Israel’s sick, dirty secret: Acceptance committees

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

Someone forwarded me an article today titled “Who is afraid of acceptance committees?” in which the author sought to allay “fears” of couples who are applying to live in a new community in Israel.

The articles goes on about how to avoid pitfalls when moving to a new area. “People feel their personality is tested publicly, memories from the past are brought up that they would rather forget.”  The author explains that people should “practice” before their interview.  “Remember, committees are ‘merely’ a tool that allows communities to examine candidates for reception…they want to check if you will adjust to community life.”The author recommends, “do not come to the meeting with children.”  The committee wants to see you without the filter of children. Make sure to “debate” with the committee and not be passive. “The reception committee wants to know you deeply, and you must answer questions in a long and detailed way.”  They are searching for who is “phony.” Wear the correct clothes. “Clothes attest to the human values and represent your personality.”

The fascinating article is a peek into the sick, dirty little secret in Israel: More than 1,000 communities in Israel, almost every Jewish community outside a town or city, requires people wanting to live there to pass through a complicated and invasive “selection” process.

Israel is advertised abroad as a homeland of the Jewish people, and it also burnishes its image as “the only democracy” in the Middle East.  It is presented as similar to a Western state.  But inside the country, lurking everywhere in the landscape, is a form of quiet, and official, discrimination and segregation that is unprecedented in its scale and enforcement in the world.

If you want to live outside an urban environment in Israel you must apply to be “accepted” to live in every rural or semi-rural community.  Consider the ordeal of a family from Sderot that wanted to move to an area near Sderot. “He and his wife wanted to join the new community to improve their quality of life and gain access to better schools. a quality education system. He said the application forms they received last year included questions about their job histories, military service, criminal convictions, if any, as well as any pending criminal or civil cases. They were also asked about any debts incurring from civil suits or the Bailiff’s Office. After meeting with three [existing] members both [applicants] underwent an evaluation that took six hours and included various tests and an interview with a psychologist.” Then “the interviewer asked him and his wife invasive, embarrassing questions about their marital relationship.”  The couple we told soon after that they were not “compatible” for “community life.”  After petitioning the Israeli High court the ruling of the acceptance committee was eventually overturned.  Nevertheless a member of Kibbutz Gevim, which owns the land the couple wanted to move to, said “We are trying to introduce new blood into the community, but new blood needs to match what is already there, otherwise we would die.”  The “blood” of the couple apparently didn’t match the “blood” of those already there.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel says that “based on these criteria, the committees currently reject ‘unwanted’ communities that wish to live in the village – such as Arabs, single parents, disabled persons, same-sex couples, Mizrachi Jews, religious people, new immigrants, and so on.”

The acceptance committees in Israel should be more accurately called segregation committees.  They have their origins in Israel’s pre-state period when Arabs were the vast majority of Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine.  But since 1948 the committees have been used to discriminate against Jews and Arabs, often based on racial, ethnic and religious criteria. They also base their rulings on other less clear and invasive criteria, as evidenced in the above recommendations about how to act.  Can anyone imagine moving to Maine n the US or Wales and finding that they must apply to live in a bucolic, rural area.  Can you imagine having to apply and being asked about your marriage, and told to dress and act a certain way, and that even the presence of your children at the “interview” would be a problem.

These segregation committees pretend they exist to “protect” the “community” of various  places. It started with the kibbutzim, of which there are around 500, and included the moshavim of which there are hundreds.  One member notes that; “The kibbutzim were tolerant, liberal, anti-racist communities striving for peace and justice. The fact that members were mostly Jewish doesn’t make it an ethnic community, if you meant that in the excluding sense. Just as it makes sense for a family to aspire to be part of the same culture, heritage, and language, it also makes sense for an intentional community.”  When people say “culture” and “heritage”, they mean “white” or “European” or “Ashkenazi”. And even within those criteria one must be the correct kind of white, European, or Ashkenazi. Heritage and culture means if you are born to the wrong family, in the wrong place or with the “wrong” skin color, you cannot live in this community. Your ability to live where you want is branded from birth. And they call this “social justice” in some places in Israel.  In America, they called it the Old South. In South Africa they had another term.

Under these criteria, everyone can be kept out based on arbitrary views of the current feudal members of the landed oligarchy.  A couple that were graduates of the architecture department of Jerusalem’s Bezalel-Academy of Arts and Design wanted to move to a community in the Galilee.  They were denied and also petitioned the High Court. The committee claimed that the wife was “too individualistic and said she would not be committed to the community.”  When the court ordered the community to accept the couple, their house was spray-painted with graffiti.

Instead of reducing the presence of the segregation committees and their ability to discriminate, the country has tried to anchor more of them in law, extending the right to discriminate to more than 500 other communities.  In addition most communities in the West Bank have acceptance committees.  This creates a bifurcated society, of groups with two different sets of rights.  One group lives in the rural environment, behind the walls and gates of acceptance.  Their children attend better schools.  They live in nicer areas, and they protect those areas from others by committees and laws that prevent others from moving to them.  If you are not the correct kind of religion or religious in a certain way, if you have debts or are divorced, or handicapped, or gay, or Arab, or Mizrahi, or simply “too individualistic”, or ugly, or talkative, whatever the “reason,” you are kept out.  It creates a kind of apartheid, between those within the walls, and those outside them, but within the same state.

