Forbidden discrimination, permitted discrimination– Anat Saragusti

Ethiopians-anti-racismThis article by Anat Saragusti, a guest of the 2008 Melbourne LimmudOz conference was not offered to readers of the English Haaretz.
It has been translated as a public service by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service of Melbourne, Australia. It has been made available with Sol’s permission for those without Facebook Accounts.
Hebrew original:
Forbidden discrimination, permitted discrimination Anat Saragusti 23/01/12

Condemnations came from every single quarter. Public figures pushed themselves forward to protest. Israel’s President Shimon Peres said: “They should be ashamed to themselves, not you”. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: “we will not lend a hand to racism”. Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), who is the chair of the Immigration and Absorption Committee of the Knesset, summoned the committee for an urgent hearing on segregation and racism. And this is just a partial list.
These statements as well as a large protest demonstration in Jerusalem followed a TV report (on the commercial Channel 2), revealing a secret pact entered into by residents of the Bar Yehuda Neighbourhood in Kiryat Malachi, who undertook through the residents committee not to rent or sell their flats to Ethiopians. Unquestionably this is an obscene decision, which values a person purely by the colour of her or his skin. In a democracy, it is just not on to discriminate against people because of their origin (Ethiopian), or because of skin colour (black).
Or is it?
Less than a year ago, in March 2011, the Knesset approved by majority vote (35 for, 20 against) the amendment to the Cooperative Societies Act. Article 8 of which states that the acquisition “of property in a communal settlement in which there exists an admissions committee, requires the approval of the community’s admissions committee.”
According to the amendment, a communal settlement located in the Galilee or the Negev, in which less than 400 families reside, have the right to reject a prospective resident who does not have the financial ability or “if s/he is deemed incompatible with the community’s social life, or is deemed unsuitable to fit into the fabric of community life.”
That is, had Kiryat Malachi’s Bar Yedhuda neighbourhood with its four buildings and 120 families, been located, not in a town but in a small communal settlement in the Galilee or the Negev – the residents could have decided not to accept an Ethiopian family. All they would have needed to have done is to assert that such a family was unsuitable for the fabric of community life.
So, consider on one hand the fashionable, designed community of Yovlim in Gush Segev, where small houses donned with red roofs and surrounded by greenery are sited on state (not private) land. Here live a few dozen Jewish families in a homogeneous community (upper middle class, Zionist world outlook, mostly Ashkenazi and professional). On the other hand is the residential neighbourhood in Kiryat Malachi, where a few dozen Jewish families are housed in four buildings. Their community is also homogeneous (low socio-economic groupings and mainly Mizrahi). So what is the substantive difference between the two?
Why is a Kiryat Malachi family not able to decide who will be its neighbours while a family in another community like Yovlim can decide that it only wants Jewish, white, upper middle class neighbours?
Just like that; that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Because the law permits a Jewish family in Yovlim to decide that it does not want Arab neighbour. It can disciminate legally by relying on criteria prescribed by law, and determine that an Arab applicant (or one of Ethiopian origin, or a single parent, or a couple with a disabled child) “is deemed unsuitable to fit into the fabric of community life”, and that’s it.
That is, a resident of Kiryat Malachi, who owns the title to his/her apartment in Bar Yehuda, cannot decide what to do with his property, while a resident of the Yovlim village in Gush Segev, who lives on state land, can decide to do whatever s/he wants.
Those who voted for the Admission Committees law, thereby approving and facilitating discrimination between people in small communities in the Negev and Galilee, should not be surprised if such discrimination exists elsewhere. Anyone who approves and paves the way for such discrimination against Arab citizens should not be surprised if someone else takes this practice to other regions.
In Kiryat Malachi they call a spade a spade and say it to you straight in the face. In the immaculately designed local communities they do everything in style: they use weasel words, add a dash of sophistication and throw in a whole set of “proper Zionist values”. But in the final analysis, discrimination is discrimination is discrimination, and all the rolling of the eyes to the heavens is nothing but hypocrisy and double standards.
The author is CEO of Agenda, a component of Sutafut-Sharakah — a forum of organisations for shared, democratic and Equal society.

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