In March 2011 the Knesset passed a law allowing small rural communities of up to
400 households in the north or south of the country to establish acceptance
committees, or to maintain existing ones.. The final version of the law declared
that “the acceptance committee will not refuse to accept a candidate for reasons
of race, religion, sex, nationality, disability, personal status, age,
parenthood, sexual proclivity, country of origin, opinions or political
But since the passage of this legislation, many groups,
particularly those involved with the human rights lobby in Israel, have made a
commotion. They threaten to petition the Supreme Court, claiming that the law is
indirectly, or directly, aimed at discriminating against Arabs.
Shalom (“Peace Bloc”) organization posted on their website that “the purpose of
this piece of legislation is manifestly clear: to provide a legal basis for the
establishment of exclusively Jewish communal villages from which Arabs would be
excluded, thus bypassing the court rulings prohibiting discrimination against
Writing in Haaretz
, Dmitry Shumsky claimed: “There is no choice
but to see the Acceptance Committee Law for communities as an expression of the
anachronistic return to the open and callous ethno-centric nationalist racism of
the old Europe of the previous century.”
Shlomo Molla, the lone Ethiopian
MK, claimed the law’s wording, which permits rejecting applicants who do not
meet certain social and cultural criteria, would result in discrimination
against Ethiopians as well. Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice president of
research at the Israel Democracy Institute, has argued that the law is “neither
Jewish nor democratic.”
In the months following the passing of the law,
several other news items have appeared that may have a bearing on the
In September, Ahmed and Fatina Zabeidat were finally allowed to
take over a plot of land in the community of Rakefet in the Galilee. Five years
ago they were rejected by the community’s admissions committee; Fatina was found
to be “too individualistic” and Ahmed was said to “lack personal
sophistication.” They were deemed “socially incompatible” with the
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After years of their case wandering its way through the
Israeli court system with the support of a number of human rights organizations
supported by the New Israel Fund, they won their case.
Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea, announced that it was accepting its first
new members in 15 years. The kibbutz had declined so many applications over the
years that only 176 members remained, and their average age was 62. For the new
members to be accepted a total of two-thirds of the existing members had to vote
for their acceptance. The situation in Ein Gedi is similar to that of most
kibbutzim in Israel, which have seen their populations age and their numbers
decline since the 1980s.
WHAT IS interesting about the stories of Kibbutz
Ein Gedi and Rakefet is that both communities maintain longstanding acceptance
committees. Rakefet’s has apparently been in place since its founding in 1981,
and Ein Gedi’s since 1956.
In fact, it turns out that all the 500-odd
kibbutzim in Israel have acceptance committees, as do many other communities,
such as moshavim.
It might be fair to estimate that approximately 1,000
communities around the country currently use acceptance committees. Yet the law
defining the legality of such committees was only passed in 2011. Why the
contradiction? Why the sudden outrage about this law? In reality, the very
foundation of Israel is, for better or worse, grounded in the notion of the
From the very beginning, all communal settlements
in Israel were heavily “socialized,” with all sorts of committees and rhetoric
about the “social compatibility” of residents.
Acceptance committees have
long been part of the social fabric of this country. From tiny settlements in
the West Bank established after 1967 to new communities in the Misgav regional
council in the Galilee to the oldest kibbutz in the country, the institution has
always existed in Israel.
The acceptance committee has also been one
barrier preventing the integration of many Jewish (not to mention Arab) groups
into the rural environment. It isn’t the main barrier, though.
Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews live in urban areas because the government settled
them there; they never even thought of how they might like to live on a
The Arab population of Israel, much of which lives in semi-rural
villages, has never wanted to move to nearby Jewish communities, preferring to
simply expand their existing villages.
The hypocrisy that exists in
certain sectors of Israeli society raises a fake outrage about a “segregation”
law, a law that merely enshrines what has always existed. The notion of the
acceptance committee and all its pseudosociological findings of “social
unsuitability” smacks of elitism and in many cases may hide racism behind
“cultural” excuses. But this is not the main problem.
The central issue
is that when the Supreme Court considers this law it should consider whether the
committees currently used by 1,000 communities in Israel are also valid. It
should not be legal for kibbutzim founded many years ago to be allowed to uphold
an institution that is considered illegal in other communities that were founded
more recently. Either all be allowed to have acceptance committees or none
should. It shouldn’t be considered “racist” for some and not for
others.The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at
the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
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