Once again Israel is debating a “nation state” bill and provisions about communities being established for certain groups. This usually is about anchoring the 1,000 or so acceptance committees in Israel into a law. These committees are an archaic leftover of the period before the state when Zionists were a rural minority and they wanted to have their own communities, usually based on communal concepts from socialism and Communism. In 2018 this is archaic but instead of going away the committees are expanding as Israel seeks to have more communities that can discriminate based on arbitrary concepts such as “you are not appropriate to our community,” which usually boils down to racial-ethnic-religious discrimination.
So why do I oppose them?
My starting point is a story my family told about my grandfather moving out of the Lower East Side to another more rural community. “We were the first Jews to move there,” he said. The mostly white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant community they moved to probably didn’t want people like my grandpa, let alone other minorities moving in.
But that community didn’t have an acceptance committee. It probably had social clubs and my grandpa couldn’t join those for many years. But they couldn’t keep my family out. And when I was a kid I grew up in a small town in Maine and we were the only Jews. They couldn’t have a committee to keep us from moving there, even if they wanted to. A few times I heard people refer to us as “those Frantzmans”…like our last name was something bizarre.
So when I see a committee I think of those places. I see how committees are not “for everyone”, they are used to protect class, and wealth and families and dominant ethnicities. We don’t have in Israel an acceptance committee such that Ethiopians can have a nice Kibbutz for themselves and a nice pool for themselves. We have acceptance committees almost solely to “protect” people whose families came before the state, usually who came from several European countries, and sometimes that will allow in those who joined a youth movement abroad and who “look like us”, as the people who run the committees say.
One beduin activist once said, if acceptance committees are for what they claim to be and everyone self-segregates because they “want to live among their own type”, then why isn’t there an acceptance committee for beduin areas where they can have a state-sanctioned “communal settlement”?
He’s right. There are no special committees that allow poorer people in Israel to keep out others and create their own unique community. And that’s why they are wrong.
And I think it’s a bit interesting that people who abroad demanded access to communities, like my grandpa did, when they come to Israel they work to keep others out. We want equality and not to be discriminated against when we go elsewhere, but in Israel the first thing some do is discriminate, not only against Arabs, but mostly against eachother, to seal eachother off and divide eachother.
So when people say to me “but people just self-segregate”…then let’s have nice communities for Jews from Yemen, Morocco, India, Ethiopia and for Beduin and Circassians and Druze and Ahmadis, Palestinians and everyone and not just for one group. Equality in acceptance…or no acceptance committees. And if you want to have them, don’t go abroad and tell me you support immigrants if your community bans the immigrants, and don’t tell me to support Eritrean migrants in South Tel Aviv when you live a community that bans them.