The High Court of Israel, on Wednesday, decided to continue to allow Israeli Jewish communities to discriminate against Arabs and forbid them from living there.The Israeli Attorney General defended the law, which allows ‘admissions panels’ to screen potential residents, with the aim of keeping Arabs out.

According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, which filed the initial claim, the ruling “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 which 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 the 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.”