Right- and left-wing MKs clashed bitterly on Tuesday over private members' bills granting village communities in the Galilee and the Negev the right to decide who would be permitted to live in them.
Israeli-Arab and left-wing MKs charged that the bills were aimed at preventing Israeli Arabs from purchasing land or homes in Jewish communities and living there.
"Until a few years ago, racism was not included in any legislation," charged MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al). "But recently, there has been a flood of racist bills."
Turning to Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who initiated one of the bills, Tibi said, "With people like you, the Declaration of Independence would never have been approved by the Knesset."
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) warned that "the filtering out system of the selection committees will ultimately cause the disintegration of Israeli society. It's not only Arabs that will be excluded. It will begin with Arabs but they will be followed by Ethiopians, haredim, homosexuals, single mothers and anyone else who is unacceptable to the group that happens to be in power."
Henin added that he was also ashamed of the bills as a Jew because the Jews had fought against exclusion abroad by clubs who refused to admit "dogs, blacks and Jews, supposedly in the name of preserving social homogeneity. I am ashamed that Israel has stooped to this level."
In addition to Rotem's bill, another bill was initiated by a group of MKs including Yisrael Hasson and Shai Hermesh (Kadima) and Uri Ariel (National Union). According to their bill, the allocation of land in a rural communal settlement with a population of fewer than 500 families to anyone, even if by inheritance, would be conditional on the approval of a selection committee. One of the criteria which the committee would examine would be "the candidate's suitability to fit in with the way of life and social texture of the community as one which is socially and culturally united. This includes the suitability of the candidate to the basic outlook of the community as it is defined in the communities' articles of association."
In actual fact, selection committees in small Jewish rural communities have been rejecting applications by Israeli Arabs for several years, even after the High Court of Justice handed down its landmark ruling prohibiting a selection committee in Katzir from rejecting Israeli-Arab Adel Ka'adan and his family from buying a plot of land there.
After the ruling, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) was forced to change its regulations regarding selection committees in rural settlements. According to one of the changes, only communities of up to 500 families could select new members, and, of course, they could not reject Israeli Arabs on ethnic grounds. Since then, however, many communities have adopted new articles of association including the "lack of suitability" criterion, and rejected Israeli-Arab applicants on those grounds.
On February 11, 2007, Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and other groups, petitioned the High Court of Justice to oblige one such community, Rakefet, to accept an Arab couple, Fatina Ebriq and Ahmed Zubeidat, after the community had rejected their application.
According to one of the petitioners, Ronnen Ben-Arie, project director of An Alternative Voice in the Galilee, the bills initiated by Rotem, Hermesh, Hasson and Ariel are meant to outflank the court, which has yet to rule on the petition, by passing legislation to uphold the rights of the selection committees to determine who will live in their communities and to accept applicants on the basis of "lack of suitability."