AG body slams attempt to strike Jewish Nation State Law

Tells court it has nor authority to vacate a Basic Law

Druze-Israelis protest the Nation-State Law (photo credit: REUTERS)
Druze-Israelis protest the Nation-State Law
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday night likely dealt a mortal blow to attempts to get the High Court of Justice to strike the Jewish Nation-State Law as unconstitutional.
He told the court that the more than a dozen petitioners had failed to prove their evidentiary burden for the unprecedented request of annulling a Basic Law.
Though Israel has no constitution, the Basic Laws are considered to have quasi-constitutional status.
They are thought to either be beyond the High Court’s authority or only within its authority in an extraordinary circumstance possibly negating a different Basic Law.
According to Mandelblit, all of the petitioners misunderstand the nature of the concept of when a Basic Law might be amended or declared unconstitutional.
He also said that the many individual arguments and examples of injustices allegedly caused by the Basic Law were either incorrect or deeply inadequate as a basis to overturn the entire law.
While not completely disqualifying the possibility that a Basic Law could be extreme enough to be negated by the High Court, he said this instance was far away from that theoretical circumstance.
Mandelblit also doubled down on what level of interpretation to give to the Jewish Nation-State Law.
He took issue with interpretations given by the petitioners which framed the law as discriminating against non-Jewish citizens of Israel.
Instead, he said that the law only emphasizes positive aspects of the Jewish nation without putting down other minorities in any negative sense.
He added that the law was necessary to give expression to the original vision of Israel as being unique as a Jewish state among a world where Jews are a tiny minority.
Mandelblit also went through many individual arguments and said they were dire predictions of discrimination which had not happened and probably would not happen.
One possible counterexample to this last argument of Mandelblit came on November 24 when the Kiryot Magistrate’s Court in the north used the Jewish Nation-State Law to block state funding for transportation for Arab schoolchildren to nearby Arabic-language schools.
Criticism of racism erupted from human rights groups and they said this was an example of the problems which the Jewish Nation-State Law would continue to cause if it was not struck.
The Kiryot court concluded that Karmiel was specifically designated as a city for expanding the state’s Jewish character into the state’s northern periphery and that state funding for busing Arab schoolchildren to Arabic-language schools could undermine that goal.
More specifically, the court voiced concern that such a benefit could lead to an influx of additional Israeli-Arab citizens which could alter the city’s current heavy-leaning Jewish demographic balance.
Meanwhile, lawyer Nizar Buchri said that a petition would soon be filed to the supervising district court regarding the specific busing issue – effectively an appeal of the lower court’s ruling.
The actual lower court case involved the school children’s families seeking a mere NIS 25,000 reimbursement for transportation expenses for two siblings.
However, due to the court’s use of the Jewish Nation State Law and broader statements about identity issues, the case has now taken on national significance.
Yet, it did not seem that the ruling had any significant impact on Mandelblit’s view of the broader issue.
In July 2019, the Nazareth District Court, the attorney-general’s office and the NGO Adalah, did succeed at forcing Afula to reopen its parks within two days to non-residents, including Arabs, after it tried to limit access.
The Jewish Nation-State Law was passed on July 19, 2018 and the NGO Adalah already filed its petition to the High Court against the law on August 7, 2018.
Around a dozen additional groups also filed petitions, including top Druze officials, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and others.
The Druze groups sought to cancel only narrow aspects of the law which they saw as negatively impacting them, whereas ACRI added the contention that it is unconstitutional to grant minorities full individual rights while reserving collective national-identity related rights to the country’s Jewish populace.
In common, the various petitions essentially argue that the Jewish Nation-State Law disproportionately and unreasonably harms minorities, making them feel like “exiled people in their own homeland.”
The petitions say the law violates the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which is considered the country’s most foundational legal basis for how it views all other issues.
Each of the petitions called on the court to be ready to declare the law unconstitutional, despite its status as a Basic Law and despite that many argue the court can only cancel regular laws, not Basic Laws.
The Nation-State Law, according to the petitions, replaces the delicate balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic principles, with a lopsided leaning toward the Jewish principle.
In contrast, Mandelblit said Thursday that the law only realizes the Jewishness principle, which has always been somewhat ignored, without undermining the democracy principle.
The law also drew criticism from much of the American-Jewish community when it was passed.
In January 2019, the High Court emphasized the issue’s constitutional importance when it broadened the panel hearing the case from three justices to the maximum of 11 justices.
However, the High Court then repeatedly granted multi-month extensions for the state to respond to the petitions during the 18-months of elections as well as when the coronavirus crisis hit in the spring.
It was significant that the state filed its response Thursday despite the likelihood of impending elections.
This signals that the case may go forward regardless of the country’s electoral status.