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Knesset to pass “separate but equal” communities bill
The new law will allow Jewish communities, built on state land, to reject non-Jews who wish to purchase properties within them. Needless to say, no such settlements are built for Arabs
Perceiving ourselves as true liberals and humanists is a nice image we like to see reflected in the mirror. Some of us regard those values as the very essence of Jewish philosophy. Notwithstanding, reality strikes back and many a time puts our faith in basic equality among humans into question. This fundamental truth – that all people were created equal – seems somewhat jaded in contemporary Israel.
As I write to you now, the Israeli Knesset is preparing to vote on Tuesday and approve a bill which will standardize and legalize the practices of communal villages’ acceptance committees in the Negev and the Galilee. According to the proposed law, these committees will enjoy a great deal of latitude and discretion in their accepting or rejecting of candidates, especially Arab candidates, who wish to make a home for themselves on predominantly state-owned land. While referred to as “screening” or “acceptance” committees, in reality they serves as a selection tool operating with no transparent criteria and with full authority to reject candidates at a whim. They are the tool through which Israeli lawmakers are placing in our law books the notion of segregation, even though we’ve all learned the lessons of history – that a segregation policy can never really be “separate but equal.”
This bill is but another move towards a more segregated and discriminatory Israel, and falls in line with such recent initiatives as the Loyalty Oath Bill. Its instigators flagrantly deny that their bill is aimed at banning or denying any part of Israeli society its legal rights. However, this initiative is a belated response to a previous Supreme Court ruling which forced a Jewish communal village to reverse its own ‘selection committee’ decision to reject an Arab-Israeli family from joining the village as full-fledged members, and to build their house on a public lot allocated by the state. This initiative is corroborated by communal villages in the Galilee and in the Negev which, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, began to alter their own ideological communities’ manifestos, peppering them with highly evocative slogans such as that its residents vow to “preserve” Jewish heritage, or “be loyal” to the “Zionist vision;” virtues which were never part of the official charter of these places thus far.
Patriotic and idealistic clichés aside, in reality this law will enable the chosen few, mostly upper-middle class, Jewish, white, heterosexual and privileged sectors of Israeli society, to discriminate against their fellow citizens and deprive them of their very basic right to reside on public land. Over the past 30 years these many villages scattered all over the Galilee have successfully created highly homogeneous communities by actively and consistently rejecting members of Israeli minority (Arabs), single parent families, new immigrants, mentally or physically challenged people, the poor, and other “misfits” of the Jewish majority from entering their villages. And now, should this law pass the Knesset, in its frenzy of pseudo-patriotic hysteria, these selective communities would be granted the legal prerogative to prevent “others” their basic rights of building or buying houses simply because they were not approved by their own vetting committees.
Over the last two years human rights organizations, publicists, intellectuals, members of the Israeli academia as well as civil society NGO’s have been fighting against this bill. I, myself, am a part of an initiative formed by members of such communal villages who could not keep silent anymore and voiced their indignation against this bill, allegedly advanced in our names. I stand proud among my friends from Atid Misgav (‘future for Misgav’, visit us at www.atidmisgav.org) in this struggle against this inflammatory and superfluous law. Indeed, it is dire times when the state actively works to discriminate its own citizens. Those here and abroad who care to see an Israel that promotes equality, those of us in Israel who wish to see ourselves as true humanists, should know that this bill is doing exactly the opposite, and do what we can to stop it before it’s too late.
The writes is a member of Atid Misgav – a civil society organization in Israel’s North opposing communal villages’ acceptance committees in the Negev and the Galilee
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