Another Jewish town adds ‘Zionist loyalty’ to bylaws

By Jack Khoury, Haaretz – 16 Nov 2009

Less than six months after two northern communities proposed changing their bylaws to make “loyalty to the Zionist vision” a condition of acceptance into the community, a third has just followed suit.

All three locales are small communities where houses can legally be sold only to people approved by a vetting committee. All are also located in the Misgav Regional Council.

In June, after Haaretz’s report on the proposed bylaw change in Manof and Yuvalim raised a storm, both communities decided to reconsider the move, and are still in the process of thinking it over. At the time, Arab Knesset members and Adalah, an Arab advocacy group, had charged that the new bylaws were an attempt to circumvent a High Court of Justice ruling barring such communities from refusing to sell houses to Arabs who meet all the other requirements for membership.

Last Thursday, however, another Misgav community, Mitzpeh Aviv, approved new bylaws stressing the town’s Jewish and Zionist character – an issue that had gone unmentioned in the old bylaws. In a section titled “goals and powers,” the new document lists the community’s primary goals as “settlement; Zionism; the heritage of Israel; the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the vision of the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence; tolerance; and human dignity.”

Moreover, it said, “the community’s Israeli Zionist essence is emphasized in daily life, by celebrating Israeli holidays communally, organizing activities for the youth in connection with their bar-mitzvah year and having members’ children join Zionist youth movements, all while taking part in the Zionist enterprise.”

Finally, the section on membership stated that new members must share “the basic worldview and goals of the association as presented in the ‘goals and powers’ section.”

This change was adopted by a large majority of Mitzpeh Aviv members who bothered voting – though in fact, the majority did not vote at all.

One resident, who said he opposed the change but did not bother to vote, said the new bylaws were mild compared to those originally proposed in Yuvalim and Manof. Nevertheless, he added, he disapproved of a change “whose goal, ultimately, is solely to prevent Arab citizens from living here.”

That allegation was indignantly rejected by the town’s administration. Nir Yarkoni, a member of Mitzpeh Aviv’s executive, said the change was necessitated by changes in lifestyle of the residents themselves.

“The original bylaws related to the members as farmers, but most of us no longer work in agriculture,” he explained. Moreover, he said, whereas the local vetting committee used to have sole control, there are now also regional vetting committees, making it necessary to redefine the local committees’ goals and powers. They therefore decided to introduce a definition that constitutes “as broad a common denominator as possible and characterizes the community.”

However, he insisted, the definition adopted last week is broad enough to accommodate any member of a Zionist party – and these parties “have more than a few Arab members.”

Misgav Regional Council chairman Ron Shani is a Mitzpeh Aviv resident, and as such, he supported the change. However, he said, the regional council was not involved; this was a strictly local decision.

When Manof and Yuvalim first proposed changing their bylaws, however, he publicly supported them. Back then, he declared that “the council’s position is that we must strengthen the community and character of every town that sees Zionist values and the heritage of Israel as the heart of its existence and way of life and seeks to bring in people who view these values as dear to their hearts. We don’t see this as racism, just as we don’t see Zionism as a racist movement. Nor do we perceive racism in minority rights that enable Arab communities to accept only locals [i.e., other Arabs].”

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