Court uses Jewish Nation-State Law to block funding for Arab students

State gets High Court postponement over law’s constitutionality.

Arab students 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Arab students 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Kiryot Magistrate’s Court in the north has reignited a debate about how the Jewish Nation-State Law may negatively impact the country’s minorities, especially its sizable Arab sector.
With the recent ruling that the Nation-State Law required blocking state funding for transportation for Arab schoolchildren to nearby Arabic-language schools, criticism of racism erupted from human rights groups.
The 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.
The ruling came as the state was due to attempt to file a legal brief to defend the law’s constitutionality before the High Court of Justice on Tuesday – a brief which was postponed until Thursday, possibly because of the new controversy.
All along, the state has argued that criticism of the Jewish Nation-State Law as a potential source of discrimination was being exaggerated and that it was focused on encouraging Jewish initiatives, not on restricting other sectors.
That argument may be a tougher sell following the Kiryot court ruling.
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 Nation-State Law and broader statements about identity issues, the case has now taken on national significance.
Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – commented; “The municipality’s refusal to pay for the transportation costs of hundreds of Arab schoolchildren who live in Karmiel – while there are no Arabic-language schools in the city – clearly violates the children’s fundamental rights to education.”
“This is outrageous. Basing its decision on Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law, the court has ruled that the mandate to preserve the ‘Jewish character’ of Karmiel legitimizes overtly racist and discriminatory policies. This is precisely what Adalah warned would eventually happen when we took legal action against this law,” said Shehadeh-Zoabi.
Over the course of the past year, Adalah has demanded that the Karmiel municipality fund school transportation for Arab children and has appealed to the Education Ministry to widen the map of neighboring communities associated with Karmiel’s school transportation program.
The Nation-State Law was passed on July 19, 2018 and Adalah had already filed its petition to the High Court against the law on August 7, 2018.
Around a dozen other 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 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 which have quasi-constitutional status.
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.
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.
If the state does finally file its response on Thursday, the first in-person hearing could still take place as scheduled on December 22.