Rare panel of 9 to hear discrimination case

Human rights groups seek to strike down law blocking Arabs, gays, disabled from living in hundreds of Galilee, Negev communities.

Israeli Supreme Court 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)
Israeli Supreme Court 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)
In what will likely be a historic decision, the High Court of Justice, with a rare full nine-member panel, will hear on Monday a case that goes to the heart of alleged attempts to block Arabs, homosexuals, disabled people and other groups from living in particular communities.
The case stems from petitions filed by a number of human rights groups led by Adalah: The Legal Center For Arab Minority Rights In Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and aims to cancel the Acceptance Committee Law, which they claim has improper discriminatory purposes.
The petitioners do not allege that the law explicitly prohibits a particular category of people from living in the yishuvim covered by the law.
In fact, on its face, the law has an explicit prohibition against discrimination. However, the petitioners say that it is designed and being implemented in a way that allows the communities to discriminate in practice.
The law, which was amended in March 2011 to include some of the more controversial provisions, covers a massive number of communities.
For example, the law allows yishuvim to require “loyalty oaths” and a commitment to observe Jewish holidays to prove one’s Zionist beliefs, caveats that are allegedly designed to dissuade or disqualify Arabs, even if they have never taken any suspicious or criminal actions.
The applies to 434 communities in the Negev and Galilee regions, representing 42 percent of all of the yishuvim in Israel. It covers 90% of the state’s communal yishuvim and 57% of its agricultural yishuvim.
Adalah said that the law gives nearly complete discretion to the yishuvim regarding the rejection of people who request to live in the yishuvim.
It also claimed that the law, even if it was not explicitly discriminatory, violates international law, since it allegedly has a discriminatory purpose.
In its response, the state said that the law is a balancing act between preserving the unique character of the special category of yishuvim it covers and defending others’ rights to live where they choose.
The state added that the law in large respect is also just confirming a system already in place, in which these special yishuvim attract similar people, and does not create a new framework in which the communities can discriminate.
Moreover, the state said that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had recently nullified previous legislation that addressed the issues that the new law handled.
As such, the state claimed that if the court nullified the law, there would be a complete legal vacuum regarding the issues in dispute.
The state emphasized that it believed it was too early to judge the results of the law, which is only a few years old.
In a statement, ACRI said that the law allowed the acceptance committees to evaluate families using vague tests like “suitability to social life in the community” or “suitability to the community’s socio-cultural fabric.”
ACRI noted that after two years, “the state is still unable to specify which communities are permitted to employ acceptance committees, and has failed to established appeals committees as required by the law.”
According to ACRI, the state has no data regarding the number of applicants who were turned down.
ACRI also said that of 128 appeals held by the Israel Lands Authority under authority that precedes the acceptance committee law, approximately 70% were granted, which it believed indicated that many of the decisions are arbitrary and cannot survive appeal.
Moreover, most of the rejected applicants do not appeal their decisions, said ACRI.
In June 2011, the High Court, with a panel of three justices, issued a conditional order against the constitutionality of the law, and ordered the state to explain why the law should not be nullified.
The panel also said that, because of the case’s constitutional importance, the final decision on the issue would be made by the maximum and extremely unusual panel of nine justices presided over by Supreme Court President Asher D.
In a related ruling in September 2011, the High Court ordered the Rakefet acceptance committee to allow an Arab couple to buy a lot in the yishuv within 90 days, after the community initially refused their request.
The ruling was seen by Adalah and others as a reaffirmation that the High Court believed the law was leading to discrimination in reality, confirming their contentions that the law’s purpose was discriminatory.
ACRI implied that the law had been passed to retrench discriminatory practices, which it said had been rampant prior to the 2000 Ka’adan court decision that dealt with explicit discrimination.