It’s a dirty little secret because within Israel the groups that support the committees range from the extreme left to the right.  The left likes the committees because it allows them to preserve their feudal preserve, communities “like us” where everyone is from the same background and votes the same and thinks the “correct” way.  On the right also they have their feudal preserve, their religious-only communities, where those who do not “know what it means to be in community” may not live.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating two groups of people in Israel.  Those who grow up in cities and have never lived in “community” automatically “don’t know what it means” to live in community and thus cannot live there.  Those who grow up in the segregated society, can move to another segregated community.  From one gated settlement to another. Many immigrants to Israel, such as Ethiopians, came from rural communities and did know exactly what it meant to live in community.  But Ethiopian Jews were not allowed to move to kibbutzim, like other groups in Israel, they were barred from them.  Because “knowing what is community” is only an excuse for restricting people based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, class and political views.

It would be better if every community with an acceptance committee had high white walls around it, so that when people drive in Israel they could see exactly where they are forbidden from living, those parts of the state that are not part of “their” state, but a separate state, not a separate but equal one, but a separate and very unequal one. A permanent kind of Old South, existing in 2016. They should see, every single community outside a town, outside a city, outside the ghettoes and poverty-stricken areas where minorities and immigrants were forcibly sent, the “development towns”, that is where the walls of acceptance begin.  All around Beersheba, or Sderot or Kiryat Gat or Carmiel.  The walls are everywhere.  A state within a state within a state.  Because everyone is familiar with the discriminations in the West Bank, the differences, the differing rights and laws.  But inside Israel, inside the Green Line, is another West Bank.  Inside Israel there are two more groups with differing rights.  Because the segregation committee guarantees those within its empire of discrimination the right to better schooling, a better quality of life, and it is one that is only open to a select few.  Mostly it is those from the right background, mostly European origin, mostly secular, mostly those who were members of existing “youth movements”, those with the “correct” educational background and family life.

Those who live in Israel, either born in the country or moving to it, should realize they are in a society that has walls, walls that keep several communities apart. One is not a full citizen, not a full member of the country. Often these walls are quiet and invisible, because people don’t even think to “apply” to live somewhere.  The accomplishment of the segregation empire is that it has convinced 90% of the country to accept their second class status.  Can anyone imagine in America if every community outside a city was “whites only” or “Protestant only”?  Of course not. But what if they were, and what if no one said anything? What if the most “liberal” and “left” people lived in these communities and so had a vested interest in keeping quiet about the discrimination, and in fact increasing its layers.

Can you imagine if you wanted to move to a new development by US Home or any homebuilder and had to talk for hours about your marital relationship and meet with psychologists and submit handwriting samples, and be the same race and ethnicity and religion as those in the community?  No.

The most scary thing about Israel is not the things people see abroad, but the deep segregation within that is accepted, and approved by almost everyone. That a person is told they cannot move to a place based on arbitrary criteria, or being married to the “wrong sort” of person, or having the wrong last name, the wrong skin color, the wrong religion.

90% of the victims of the discrimination in Israel are Jewish people, who, in their supposedly “own” country are told they cannot live in most of it.  Arab citizens are likewise told they cannot move to most places in a country they have lived in for hundreds or thousands of years.  Other minorities, anyone not fitting a narrow criteria, with connections, and wealth, cannot move to most places. This confines them to the cities, to keep them from the land, to make the land available only to a small minority that control it, a feudal minority.

 

No other country in the world has so many places that discriminate openly in terms of who may move to them.  Of course there are some cities with buildings with committees and coops and other forms of discrimination.  But these are not the majority, they are the exception to the rule.  There are some communal societies in Europe and the US, a handful, the exception, not the rule.

In Israel they are the rule, they are everywhere, every single community outside a city has a committee.  People love the power they are given once they are on these committees and inside these segregated communities.  They like to ask invasive questions, they want to know about married life, sex life, they like to look over bank statements.  These invasive ways even pollute the way people live in urban environments.  There are now urban “intentional communities”, full of people from “similar background” who make every person moving into a building go through hoops.

Selection, discrimination, segregation, balkanization, walls, gates. These are the dirty secrets of a sickness in society.

 

 

2 responses to “Israel’s sick, dirty secret: Acceptance committees

  1. We were accepted into one yishuv and rejected from another. It was totally arbitrary based on one member of the committee disliking us before meeting us because she heard lashon hara. Even when we defended ourselves (she should never have been mekabel it to begin with) she wouldn’t get down her high horse. We had the option of going to court, but as our friends and neighbors in the yishuv who had accepted us persuaded us to stay, and as an individual from the rejecting community pointed out that his yishuv was behaving like Sodom, we happily stayed in our wonderful, warm community, thank G-d, with no regrets, rather than live in Sodom.
    I remember after we received the rejection, my father in America said bitterly, “See. I told you Israel wasn’t your home.” I’m still looking for the Rashi that interprets Hashem’s promise to Avraham’s descendants to include passing acceptance committees first.

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