A bill to expand admissions committees to larger towns passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, after being approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs this past Sunday.
The bill, introduced by Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kreuzer, passed in a 39-15 vote. The committees are panels that screen potential residents in the communities.
The legislation will allow for towns with up to 1,000 homes to operate admissions committees, which have almost complete discretion over who is allowed to move there.
Criticized by human rights organizations as a form of housing segregation, admissions committees can reject potential residents due to their ostensible lack of compatibility with the “sociocultural fabric” of a community.
Under current law, only localities in the Negev and the Galilee with less than 400 permanent homes can operate admissions committees. This bill aims to increase that number to 1,000, and will also allow them to operate in West Bank settlements.
Kreuzer’s spokesman Elior Azran said that if passed, the amendment to the 2011 law would strengthen towns in Israel’s north and south, often called the periphery.
“In the Galilee, communities can’t increase [their population to] more than 400 families. Why? Because the moment the 400th family comes, anyone who wants to join can join,” Azran said.
According to Azran, the bill will ensure “that the community can grow, but on the other hand also protect the ‘unique fabric’ of that same community.”
Former Meretz MK Mossi Raz maintained that the bill would only strengthen systems of discrimination.
“If you want to attract a strong population to the periphery you can offer income tax credits like we already do, you can establish places of employment,” Raz said. “If you want to strengthen the periphery there are ways to strengthen the periphery, and discrimination isn’t one of them.”
Kreuzer commended the Ministerial Committee For Legislation for approving the bill, saying in a statement: “This is great news for settlement in the Land of Israel. I am happy that we are making history and freeing up the bureaucracy that prevented many families from living in settlements that suited their way of life and style.”
The bill’s progress comes on the heels of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s comments in a cabinet meeting last week, in which he asserted that the Supreme Court needs judges who “understand” why Jewish Israelis would not be “willing to live with Arabs.”
Although admissions committees have existed for decades under the direction of the Israel Land Administration (ILA), the first law formalizing their role in localities took effect in 2011. The law was passed in the wake of a successful petition by Adalah, a legal center that focuses on the rights of Arab citizens of Israel, to allow an Arab couple to live in the small Galilee town of Rakefet after they were rejected by its admissions committee.
Suhad Bishara, the Adalah attorney who filed the petition, challenged the very legality of admissions committees.
“We also demanded from the Supreme Court, via the petition, to cancel the ILA decision that establishes such committees,” Bishara said. But, he said, “right after [the petition succeeded], a law was passed in the Knesset which basically enshrined the admissions committees’ role in the law.”
The 2011 law that formalized admissions committees was sponsored by both right-wing and centrist politicians.
The bill’s critics allege that in addition to discriminating against Israel’s Arab citizens, it also leads to the exclusion of other minorities in the pursuit of communal homogeneity.
“The intention [of admissions committees], in principle, is nationalistic — to exclude Arabs,” Raz said. “And along the way, although it’s not exactly their goal, it doesn’t really disturb them if they exclude women, LGBT people, also sometimes Mizrahi Jews, single parents, people that might look or conduct themselves a little differently.”
“This is also problematic under international law because it is an Israeli Knesset law that is applied extraterritorially to the occupied territories,” Bishara said.
Although the bill conflicts with international law under the 1907 Hague Conventions, it is unlikely to change the situation on the ground in the West Bank, in which Israeli settlements are already almost exclusively Jewish, many of them operating admissions committees outside the scope of the 2011 law.
“Palestinians aren’t trying to live in the settlements in the territories… I think that the significance [of the legislation] in the settlements almost doesn’t exist; the significance exists in Israel [proper],” Raz said.