Israeli Supreme Court upholds "Admissions Committees Law" that allows Israeli Jewish communities to exclude Palestinian Arab citizens

Adalah: Supreme Court's decision entrenches racial segregation; 434 small communities in Israel, or 43% of all residential areas, will be allowed to close their doors to Arab citizens of the state.

Israeli Supreme Court: "We cannot determine at this stage whether the law violates constitutional rights"

Adalah: "The Supreme Court’s decision entrenches racial segregation; 434 small communities in Israel, or 43% of all residential areas, will be allowed to close their doors to Palestinian Arab citizens of the state."

(Haifa, Israel) Today, 17 September 2014, in a 5 to 4 decision, an expanded panel of the Israeli Supreme Court decided to dismiss a petition brought by Adalah three years ago against the "Admissions Committees Law". The law allows for hundreds of Israeli Jewish communities in the Naqab (Negev) in the south and in the Galilee in the north to reject applicants for housing based on the criteria of "social suitability" and the "social and cultural fabric" of the town.

The law allows the possibility of rejecting applicants who are Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, as well as other marginalized groups, solely on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, or other identity. The court's decision effectively legalizes the principle of segregation in housing between Arab and Jewish citizens, and permits the practice of racism against Arab citizens in about 434 communities, or 43% of all towns in Israel. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) also filed a petition against this law.

In response, Adalah stated that the Court’s decision, "gives the green light for 434 communities to exist based on the principle of segregated housing. This law is one of the most racist pieces of legislation enacted in recent years, the primary objective of which is to marginalize Arab citizens and prevent them from accessing housing on 'state land' in many communities. The court's decision upholds one of the most dangerous laws in Israel."

Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara, who filed the petition, added that: "The court's decision seriously undermines its landmark decision in 1999 in the Ka'adan case. That case allowed an Arab family to move to the town of Katzir despite their rejection by the town's admissions committee. This latest court decision illustrates the continued deterioration of the constitutional rights and legal protection of Palestinian citizens of Israel." Attorney Bishara further stated that the new decision, "allows the principle of separation in residency based on national identity, and as such, 434 communities will be allowed to close their doors to Arab citizens."

The Admissions Committees Law, enacted by the Knesset in 2011, gives "admissions committees" – bodies that select applicants for housing units and plots of land – almost full discretion to accept or reject individuals from living in these towns. The committees include a representative from the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organization, quasi-governmental entities. The Committees, in practice, filter out Arab Palestinian applicants and others from marginalized groups. While one of the provisions of the law states a duty to respect the right to equality and prevent discrimination, the law allows these committees to reject applicants deemed "unsuitable to the social life of the community…or the social and cultural fabric of the town," thereby legitimizing the exclusion of entire groups. The law also authorizes admissions committees to adopt criteria determined by individual community towns themselves based on their "special characteristics", including those community towns that have defined themselves as having a "Zionist vision."

In the last hearing on the case before the Supreme Court on 4 December 2012, Attorney Bishara argued that, "the law marginalizes certain groups, creating a legal, constitutional, and legitimate basis for discrimination. The law allows for division of state land based on vague cultural and social standards – and not even the state can explain which criteria admissions committees could use to accept or reject candidates. The law will open the door to arbitrary decisions based on prejudices and personal grudges."

Attorney Bishara added after that hearing that, “The law is functioning the same way it did previously as a policy, deterring many segments of the population, especially Palestinian Arab citizens of the state, from applying for housing in these towns for fear of rejection. The law has serious implications now and has had for many years, so it is not possible to say that it is not ripe for judicial ruling.”

For more information, contact Adalah Media Director Salah Mohsen at: salah@adalah.org or 052-595-0922.

For more information on the law:

Expanded Panel of 9 Supreme Court Justices Hears Case against “Admissions Committee Law” - 11 December 2012

Israeli Attorney General Supports Discriminatory Admission Committees Law - 29 January 2012

Israeli Supreme Court Hears Adalah's Petition Demanding Cancellation of "Admission Committees" - 3 February 2011

Adalah: There are now 695 communities in Israel where Arab citizens of the state are forbidden to live - 4 November 2010

Case Citation: HCJ 2504/11, Adalah, et al v. The Knesset, et al. (decision delivered 17 September 2014).