Mondoweiss / July 31, 2023
Israel broadened a racist law that allows communities to exclude non-Jews based on “social and cultural cohesion.” Whereas judicial overhaul laws have caused an uproar, this passed with hardly any opposition.
There has been a lot of noise from the Israeli protests concerning the judicial overhaul. The recent central law that was passed last week reduced the supreme court’s ability to overturn government policy, the so-called “reasonableness law.”
But another law also passed just a day later — an amendment to a core apartheid law known as the “Village Committees Law” of 2010, more officially named the Cooperative Societies Ordinance. It passed without opposition, and was hardly noticed.
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, explained how “these committees, which to date exist in the Galilee and in the Naqab (Negev), have the power to approve or to deny applicants who wish to reside there, based on their perceived ‘social suitability’ to the ‘social and cultural fabric’ of a community. In practice, this power has led to the exclusion of Palestinian citizens of Israel from these communities, which are built on state-controlled land.”
The amendment that was passed (nr. 12) expands the existing law, which was limited to towns of up to 400 households, by introducing a new category called a “Continued Communal Town,” which allows towns with up to 700 households to have such admission committees. “Furthermore,” Adalah notes, “in five years, the Minister of Economy and Industry will be authorized to permit admissions committees in towns with more than 700. This provision, de facto, cancels the restriction on the number of households specified in the law.”
The new amendment also expands the law beyond the Galilee and Naqab. While West Bank colonial settlements are not included in the latest version that passed, “it is expected that this law will be implemented in settlements in the West Bank via military orders, rather than through Israeli domestic law,” Adalah notes.
This is one of the central discriminatory laws that are on Adalah’s database of 65 laws that “discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.” This is a law in so-called “Israel proper” — not a law for West Bank settlers. And its history goes much further back than this current government.
Hagai El-Ad, former head of B’Tselem, pointed to the relative silence in a tweet:
“As you read news about Israel’s ‘judicial overhaul,’ here’s some apartheid context: today the Knesset approved the Admissions Committees Law expansion. How much media coverage is this getting? Almost none. This law allows for housing segregation against Palestinian citizens.”
Noa Shpigel in Haaretz, who covered the story, noted how the original law was enacted in 2010 “to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that banned communities from selling land to Jews only.” So they made committees that could exclude Palestinians on the basis of a supposed lack of “social suitability.”
As for opposition to this law, it was almost nonexistent. Apart from the Palestinian-representative party lawmakers (Joint List, United Arab List), who obviously voted against the law that so openly discriminated against them, only two opposition lawmakers from Labor — Naama Lazimi and Gilad Kariv — voted against it. The law passed with an easy 42-11. Those who voted for it included lawmakers from the opposition — the centrist National Unity led by Benny Gantz. These included Gideon Sa’ar (formerly of the anti-Netanyahu “New Hope”) and Alon Schuster.
A long list of heads of regional councils congratulated the passing of the amendment.
The text of this poster, which celebrates the vote as a moment of unity around “one of the basic values of Zionism,” is really worth noting:
“In these times of rivalry and disagreement, we witnessed this week a unique moment of unity around one of the core values of Zionism: the settlement. Ministers and lawmakers from right and left joined together in order to pass the amendment to the Cooperative Societies Ordinance, which would allow expansion of the settlement in the periphery, absorption of youth and strengthening of the communities.”
That message, which thanked the bill’s sponsors and those who voted for the law, were the leaders of 20 regional councils in Israel, as well as others, such as head of the kibbutz movement Nir Meir, the head of the moshav movement Amit Yifrach, the head of the World Zionist Organization Yaakov Hagoel, and others. It represents a near-unanimous consensus on Jewish settlement.
Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law of 2018, known as the “nation-state law” openly declares in section 7 that “The State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” This vote proves this truly is a core value that cuts across the Zionist political spectrum.
Adalah points out that its petition against the original law of (2011) was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2014 in a 5-4 split decision, “emphasizing that the issue was premature for constitutional review at that time.” So the court played the liberal role of outlawing outright discrimination initially but ended up playing the agnostic on the legislation that circumvented its ruling.
Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List hammered the matter in her speech to the plenum:
“Let it be clear — this is one of the most naked and clear of the apartheid laws…there’s a clause that says that the minister can decide to expand the town, appropriating lands from state lands. So let me remind you – the lands that you don’t want us to use. They were mostly confiscated from our forefathers, from the villages that were destroyed in 1948, from people who were expelled from their homeland. And not only did the state steal the lands, it bars us from using them. This is one of the clear laws, that also the Supreme Court, that for thirty weeks there is a struggle to protect it – you know that the Supreme Court rejected this petition? They saw it as reasonable!…The “reasonability principle” was apparently not enough in order to erase this law.”
Needless to say, there will be no mass protests on this one. Most Israelis will probably not even hear about it. It is just a part of the quiet and consistent expansion and takeover of the Zionist project of Jewish supremacy, from the river to the sea.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark