Shurat HaDin Wins Israeli Supreme Court Appeal for Jewish Families in Jaffa

This week, the Israeli Supreme Court handed down its ruling upholding the right of Jewish families who had won a public tender to purchase land in the Tel-Aviv suburb of Jaffa to go forward with their plans to construct a multi-family building. The families’ right to build had been challenged last year in the Tel-Aviv District Court by a coalition of Arab-Israelis and politically motivated NGOs.

The coalition demanded that the families’ bid be disqualified by the District Court based solely upon the fact that they are Jewish and that their presence in Jaffa will tip the demographic balance of the neighborhood and discriminates against Arabs. The Supreme Court decision has now confirmed that the Jewish families had won the tender fair and square.

The families were represented both in the District Court proceedings and upon appeal in the Supreme Court by Shurat HaDin.

The story began last year, when the Jewish families submitted a joint bid on a plot of land in Jaffa which had been offered up in a public auction by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA). The families planned to build a residential building, with twenty apartments, on the plot. A competing, lower bid was submitted by an Arab contractor. After considering all the bids, the ILA awarded the land rights to the Jewish group.

Following the families’ victory, however, a coalition of twenty-five Israeli-Arabs from Jaffa, along with three Israeli human rights NGOs, filed a petition in the Tel Aviv District Court against the ILA, insisting that the families’ successful bid be disqualified. It must be noted that the coalition did not participate in the ILA tender themselves and had no personal interest in the outcome. They claimed they were filing the case in order to win justice for the Arab residents of Jaffa.

The coalition argued that since the families intended to build apartments primarily for Jewish citizens, the ILA – a government agency – had somehow discriminated against the Arab contractor and Arab residents of Jaffa in conducting the public auction. The petitioners argued that the local Arab population of Jaffa suffers from a housing shortage and that the court should issue an injunction against building any apartments, unless the builders agree to allocate housing units specifically for Arabs!

The District Court dismissed the case on a technicality, but went out of its way to criticize the Arab group’s position as inherently contradictory finding that it would have no problem with discrimination (e.g. awarding the land to a contractor who would just sell to Arabs) as long as the prejudice would be aimed against potential Jewish residents of Jaffa. In its decision, the District Court rejected the coalitions’ petition and accused the petitioners of acting in bad faith. As the Judge wrote: “While speaking of the principle of equality, the petition clearly reveals that according to the petitioners’ line of thought, it is appropriate to designate the lot to the sector whose best interest they seek.” Thus, the Jewish families were awarded the land.

The coalition then appealed the matter to the Supreme Court. After months of deliberation, the Supreme Court rejected its appeal and held in favor of the families. It noted that the rule in the Supreme Court is that it will not interfere in a matter that has already been concluded. Since the ownership rights of the land already have been transferred from the ILA to the Jewish families prior to the appeal in the Supreme Court, there is no way now to turn the wheel back and undo the transaction.

However, showing its bias against the Jewish families, the Supreme Court could not restrain itself and found the need to comment, in non-binding orbiter dicta, that the appeal raised important issues on an array of civil rights matters, however, the issues cannot be decided in the ILA case as the right to the disputed land had already been given to the families.

Despite the fact that the Arab coalition members did not participate in the ILA tender and had no personal interest in the litigation, the Justices commented that they had standing to bring the case on behalf of the “public.” The Court also grumbled that even when a private contractor wins a public tender the ILA was required to ensure that the contractor markets the land or the apartments he builds in a “fair” manner. The fact that its orbiter undermines the entire idea of a public land tender being blindly awarded to the highest bidder did not seem to concern the learned judges.

The message being sent by the Supreme Court is very clear — that when a case between Jews and Arabs concerning a land tender in a so-called “Arab area” will arise in the future the Court will block the efforts by Jewish families from winning the public tender and building their homes. If the unelected judges are entitled to simply interfere, as the Supreme Court instructs, in the official auction of land to the Israeli public based upon the bidder’s race and religion, then the ILA should be disbanded and the state’s land turned over to the justices of the Supreme Court for distribution according to their private world view.

For the decision in Hebrew click here.