Israel’s segregated ‘acceptance committee’ society
By Seth J. Frantzman, January 29, 2013 (The Jerusalem Post)
Looking at the election breakdowns for small communities in Israel recently, I was struck by something: In Sderot seventy percent of the people voted for right-wing and religious parties and only 1% voted Meretz and 3% Labor.
Yet in the seven small communities (mostly kibbutzim) around Sderot the vote was a mirror image. Why the black-and-white difference? IN ANOTHER country one might see a gradual transition in voting patterns between proximate communities, but in Israel, the stark difference is due to one factor: The acceptance committees that prevent people from Sderot from moving to the surrounding Kibbutzim and other rural communities.
There is an ethnic difference as well, reinforced by this phenomenon; Sderot is primarily Mizrahi, Russian and Ethiopian, while the surrounding communities are secular and Ashkenazi.
A majority of people in the State of Israel, Jewish or non-Jewish, are barred from living in almost every rural community, of which there are more than a 1,000, by the institution of the “acceptance committee.”
Those wishing to live in these communities must submit to a lengthy approval process (sometimes years in duration) in which their personal lives are probed.
Doesn’t it seem strange that 60 years ago my grandfather, a Jew in a Christianmajority country, had more freedom to live where he pleased than do most Jews in the Jewish state?
But this phenomenon of geographic discrimination that prevents Israel’s citizens from living where they desire, not because of financial inability, but due to race, ethnicity, marital status, sexual orientation, political ideology, education level, personality, bad handwriting (some acceptance committees require handwriting samples) or level of religious observance, is rarely acknowledged.
THE “ACCEPTANCE committee” is a uniquely Israeli invention; no other country in the world allows 90% of its rural communities to operate committees that restrict who may live in them. The committees were set up by the initial Labor Zionist immigrants who believed that those joining their communities had to be uniquely determined to work together to carve settlements out of the hostile environment.
Like selecting people for a business venture in a foreign country, it made sense to discriminate against the lazy, poor and the weak. But after the founding of the state, as the country was flooded with Jewish immigrants, the swamps had been drained and the Arab citizens reduced to a minority, there was no longer any need for such rigorous selection processes.
Moreover, in a state where 93% of the land was state land which was provided free of charge to new agricultural settlements there was no compelling reason why people should suffer discrimination preventing them from living on a public resource.
IN HER new history of Israel, Israeli Professor Anita Shapira excuses the discrimination, noting that the new immigrants from Muslim countries had “neither experience nor inclination towards agriculture” and that the new immigrants lacked a tradition of “physical work.”
Yet when these rural settlements lost their agricultural aspect, privatized and stopped running cooperative businesses, they became mere bucolic suburbs, whose committees were used to isolate themselves.
For instance, at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, from 1996 to 2011 not one new member was admitted.
Today almost all the physical labor on kibbutzim is carried out by outside workers, usually from Asia, and yet those workers, despite experience in physical labor, have no chance of being allowed to live as equals in these communities.
Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, despite coming from an agricultural background, were never permitted to be members of the kibbutz.
Only one conclusion can be drawn: The acceptance committees have nothing to do with agricultural and labor skill, and everything to do with race, class and ethnicity.
TODAY, NOT only do the selection committees remain but they were extended to new communities that had no communal characteristic, to the extent that almost every single rural community has a selection committee. Civil rights NGOs have challenged a law permitting the committees, but no one has ever challenged the existence of the committees themselves.
Advocates of the committees, on the Right and Left, argue that they exist to maintain “unique” communities. Thus left-wing Meretz voters at Kibbutz Lahav (where 60% voted Labor or Meretz) may tell you that their “unique” wealthy Ashkenazi-Jewish left-wing social fabric must not be bruised by exposure to other elements. Right-wingers in the West Bank will tell you stories about how “without the selection committee the Arabs would take the land.”
Yet the majority of those rejected by the committees are not Arabs, but Jews.
“Social cohesion,” “unique community” – these are the signposts of discrimination.
If the acceptance committees were only used to protect the unique way of life of a few minority groups, such as Samaritans or Karaite Jews, or of several kibbutzim that fully shared all their assets, it might be justified. But when every rural community has such a committee, it has nothing to do with protecting a unique way of life, but merely keeps one elite group apart from everyone else.
