Echoes of U.S. Racism in Israel

No Blacks, No Jews: Racist property covenants like those reportedly used to keep Ethiopians out of homes in Israel were once commonly used to keep American blacks and Jews from owning property. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Jewish Daily Forward
By Leonard Fein

Issue of February 03, 2012

An easy case followed by a harder case: At the beginning January, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that it had encountered in the town of Kiryat Malachi what used to be called here in the United States a “restrictive covenant.” Such a covenant is a legal device that enables the seller (or renter) of real estate to forbid the sale or sublease of the property in question to persons of a designated race. You want make sure no African Americans (or Jews, for that matter) move in to your neighborhood? Get all your neighbors to sign a covenant that they won’t sell to African Americans — or, as in the Israeli case at hand, to Ethiopian Jews.

When the United States Supreme Court dealt with this matter in its American incarnation in 1948, in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer, it creatively decided that buyers and sellers could stipulate whatever they chose, but that agreements to exclude a racial group — in this instance, “people of the Negro or Mongoloid Race” — from real estate transactions were not enforceable in a court of law, were in fact unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. (Twenty years later, the Fair Housing Act extended the protection to religion, sex and national origin.)

I well remember that in my own family, the prospective purchase of our modest first house in Baltimore was encumbered by a restrictive covenant, and it was only the then still recent Supreme Court decision that had rendered the covenant meaningless and enabled us, in conscience, to sign the requisite document.

So now we come back to the current Kiryat Malachi case. I presume that the agreement (which was kept secret by its signers) not to rent or sell to Ethiopian Jews is, as in the United States, unenforceable as a matter of law. (Although I’d be reassured to learn that officially.) So we are left merely with the vile bigotry of a number of people who surely should know better.

Read more.

Related:
Special Screening of Ethiopian-Israeli Film ’400 Miles to Freedom’ (TADIAS)


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