(photo credit: Courtesy)
One week after the Supreme Court restored the housing rights of a group of Israeli-Arabs in Afula, an NGO lawyer said the Arab sector may still be discouraged from attempting to live in certain mixed Jewish-Arab housing situations.
The lawyer, Gil Gan-Mor of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was involved in a 2014 failed attempt to get the Supreme Court to strike what is known as the Acceptance Committee Law.
ACRI and other human rights groups argued that this law would lead to housing discrimination against Israeli-Arabs in approximately 434 communities in the Negev and the Galilee by empowering acceptance committees to use vague criteria to reject Israeli- Arabs. Although neither he nor ACRI were involved in the Afula case and there are differences between the cases, Gan-Mor said both impacted the issue of Israeli-Arabs and housing discrimination.
The two-year delay and lower court ruling in the Afula saga, which at least temporarily negated the housing rights of Israeli-Arabs in Afula, could “definitely influence Israeli-Arabs’” willingness to apply for housing in mixed cities and villages, said Gan-Mor.
Israeli-Arabs are routinely “caught up in some kind of issue with a company or someone who says ‘there are no available units’ when in fact there are” and that “all of these things create an atmosphere” discouraging Israeli-Arabs from living outside majority-Arab villages, he added.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the vast majority of a group of individual Israeli-Arabs who had won the rights to around 45 units of publicly auctioned housing in Afula, reversing a Nazareth District Court ruling that disqualified their housing rights. In November 2015, the group had been declared by the public auctions authority as the winners of the units.
Immediately upon the announcement, however, there was vehement opposition from a range of Afula residents and the city’s municipality. Opponents contended that Afula would lose its Jewish character and Jews would leave the city.
Translating their opposition into legal terms, they first tried to get the auctions authority, and then the Nazareth District Court, to disqualify the Israeli-Arabs, claiming that they had illegally coordinated the prices of their bids to help them win as a group and also that the auction advertisement had been misleading and improper.
The Nazareth District Court accepted these legal arguments in April 2016, without referring to the public anti-Arab argument and protests, and disqualified the auction, which then required a new round of bidding. The Israeli-Arab bidders appealed to the Supreme Court.
Last week, however, the Supreme Court said the coordination of prices was limited to a minority of the Israeli-Arab bidders and disqualified only those involved in the coordination; this left most of the Israeli-Arabs’ housing rights in place.
The Supreme Court also rejected the argument that the wording of the bidding was misleading, saying it was equally misleading to both Israeli-Arab and Jewish bidders and gave the winners no advantage.
Moreover, the Supreme Court said it recognized the background of attempts to discriminate against Israeli-Arabs as the motivation for the case, saying this illegal purpose pushed the court to be less strict in enforcing technicalities.
While Afula was, in a sense, a victory for Israeli-Arab housing rights, Gan-Mor remains concerned about the negative impact of the Acceptance Committee Law on Israeli-Arabs and possible fallout from the Afula saga.
He explained that one reason ACRI and others sought to strike the law as unconstitutional was that they believed – and convinced four of nine justices – that the law would have a chilling effect against many Israeli-Arabs even bothering to apply to live in mixed villages.
Gan-Mor said this issue is still an open problem and that many Israeli-Arabs might see a “win” like Afula as too expensive in time and aggravation.
In Afula, he said there was no acceptance-criteria problem and that the state even took the side of the Israeli-Arabs side. Still, he said, the winning Israeli-Arabs would have lost their rights according to the district court ruling and only won after a two-year legal fight.
If anything, he said, the Afula drama might further convince Israeli-Arabs not to bother applying to live in villages with acceptance committees and other mixed-living situations.
Municipal officials have said that even though they must respect the Supreme Court’s ruling, they will ensure that Afula remains a Jewish city.