Ten reasons acceptance committees are bad for Israel

Acceptance committees are a relic of the socialist past.

A swimming pool at a community in southern Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A swimming pool at a community in southern Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In mid-September the Supreme Court handed down a much anticipated and controversial ruling allowing the Admissions Committee Law to stand. The left-wing press was immediately up in arms, claiming that the court had upheld a “racist” law. Adalah, the Arab rights NGO, claimed the court upheld a law that “allows Israeli Jewish communities to exclude Palestinians.” If only it were that simple. But like so much in Israel, an issue that has been turned into a Jewish-Arab and left-Right political debate is in fact about neither. Acceptance committees are bad for Israel, they have always been bad for Israel and if they are not diminished they will continue to balkanize and ruin the country.
Here are 10 reasons why: 1. Acceptance committees are a relic of the socialist past. Initially established by Zionist immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in a country that was overwhelmingly Arab, the committees were a product of the “scientific” selection of the best “human material” for creating socialist communal settlements in a hostile environment. Like utopian Quaker settlements in the US or selecting members of an expedition to explore the interior of Africa, the idea was to only allow the most hearty and socially compatible people with the essential skills needed to “open up” the land to join these settlements. But this is 2014, not 1908, and yet the selection committee lives on, like a dinosaur, as if one were to go to Arizona in the US and still find gunfights happening at the OK Corral.
They serve no purpose today except discrimination and segregation and serve only the elitist “members only” clubs that run them.
2. Acceptance committees restrict individual liberty and freedom. One of the essential parts of the social contract between citizen and state is the natural right of equality. The right to live where one wants within the state should not be infringed by arbitrary “committees” set up in small communities. With few exceptions, such as a community for senior citizens, or some tiny community of a marginal religious group, citizens should not be prevented from living where they want. As it is today in Israel, almost every community outside a town or city has an acceptance committee, restricting citizens’ right to live in nearly 1,000 communities, including in the West Bank.
3. Acceptance committees serve two powerful lobbying groups on the Right and Left. Because the communities with acceptance committees were initially “ideological communal settlements” they were also segregated politically, which is why one finds that in most communities in Israel the voting patterns are so homogeneous.
In a sense the acceptance committees determines who may live where based on applicants’ politics. That means that on the Left, Meretz and Labor voters have as much devotion to the committees as does the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party. Acceptance committees are in the DNA of both the Right and Left, which is why they are becoming more, not less, entrenched in Israel. They aid and abet the polarization of the country, which increases balkanization.
4. They are responsible for rising housing prices.
People being kept out of communities restricts natural growth. It means the cities and towns become ghettos of over-priced high-rises, while a small aristocratic elite is allowed to dominate rural “agricultural” communities – that often don’t engage in much agriculture and should have been privatized and broken up long ago.
5. The main victims of the acceptance committees are not Palestinians, but Jews. The myth of these committees, which is why most of the Jewish public supports them, is that they are part of “Zionism” and “protect” the land from “the Arabs” who are supposedly poised to conquer all the small Jewish communities if not for these barriers. This is absolute nonsense: 99.99 percent of those rejected by acceptance committees are not Arabs, but Jews. Very few Arabs want to move to Jewish communities in the West Bank (have you met any?), or to an all-Jewish community in the Negev or Galilee. The few exceptions are almost always reported in the news and represent some secular Arab white-collar worker, such as a doctor or lawyer, who wants to raise his family in a more elite community with access to better schools.
The irony is the same voices that complain that Arabs in Israel don’t “assimilate” and BBQ on Independence Day are the same ones that say, “I support acceptance committees; we don’t want Arabs here.” Well, choose one – don’t tell Arabs to “assimilate” and then support separation.
6. Acceptance committees are a dagger pointed at the heart of Zionism. Zionism was supposed to be about “ingathering” the Jewish exiles, but the acceptance committees have turned that into a joke, segregating communities by ethnicity or politics, with Sephardim, Ashkenazim, haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and kibbutzniks all living in their own little enclaves. In general the not-so-secret objective of the acceptance committees is actual ethnic and religious segregation between primarily upper class Ashkenazi groups on the left and right and “the others,” which means immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopians, Mizrahim and haredim. So much for “ingathering.” Is this Zionism, a patchwork of segregated gated communities where everyone thinks and votes the same? 7. The acceptance committee phenomenon is only getting worse. It would be one thing if the Supreme Court had approved a law that applied to a vanishing phenomenon. The whole irony of the “admissions committee law” is that it merely legalized a massive system that already existed. The disingenuous voices on the Jewish Left, such as Abraham Fund, that claim to oppose the law, don’t speak out against the committees of kibbutzim or left-wing communal settlements. This is precisely the problem: rather than abolishing all the committees, the court and Knesset have sought to expand them.
Here a committee, there a committee, everywhere a committee; soon they will be in the cities, in “urban kibbutzim” and communal “settlements” in cities, until the point will come where one is always having to “apply” to live where one wants.
8. The committees are an invasive affront to human dignity. No one should have to submit handwriting samples or discuss intimate details of their private life just to live somewhere. This isn’t a mission to mars. Israel isn’t a fraternity. It should aspire to be a modern country. As it is people are being told they are not “socially suitable” for arbitrary reasons: too short, too tall, too bald, bad penmanship, or maybe they aren’t married at age forty. It reminds one of those movies like Pleasantville with busybody neighbors spying on each other.
9. Acceptance committees, when used by more than a handful of communities, are anti-democratic.
Excusers of the Israeli system of acceptance always say, “But there are communities like that in the US and other places,” but these individuals ignore the fact that such communities represent a mere .01% of communities in a place like the US while millions of dunams and hundreds of thousands of people are regulated by them in Israel. The vast majority of towns and communities are not regulated by acceptance committees in the US – and if communities in the US could discriminate against non-Christians or nonwhites under the fig leaf of such people not being “socially suitable,” Jews would be the first to speak up. But in Israel, where basically every small community is regulated by this archaic bureaucracy, it is intertwined with the social order. These committees are anti-democratic and discriminatory by their very nature. The only reason these committees exist is to discriminate, to regulate land ownership and to concentrate unwanted groups into cities. A modern democracy should have fewer barriers to people moving where they want, not more.
10. Acceptance committees are un-Jewish.
Throughout Jewish history in exile, Jews faced restrictions on where they could live. They faced being forced into ghettos, only entering cities through certain “Jews’” gates, or being forced to live outside the city walls. In the Muslim world they had to wear distinctive clothing and live in certain areas. Forcing people to beg for “acceptance” is the antithesis of Jewish history and this phenomena should never have been allowed to gain the foothold it has in the Jewish state.
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