The Knesset expanded the reach of the controversial “admissions committees” law Tuesday night, in a decisive vote that united the right-wing ruling coalition with many opposition MKs.
Admissions committees are panels that screen potential residents in small close-knit communities, operating with full discretion as to who they accept or reject. These committees can reject candidates due to their ostensible lack of compatibility with the “sociocultural fabric” of a community.
Criticized by human rights organizations as a form of housing discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens, admissions committees have existed for decades in kibbutzim and moshavim under the direction of the Israel Land Authority.
The Knesset only formalized their role in 2011, when it passed a law stipulating that localities in the Negev and the Galilee with less than 400 permanent homes are permitted to operate admissions committees.
The law that passed Tuesday increases that number to 700 permanent homes, and allows admissions committees to operate outside the Negev and the Galilee in towns designated as being in “national priority areas” which receive housing and infrastructure benefits from the government.
Sponsored by right-wing MKs Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism), Sharren Haskel (National Unity) and Yitzhak Kreuzer (Otzma Yehudit), the bill passed in a 42-11 vote.
All present MKs of the Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am parties, in addition to Labor MKs Gilad Kariv and Naama Lazimi, voted against the bill.
According to Kreuzer’s spokesman Elior Azran, the law guarantees that after five years, towns with over 700 permanent homes will be able to operate admissions committees if approved by the economy minister as a locality in a national priority area.
Azran maintains that bringing admissions committees to somewhat larger towns will ensure “that the community can grow, but on the other hand also protect the ‘unique fabric’ of that same community.”
Adalah, an organization that advocates on behalf of Israel’s Arab citizens, released a statement on the law saying, “No one is trying to conceal the racist purpose of the law, which aims to continue and promote the values anchored in the Jewish Nation State Law to establish and expand Jewish settlements. At every stage of the legislative process, including by presenting opinions of Shin Bet personnel, Knesset members emphasized their intention to promote the same nationalist values.”
The organization plans to file a petition with the High Court of Justice against this law. Though the court has overturned specific decisions by admissions committees in the past, it upholds their existence on the whole and has rejected numerous petitions challenging their legality.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the chairman of the Otzma Yehudit party, argued the law “will strengthen the Negev and the Galilee, strengthen the periphery and bring great news for the entire people of Israel.”
The law is a merger of two separate bills. Kreuzer’s original bill, which passed its preliminary reading in June, proposed that localities with up to 1,000 permanent homes, as well as West Bank settlements, be able to operate admissions committees.
The question of whether West Bank settlements are permitted to operate admissions committees is not raised in the law, but many do so anyway under the legal protection of a 2019 military ordinance.
Hadash MK Ofer Cassif claimed during the bill’s Knesset debate that in addition to excluding Arab citizens, expanding admissions committees to more towns across the country will harm Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews and other disadvantaged groups in Israel.