Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit yesterday submitted to the Supreme Court his view on whether a private construction company selling apartments to the general public and refusing to sell an apartment to a couple because they are Arabs must pay compensation to the couple.
Mandelblit wrote that he believed that a contractor selling apartments built on state land to the general public is obligated to refrain from discrimination and cannot refuse to sell an apartment to a couple merely because of their origin.
Mandelblit submitted his opinion in the framework of an appeal filed by Meital Engineering and Services against a ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court and the Jerusalem District Court obligating the company to compensate an Arab couple for discrimination against them after the company refused to sell them an apartment in Pisgat Zeev in Jerusalem.
Meital Engineering and Services builds and markets apartments all over Israel, including in the Tal Platinum project in Pisgat Zeev. The claimants are a couple from northern Israel who have lived in Jerusalem in recent years. They wanted to buy an apartment in the city suitable for and accessible to their disabled son. They asserted that Meital Engineering refused to sell them the apartment because they were Arabs.
The Magistrates Court ruled that the couple was entitled to NIS 20,000 compensation from the company. It ruled that the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services, and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Law - 2000 also applied to the sale of land. The Jerusalem District Court dismissed the company's appeal against the ruling. Meital filed a request to appeal to the Supreme Court, which asked the Attorney General for his opinion in the matter.
In his answer to the Supreme Court, Mandelblit mentioned the Kaadan vs. Israel Land Authority case, which involved the state's duty to refrain from discrimination, including in the allocation of land to the Jewish Agency, which practices discrimination. The Attorney General wrote that the question of whether receiving a right in state land also obligates a third party seeking to build and market apartments to the general public on that land to refrain from discrimination had not been considered; this question remained open.
Mandelblit wrote that the question should be answered in the affirmative. This obligation, whether or not it is expressly stated in the contract, is an integral part of the nature of state land and its accompanying obligations. Just as the state is not entitled to practice discrimination in land, a third party gaining rights on public land for the purpose of building and marketing homes to the public at large is not entitled to discriminate in the sale of the homes built.
The Attorney General believes that it should be ruled that Meital Engineering's actions are discriminatory and should not be allowed, whether or not the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services, and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Law applies to land.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in response, "The Association for Civil Rights in Israel welcomes the Attorney General's position that a construction company building on state land is barred from discriminating in the sale of the apartments." According to Association for Civil Rights in Israel cultural rights and equality unit manager Adv. Gil Gan-Mor, however, the Attorney General's views are not sufficient to ensure that similar cases will not recur.
He said, "The Court should specifically rule that construction companies that have practiced discrimination as defined under the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services, and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Law can be sued, and that the law also applies to the sale of apartments that are not on state land. This law is the best way of suing any party practicing discrimination. It makes the plaintiff's burden of proof easier, allows free legal representation through legal aid, and grants the right to damages without proof of damage. None of these advantages exist in ordinary lawsuits.
"Racism in housing is a major problem. Everything possible should be done to halt the spread of discriminatory practices in the real estate market. A hearing on the appeal will take place next week. The Association for Civil Rights has asked to join the case as a friend of the Court."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 11, 2019
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