Justice Ministry: Nation-State Law Not Meant to Harm Minorities

YERUSHALAYIM -
Joint List MKs Yousef Jabareen (right) and Ahmad Tibi. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A Justice Ministry official has told the Knesset that the nation-state law, which declares Israel to be “the national home of the Jewish people” should not be used to harm the rights of minority populations, The Times of Israel reported on Monday.

The statement comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by Arab Israeli residents of the northern city of Carmiel whose request for transportation funding for students was turned down by a judge citing the nation-state law.

Eyal Zandberg, head of Public Law in the Consulting and Legislation Department of the ministry, told the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Rights of the Child that it is clear from the text of the law that “it should not diminish the rights of the children.”

Committee chairman Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List charged that the law that defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is “racist” and there is a need “to fight any attempt to translate it into harmful policy.”

Judge Yaniv Luzon wrote in his ruling that providing services such as transportation to and from schools to Arabs would undermine the Jewish majority in Carmiel, which he said was “a Jewish city which is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Galil.

“The construction of an Arabic-language school or providing transportation for Arab students, wherever and whoever wants it, could change the demographic balance and the character of the city,” he wrote.

Attorney Nizar Bakri had filed a lawsuit on behalf of his brother Qassem and his two nephews, whose right to education, he alleged, had been substantially damaged by the difficulty of constantly organizing transport to and from schools outside the city. There is no Arabic-language school inside Carmiel. Arabs now comprise about six percent of Carmiel’s population — around 2,760 people.

Bakri demanded that the municipality take on the responsibility of funding transportation for Arab children to and from schools in the area and refund the money which families had already paid out of pocket, the Times of Israel said.

After addressing certain technical points in the case, Luzon cited the controversial 2018 nation-state law, which enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also states that “the state considers advancing Jewish settlement to be a national value, and will act to encourage and advance its establishment.”

“The development of Jewish settlement is therefore a national value, one anchored in a basic law. It ought to be an appropriate and dominant consideration in the array of municipal considerations, including for the issue of establishment schools and funding transportation,” Luzon said.

That touched off an angry reaction from Bakri, who characterized the judge’s point “far from the matter at hand and racist.”

Joint Arab List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman denounced the ruling along similar lines.

“To everyone who said that the nation-state law was not dangerous and merely symbolic — today’s ruling in Carmiel shows the direction. With rationales of ‘Jewish character’ it is possible to discriminate against Arabs — under the protection of the nation-state law,”, who called the law one which “establishes apartheid.”

The High Court is scheduled to discuss an appeal by the Palestinian legal rights group Adalah in late December against the nation-state law. The court has ordered the government to present a defense of its position.