High Court rejects petition against 'Nakba Law'

Justices say too soon to judge constitutionality of law cutting off funding for bodies recognizing Israeli independence as a tragedy.

January 5, 2012 12:11
2 minute read.
Nakba Day protest in Jaffa

Jaffa Nakba Day 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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The High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday to reject a petition against the Nakba Law, which enables the finance minister to withhold funds from government- funded bodies that mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.

The law, passed in March 2011, also allows the state to deny funding to public bodies that conduct events that negate “the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

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In ruling to reject the petition, Justice Miriam Naor, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justice Eliezer Rivlin found they could not make any ruling on the petition’s claims because the Nakba Law had not been implemented and therefore the court had not been given concrete factual circumstances on which to judge.

The petition was filed in May 2011 by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on behalf of alumni of the Arab Orthodox School in Haifa. The petitioners argued that the law is anti-democratic and severely harms the basic rights of Arab Israelis, including the right to freedom of speech, political and artistic expression, equality, education, academic freedom and freedom of occupation.

The Arab Orthodox Alumni organization runs various activities each year, including a discussion about the identity of the state and the status of Arab citizens. The organization argued in the petition that some of its activities might contravene the Nakba Law and thus the school’s budget could suffer.

Also named on the petition are Ben- Gurion University professor Oren Yiftachel, whose academic research challenges Israel’s definition as a Jewish and democratic state, and parents of pupils at the Galil Jewish-Arab school in Misgav, which commemorates Nakba Day alongside Independence Day.

At the end of the judgement, Beinisch said she agreed with Naor that the petition raised “complex questions of public importance.”

“I emphasize that these questions may, in certain circumstances, get to the roots of the problems dividing Israeli society,” Beinisch added. “However I accept my honorable friend’s position that this petition is not ripe for judicial discussion. The constitutionality of the [Nakba] law depends to a large extent on how its content is interpreted in practice, and that will be clear only when it is implemented.”

The court also noted that the petitioners had an alternative to the High Court, and recommended they turn instead to the Administrative Affairs Court with a request for a temporary injunction preventing the law from applying to them.

In a joint press release issued on Thursday, ACRI and Adalah accused the High Court of ignoring “the chilling effect already caused by the Nakba Law.

“Today, the High Court of Justice missed an opportunity to make clear to legislators that there are limits to their anti-human rights steps, particularly to the targeting of the human rights of Israel’s Arab population,” the statement added.

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