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NYC Civil Rights Groups Demand Investigation of West Bank Home Sales

Fearing widespread protests, the Great Israeli Real Estate abruptly canceled their event last Wednesday.

Arab-American and Muslim civil rights organizations are calling for state and federal officials to investigate the sale of Israeli-occupied West Bank settlements in the Tri-State area that they allege were only open to Jewish buyers, a claim that the event organizers dispute. 

Lamya Agarwala, supervising attorney for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), told Documented that real estate events that are only open to prospective Jewish buyers could be in direct violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale of housing.

“U.S. federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on, among other things, race, religion, and national origin,” she said. “We’ve formally requested that the New York Attorney General investigate these events to determine whether the events do in fact violate any domestic laws.”

The Great Israeli Real Estate Event, which was scheduled for last Wednesday at Brooklyn’s Khal Bnei Avrohom Yaakov Simcha Hall, was abruptly canceled by the organizers due to safety concerns after the event was expected to attract a large turnout from pro-Palestinian activists protesting the sale of illegally occupied Palestinian land. 

“At the recommendation of the NYPD, an Israel real estate sales event that was scheduled to take place at the Shul on Avenue N and East 27th Street tomorrow will not take place at this location,” wrote Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition in a statement posted online. “The Rabbonim are asking all those who were planning to counter-protest to please not attend.”

Brooklyn’s event was set to be the last stop on a transnational tour that included events in Montreal, Toronto, Teaneck, New Jersey, and Lawrence, New York. Previous events have been met with large protests that in some cases have turned violent. At Toronto’s protests, a man attacked pro-Palestinian protestors with a nail gun

According to the event page, last week’s forum was sponsored by International Marketing & Promotion, Emanuel Group, Your Home in Israel, and JewishPress

The Israeli-American Council was also listed as a sponsor, but Joe Berkofsky, a spokesperson for the organization, told Documented that was incorrect. “The IAC is not involved in any way with this event,” he said in an email. “We have requested that our logo be removed.”

The event, which has toured the U.S. and Canada for 20 years, promised attendees the chance to “own a piece of the holy land.” The properties advertised were in the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. But it also advertised properties in the occupied West Bank settlements of Efrat, Neve Daniel, and Ma’ale Adumim.

The United Nations Security Council affirms that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal. The United States, which has historically supported the settlements, proclaimed in February that the construction of new Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories is illegal. 

Given the sale of properties on settlements, CAIR-NY, as well as the Palestinian Assembly for Liberation (PAL) Law Commission, filed complaints with New York State Attorney General Leticia James to investigate the legality of such real estate events.  

“It is reprehensible that real estate companies are looking to profit from land in occupied Palestine as people are getting murdered and displaced from their homes in Gaza,” said CAIR-NY Supervising Attorney Lamya Agarwala in a statement shared with Documented. “The United States government and the international community have deemed Israeli settlements illegal, and New York State has a responsibility to ensure it is not complicit in further developing illegal settlements.”

Despite Documented’s numerous requests for comment, the New York AG office did not respond.

The PAL Law Commission also filed a similar complaint with the New Jersey Attorney General and the real estate licensing authorities in New York and New Jersey.

“We will continue our investigations and keep all relevant government authorities apprised so that they may undertake their own investigations and work to stop these rackets,” said Lamis Deek, PAL Law Commission director, in a statement. “We have also provided a thorough legal memorandum analyzing the legal implications of these events and the parties involved so that local and federal government officials can be empowered to take all necessary action.”

Responding to Documented’s request for comment, Tara Oliver, public information officer for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, stated that they can not comment on potential or pending enforcement matters but stressed their commitment to protecting residents from housing discrimination. 

“The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) is committed to protecting our residents from housing discrimination,” she said in a statement. “The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination generally prohibits entities from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ancestry, and other protected characteristics in housing.”

The New Jersey Real Estate Commission and the New York State Department of State did not respond to Documented’s request for comment. 

Given the exclusionary nature of the events, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the exclusionary sale of West Bank settlements. Both HUD and DOJ are responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. 

“Events like this are abhorrent, and the fact that they are being held while Israel wages its genocidal campaign in Gaza truly shocks the conscience,” said ADC Staff Attorney Christopher Godshall-Bennett in a statement. “The entities involved must not be permitted to sell stolen property in the United States to facilitate the consolidation of Israel’s control over the West Bank. These events should be canceled. Full stop.”

HUD and the DOJ both did not respond to Documented’s request for comment. 

My Home in Israel did not respond to Documented’s request for comment, but Gidon Katz, a producer of the event, disputed the claim that the event was restricted to only Jewish patrons.

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