Is it permissible for religious people to rent their homes only to religious people? That's the question the Yad 2 website asked last week, after a secular activist complained about discrimination. Yad 2 was convinced that this was indeed an illegitimate condition, and removed dozens of ads from the site that included the words "Kosher observants only" or "For religious and traditional observants."
Let's start with the basics: discrimination is not pretty. It's insulting, it's offensive, it creates a barrier between people, it makes us feel rejected. But like many other things in human relationships, just because it's not beautiful doesn't mean it's forbidden. Moreover, the freedom of the individual to decide to whom to grant the right to use his personal space is one of the most important rights there is.
In a collectivist country like ours, where every baby without a hat is public domain and every soldier is the child of all of us, and in general there are so much more important things to protect, the idea that private property belongs – well, to the individual – is a foreign idea. But private property is more natural and more basic than the idea of a state.
In fact, many of the most important political philosophers, such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant, consider the right to property an entirely natural right. The principle according to which a person toils, earns money, buys an apartment and decides who uses or does not use that apartment is a principle that has both justice and common sense.
I, too, would be disappointed if someone refused to rent me an apartment because of my lifestyle, but what explanation can justify denying them this right? The first function of the state, in the narrowest and driest sense, is to protect the property rights of its citizens. A state that cannot provide even this basic right is not a functioning state.
Israel is not the United States, where property rights are a cultural ethos and every few months there is a report about a man who shot dead an intruder. Here, it is precisely those who want to use their property lawfully that are harmed by "liberal" activism, which forgets that liberalism and coercion do not really go together. There are many ways to influence the personal choices people make – they are called culture, literature, language and education. Anyone who wants the public sphere to look more like his worldview has to go the hard way, and create persuasive ideas that will sway public opinion. What the complainants did to Hand 2 is not just the villain's refuge – it's the lazy one's.
And what does the law say? The "Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry to Public Places Law" refers only to public places or the supply of goods - not to what a person does with his private property. The law prohibits denying a person entry to a club because they are dark-skinned, or refraining from giving bank credit to a person because they are adults.
But the law – almost no law, in fact – states that a citizen is obligated to let someone in particular enjoy his private property, even if that person is very offended. Yes, it means that a person has every right to rent his apartment only to redheads, trans women, overweight people or Maccabi fans. By the way, precisely in the context of renting to observants of tradition, it is at least possible to recognize that this is not an arbitrary whim: those for whom kitchen kashrut is important may well fear renting to tenants who do not strictly adhere to kashrut, as the owners of the aforementioned apartments did explicitly state.
The trouble is that the squads of holy rage do to property rights what they did to freedom of speech: the idea is nice, but the execution is legitimate only if it fits with their world of values.
A civilized society needs people of the opposite kind—the kind who say, to paraphrase the famous phrase attributed to Walter: "I hate what you do with your property, but I will give my life to defend your right to do so." In our case, fortunately, there is no need to die. Just get over it.
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