, the petitioners
claim that its real purpose is to exclude Arabs and that the committees would
find ways to reject them on other grounds.
“Before us is a new law that
not only leaves the existing regulations in place, but expands them and gives
more force to the filtering process,” said ACRI attorney Gil Gan- Mor. “The law
enables committees to reject an applicant on the basis of an expert opinion,
even a graphologist, whereas in the past, it could only be a psychologist’s
professional assessment. This gives a license to reject anybody for practically
The respondents say it themselves – that the purpose of the
law is to maintain homogeneity, something we believe is unjustifiable in a
The petitioners claimed that in lieu of any
distinctive characteristics, the only justification for a community to reject
someone is because of a fear that the person will harm the residents’ quality of
Lawyers for the state argued that the petition should be rejected
since none of the doomsday scenarios anticipated by the petitioners had been put
to the test.
“My esteemed colleague gave the worst possible
interpretation of the law. We think it is too early to judge. The cases will
tease out the problems. We think it is better to give the method time to work
itself out,” said state attorney Gur Bligh.
“The only question worth
investigating now is whether or not the law is constitutional,” Bligh continued.
“We think there is no way to decide that before it is put in
He added that the petitioners were concerned about potential
injury, not to the concept of the committee.
“They are worried that it
will lead to discrimination, but it has never been tested,” Bligh said. “Knesset
members and legal counsels took the material and debated it thoroughly, changing
it according to suggestions, some which were even proposed by the
We prefer to fine-tune the law by interpretation and not by
complete cancellation of the law.”
After the sides completed their
arguments, Beinisch consulted for a few minutes with her fellow justices before
ruling that the petition would be heard by an expanded panel of nine. The
“We hope that the court’s decision signifies its
willingness to rule in our favor, a ruling that will strengthen the principle of
equality and the proper use of the legislative process,” said Abraham Fund
Initiative co-director Mohammad Darawshe. “This would indicate that laws, even
if democratically passed, cannot harm the minorities. We hope that it will also
stall anti-democratic legislation by the current Knesset, which is led by a
nationalistic and often racist agenda.”
Darawshe said he believed the
expanded panel would work in the NGOs’ favor.
“It is a case of the basic
principle of democracy: The more you add intelligent people to the debate, the
better its chances of achieving justice.”
The court will have to decide
whether the desire of some localities to be “defined communities” and reject
those who are not to their liking overrides the right of citizens to live where
they want and their rights of dignity and equality,” said Gan-Mor. “Admission
committees have been discriminating and humiliating people for many years, and
the law only serves to better anchor the injustice.”