The residents of Highgate Hill are a thriving cross section of British society, in their diversity of employment and their ethnicity. Harrow-on-the-Hill and Muswell Hill are similar. Imagine for a moment that these are rural communities of some 5000 residents. Now try to guess the public reaction in the UK, if the government-coalition sponsored a Bill announcing that Highgate and those other communities, could reject an individual’s residency, because he or she “is not right for the social life of the community” or “does not match the social-cultural fabric of the” community.
These quotes are in fact from the “Admission Committees of Communal Settlements” Bill 2010, already passed by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, with two more plenum readings imminent, before becoming law. Admittedly, the clause dealing with the ‘Considerations’ of such Admissions Committees says: “The admissions committee may not turn down a candidate based only on reasons of race, gender, religion, nationality or handicap.” But despite this prohibition, the Bill deviously facilitates rejection of an Arab candidate by measuring him or her against a community’s “social-cultural fabric”.
One of the Bill’s signatories is Committee member MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu). He told angry Arab MKs, “every Jewish community needs at least one Arab resident. Who’ll fix the fridge if it breaks down on Shabbat?”
Mick Davis, Chair of the UJIA is not left of centre in his politics, and neither am I –despite my Peace Now association. In addition to both being Zionists, we share identical views on this Bill. With welcome candour, Davis says, “it is repugnant, as repugnant to me in the UK as it should be in Israel.” He’s not alone.
Michael Mitzman, veteran lawyer at Mishcon De Reya, one this country’s leading law firms, says, “It would result – or at least that is the intention I think of the religious parties – not only in keeping reform Jews out of designated areas, but will also keep Arabs out of those areas. I consider this to be reminiscent of the discriminatory laws that have been enacted in other countries.”
What has happened to the Israel we love, when a Knesset legislative committee blithely offers a Bill that is reminiscent of Alabama segregation laws in the last century? And then there’s that gang that seeks out and beats up Arabs in Jerusalem’s Independence Park.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence promised the Arabs living in the new Jewish state participation “in the up-building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”
In 2000 the High Court of Justice ordered the town of Katzir, near Haifa, to accept the Kaadans, Israeli Arab citizens, into the community. More recently, Rakefet, a Galilee Jewish village, faced a similar ruling. The Bill clearly side-steps the High Court. Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu is Co-Director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, promoting co-existence and equality between Israeli Jews and Arabs, working closely with government. He says, “not a single new (Arab) town has been established since 1948,” and the government, facing a burgeoning Arab housing shortage has not approved Arab municipalities’ plans “to implement a programme of growth and development.”
Hagai Elad, Executive Director of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, described the Bill as a “part of a bigger family of anti-democratic legislation being promoted by the government,” and added, “Israel’s democracy is bleeding.”
Here are some other members of that family, not all aimed at Israeli Arabs: the notorious Loyalty Oath Bill, unsurprisingly promoted by MK Rotem; the Cinema Bill which demands that film crews seeking public funding must first pledge allegiance to the State; the Nakba Bill providing a prison term to anyone marking the Nakba by mourning the establishment of Israel; the Bill on Funds from Foreign Political Entities that seeks to delegitimize or impair organizations receiving funds from foreign states. The Abraham Fund recently received $1 million from the US State Department. Should that be returned?
These Bills undermine the foundations of Israel’s democracy, all the more distressing because they emanate from its very heart, the Knesset.
A letter of protest from a communal leader as senior as Mick Davis would not be ignored by Jerusalem. As wounding as the intent of so much of this legislation, would be our silence.
*This article 1st appeared in The Jewish News 25/11/10 under the title ‘What has happened to the democratic Israel we love?’