Groups ask High Court to prevent enforcement of ‘Nakba Law'

Civil rights associations, schools claim it violates their constitutional rights.

nakba day_311 reuters (photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
nakba day_311 reuters
(photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
A week before Independence Day, a day that many Arab Israelis mark as their day of “Nakba” (“catastrophe”), Arab rights group Adalah and others filed a petition asking the High Court to annul the recently passed “Nakba Law” as unconstitutional.
The petitioners also asked for an interim injunction, preventing enforcement of the law in the upcoming commemoration day.
The law, which was approved on March 22, following vigorous debates in the Law Committee and in the plenum, allows the government to penalize any state-funded institution that commemorates the Nakba or denies the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Formally an amendment to the Budget Principles Law, the law enables the finance minister to cut government funding to such institutions by three times the amount that the institution spent on the commemoration activities.
The petition was submitted by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Right in Israel as well as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the alumni association of the Orthodox High School in Haifa, parents of children who attend the Galil Jewish- Arab school in Misgav and geography professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University.
The petitioners contended that the law violates a long list of constitutional rights, first and foremost freedom of expression and the right to equality, but also artistic freedom and academic freedom.
“The law produces unprecedented harm to historical memory by using the power of the majority to erase the memory and depress the narratives of the national minority regarding events, facts, feelings and ideologies. In stark contrast to basic democratic principles and basic rights, the law aims to smother essential ideological disputes that touch on the foundations of Israeli society,” read the petition.
The petitioners also asked the court to issue an interim injunction, suspending the implementation of the law until a ruling is reached. An immediate order, they argued, would prevent the possible self-censorship of institutions and the monetary damage they may suffer, since Independence Day and Nakba Day will be marked in the coming days.
“The immediate outcome of passing the law is to spread a chilling effect over a large portion of the Israeli society and smothering much needed debate over the foundations of Israeli society. The level of harm is extenuated by the fact that the law’s vague phrasing creates uncertainty as to how it will be enforced by the finance minister and the judiciary,” the petition read.
The petitioners claimed that the law negatively affected them directly. For example, the alumni of the Orthodox High School in Haifa claimed that they were unsure if they could hold the school’s annual educational activity about state identity and minority status in Israel and about Palestinian history, fearing that it might fall under the law and that their school’s budget would be cut as a result.
The parents of the Jewish and Arab students who attend the bilingual and bicultural Galil school’s annual Independence Day activities - when they mark both the Israeli remembrance day and the Palestinian Nakba in educational activities and ceremonies - fear that not holding the event would severely harm the aim of the school, which is to educate students on tolerance, mutual respect and democratic values. They claimed that the law relayed a message that the type of education that the school offered is unwanted.
Yiftachel claimed the law violated his academic freedom to teach students about Israel as a model of ethnocracy, which he describes as a political regime that facilitates expansion and control by a dominant ethnicity in contested lands, and which may be construed as a denial of Israel’s democratic nature.
Adalah lawyer Sawsan Zaher said the law is “an ideological law, aimed against the national identity of the Arab citizens and against their collective memory, undermining their legitimacy as equal citizens. The law punishes the Arab citizens for their different identity and may increase their alienation and incitement and racism against them.”
“A law that seeks to limit public discourse over matters pertaining to its very nature does not just harm the freedom of expression of all its citizenry, but also the public interest of society as a whole,” said Association for Civil Rights in Israel lawyer Dan Yakir.
“Penetrating and free discussion, even on sensitive political matters, are vital for the existence of a democratic society. The silencing of the minority by the majority contradicts basic democratic principles.”
Arik Kirshenboim, whose daughter attends the Galil school said, “Our daughter is studying in this unique school because we did not wish her to grow up in a climate of ‘we are right – they are wrong,’ which unfortunately prevails in both Jewish and Arab societies in Israel. This is not about politics, but about education without censorship. There were people who suffered when the State was founded; why should we hide it? Why not choose to acknowledge the pain and heal it?”