Every unique minority group in Israel, from the Black Hebrews of Dimona to the Ahmadiya in Haifa, live in communities without acceptance committees, and yet they thrive as unique groups without the “protection” of the discriminatory bureaucracy.
THE ACCEPTANCE committees are an affront to human dignity. Their proceedings are kept secret and no data on their decisions are published. In short, a multiplicity of shadow groups operating in secret determines the destiny of those “permitted” to live on the more than three million dunams of state land controlled by kibbutzim and moshavim.
Thus in the Megiddo Regional Council of rural communities around 9,000 people control access to 170,000 dunams, while in the town of Hadera, where there is no committee, some 80,000 people are crammed into 53,000 dunams.
One could still balance the need to restrict urban sprawl in rural areas without having acceptance committees. Simply restrict the ability to build new houses in rural communities, and let the color of one’s cash, rather than the color of one’s skin, determine who lives where. A free market and individual rights should determine where people live, not arbitrary bureaucracies based on outdated models.
THE ACCEPTANCE committees are an affront to the Zionist logic which underpins the state of Israel. The Bnei Menashe, new immigrants from India, are not told when they receive their identity cards that they can never freely move to any kibbutz or moshav in Israel, solely due to the fact that they are not from the “right family.”
Ethiopian immigrants housed at absorption centers at kibbutzim like Ayelet Hashahar never receive an explanation as to why, no matter how many kibbutz members’ houses they clean to earn a tiny wage, they will never be accepted as members.
Instead, they are “settled” by the government in tract housing in urban areas such as Kiryat Gat.
The doyens of the acceptance committee will tell you that the real reason Ethiopians can’t live on kibbutzim is that they “don’t understand community living.”
Doesn’t it seem strange that an Ethiopian Jew could live in any town or village in the UK, France, Germany or the USA, but in the Jewish state he may not because he “doesn’t understand community living”? WHEN OFIR and Danalee Kalfa wanted to move from Sderot to Kibbutz Gevim they were denied on the grounds that they “don’t understand what it means to live in a small community.” A kibbutz representative told Haaretz, “We are trying to introduce new blood into the community, but new blood needs to match was is already there.”
Such eugenics-based nonsense about certain groups not being “appropriate human material” was once used to justify discriminatory policies in the West in the 1920s.
Israel is living in 2012 and its acceptance committees are a relic of a different era.
Consider another way to look at the acceptance committee phenomenon. People on Birthright programs that seek to introduce Jews to Israel aren’t told that almost every single rural community in the country is entirely homogeneous, that each one is either an “Ashkenazi” community or a “Sephardi” community, a “haredi” community or an “Arab” community.
In order to replicate in the US what is done in rural Israel one would have to segregate every rural community, not merely by black and white, but by Catholic and Protestant, Italian and Chinese, Republican and Democrat, and then one would have to create artificial administrative committees that would investigate the family background of anyone wishing to move to a community.
Such rigorous vetting, including handwriting analysis and psychiatric tests, is not even undergone by NASA astronauts.
WHAT IS most shocking is that Jews would never tolerate such a situation in another country. In France, Germany, Russia, the UK, Australia, Argentina or the US, Jews would never tolerate being asked about their religion, ethnic background, politics and marital status before being “allowed” to move to a suburban neighborhood.
They wouldn’t tolerate having to submit handwriting samples and go to psychologists to prove they are “fit to live in community” in order to move somewhere.
For too long foreign Jews have coddled the racism and discrimination inherent in the acceptance committee culture of the kibbutzim. Numerous programs of study for potential immigrants are housed on kibbutzim, where Jewish youth are taught “social justice” by a communities manifestly unjust in their discrimination.
Why coddle a discrimination regime whose main function is to discriminate against Jews in the Jewish state? The fences around these communities have, since 1948, represented a fence between two Israels; a state within a state.
In one Israel the citizen may live, in the other he might be “permitted” to reside.
The new Knesset, representing the centrist middle class, should finally do away with the acceptance committee phenomenon.
It outlived its purpose in 1948 and it is time to make the existence of such discrimination and arbitrary roadblocks to individual freedom illegal.