Enshrine ‘affordable housing’ in law, says rights group

Attorneys at the Association of Civil Rights in Israel to submit draft Basic Law on Social Rights to state's "incomplete" legislation.

August 29, 2011 06:04
3 minute read.
Protesters at social justice rally in Beersheba

Beersheba Protest 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Attorneys at the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) announced plans on Sunday to submit a draft Basic Law on Social Rights, said Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, the leader of the committee appointed by the government to discuss social and economic issues.

The country’s Basic Laws were first legislated in 1950 by the First Knesset, and were initially intended to form the chapters of a future constitution. Though that has not yet happened, the Basic Laws still form the basis of the country’s constitutional law.

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In 1992, the Knesset passed two additional Basic Laws dealing with human rights – the Basic Law of Human Dignity and the Basic Law of Freedom of Occupation, but there is no law that deals with social rights.

ACRI spokeswoman Dana Bar said the social justice protests indicate that the country’s existing legislation is “incomplete.”

“We believe that there is now an historic opportunity to develop a broad and comprehensive Basic Law, which will enshrine our social rights on a constitutional basis. Social rights have never received the legal status they deserve, and in the last decades they have been violated in the most blatant way possible,” said Bar. “Their continued forfeiture is what has sparked the fire of the protests.”

ACRI’s move to push the draft legislation came after tens of thousands of Israelis took part in several protests on Saturday night, as the social issues movement resumed in force.

Rallies were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion, Bikat Ono, Katzrin, Jaffa, Harish and Tiberias. Organizers, citing what they said were police figures, said more than 20,000 people took part in the Tel Aviv event on Ibn Gvirol Street.

“We hope that the state will pick up the gauntlet the Israeli public has thrown to it and finally complete the historic task of anchoring human rights in such a way that they fix the necessary standard of basic social rights for all of us,” Bar added.

The proposed Basic Law on Social Rights, which was drafted by attorney Tali Nir, states that education, housing, employment, welfare and food security are not luxuries but basic rights.

The draft Basic Law further stipulates that Israelis be afforded the right to a “dignified existence,” which includes access to “housing that is adequate, affordable and accessible, and protected against arbitrary eviction, with access to services and infrastructure.”

Among other things, ACRI’s proposal also includes stipulations that Israelis’ right to strike, to welfare assistance and unemployment benefit, as well as education and healthcare, should also be enshrined in law.

Nir also criticized the existing Basic Laws for giving a “decisive weight” to the economic interests of individual property owners but ignoring the rights of others, and so has created an “asymmetric constitutional status in Israel, which is in real danger of upsetting the balance between the poor and powerful in society.

“[The Basic Laws] do not recognize the rights of those who are not property owners in terms of human dignity or social rights in work, education, health, housing and social welfare,” said Nir in the proposal. “For those who took to the streets demanding ‘social justice’ and for large parts of Israeli society, these are the major themes in their lives.”

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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