Retiring Beinisch could annul ‘discriminatory law’

Retiring Supreme Court president to rule on petitions against law denying income support to those with cars.

By
February 28, 2012 03:51
3 minute read.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311. (photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)

Women’s and human rights groups are hoping that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and the High Court of Justice will overturn what they say is a discriminatory law in her final High Court ruling.

Beinisch will pronounce her final judgement before her retirement in a special farewell ceremony in the court on Tuesday, and has chosen to rule on three High Court petitions that ask the court to overturn two articles of the Income Support Law, which prevent people who own a car from receiving income support.

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The Income Support law stipulates that individuals and families not capable of ensuring a basic minimum subsistence income are eligible for income support payments, as long as they meet certain requirements.

However, the same law states that “a vehicle owned or utilized by the insured person precludes entitlement to benefits,” a clause which both civil and women’s rights groups have vocally opposed, arguing that it harms weaker sections of the population.

Itach - Women Lawyers for Social Justice, Adalah, Sawt al- Amel (“Worker’s Voice”) and the Legal Aid Department of the Justice Ministry have all filed petitions against the National Insurance Institute (NII) and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.

As is common practice for petitions on identical issues, the High Court decided to hear the petitions together and will make a single ruling on all of them.

Adalah and Sawt al-Amel filed their petition in 2004, on behalf of an Arab-Israeli man refused income support by the NII even after he wrote asking permission to use a car to transport his blind daughter to hospital for medical treatment.

Itach filed their petition a year later, on behalf of five single mothers.

“We hope that tomorrow will be an historic day, especially for Israeli women in poverty, who are the sector of the public most deserving of income support,” said Itach director, attorney Keren Shemesh-Perlmutter, adding that the human rights group wanted to thank Beinisch for choosing to end her career by ruling on these particular petitions, which she said concern “one of the most disempowered groups in Israeli society.”

The petitions sought to abolish a law that unnecessarily harms one of the country’s weakest populations, Shemesh- Perlmutter said, adding that the call to overturn the clauses was part of the country’s continuing fight for social justice.

“We believe that the people’s calls for ‘social justice,’ which we heard over the summer, will also be heard tomorrow in the court, and that Beinisch will decide to answer those calls,” she said.

Attorney Sawsan Zaher, director of Adalah’s Social, Economic and Education Rights Unit, said on Monday that the petitions “relate to social issues of primary importance.”

“We hope that the court will accept the petitions, and that the clause is canceled,” Zaher said.

“That would be a historic ruling. The first of its kind in terms of the legal protection of social rights.”

Adalah say in their petition that the law particularly discriminates against Arab communities, where there is a shortage of jobs and where public transport infrastructure is also lacking, making it difficult for people to travel without a car.

In its written response to the petition in December, the NII and the state attorney’s office argued that vehicle use per se does not necessarily preclude eligibility for income support, and noted that there are certain exceptions and that the law relates to permanent use of a car. The state said that use of a car involves both fixed expenses, like insurance, and personal expenses like gas that vary from person to person, meaning that the NII cannot make objective calculations about cost.

However, the petitioners argue that denying income support to weaker populations – in Itach’s case, single mothers – simply because they had the use of a car is “absurd.”

One of the five single mothers named on the petition filed an affidavit to the court, saying that she was denied income support even though she only used her parents’ car twice a week to do her grocery shopping and to take her child to the Tipat Halav clinic, Itach said.

“With this ruling, Justice Beinisch will leave a deep imprint of social values, which could signify a new social order, returning Israel to its role as a welfare state,” Shemesh- Perlmutter concluded.


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