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Justice Ministry slams judge’s use of nation-state law to deny rights to Arabs

Official tells Knesset controversial law not intended to ‘diminish rights of children,’ after it was invoked to justify not providing transportation for Arab school in Jewish town

Illustrative: Arab students leave for their homes after school in Nahf, in the Galilee, on October 4, 2012. (Louis Fisher/Flash 90)
Illustrative: Arab students leave for their homes after school in Nahf, in the Galilee, on October 4, 2012. (Louis Fisher/Flash 90)

A Justice Ministry official told the Knesset on Monday that the nation-state law is not intended to limit individual rights of citizens, after a judge used the controversial 2018 legislation to justify dismissing a lawsuit by Arab residents of the northern city of Carmiel.

The lawsuit charged that the northern city was violating its obligation to provide transportation for Arab Israeli children to local schools. But it was dismissed by the Krayot Magistrate’s Court, which said providing services to Arabs would encourage Arabs to live in the city while changing its Jewish character.

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 was clear from the law’s wording that “it should not diminish the rights of the children.”

He added that, as the case is currently being appealed by the plaintiffs, he did not want to go into specifics, but stressed that the state was not a party to the case at the Krayot Magistrate’s Court.

Committee chief Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List said the law was “racist” and that there was a need “to fight any attempt to translate it into harmful policy.”

MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Krayot Magistrate’s Court judge Yaniv Luzon wrote in his ruling that providing services to Arabs would change the makeup of Carmiel, which he said was “a Jewish city which is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Galilee.

“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.

Carmiel, a city in northern Israel, has recently seen a growing influx of upper-middle-class Arab professionals, one of several cities around the country seeing trends of de facto and de jure segregation fall by the wayside.

Carmiel was one of several cities and towns strategically established starting in the mid-1960s as part of a government attempt to expand the Jewish presence in the Galilee, where Arabs made up most of the population.

One such large-scale land expropriation in March 1976, in order to expand several Jewish towns in the area and establish others, sparked deadly riots and remains a particularly painful episode in Jewish-Arab relations in the Galilee.

Some residents — including Carmiel’s deputy mayor — have objected to the demographic changes, even establishing an anonymous hotline that sought to prevent the sale of land to Arabs in 2010.

Although Arabs now constitute around six percent of Carmiel’s population — around 2,760 people — there is still no Arabic-language school inside the city. As such, Arab Israeli parents are forced to send their children to various schools in the area.

Attorney Nizar Bakri filed a lawsuit on behalf of his brother Qassem and his two nephews, whose right to education, he alleged in court filings, had been substantially damaged by the difficulty of constantly organizing transport to and from schools outside the city.

Bakri demanded that the municipality begin funding transportation for Arab children to and from schools in the area and refund the costs which families had already paid out of pocket. It is not entirely clear that Israeli law demands that the municipality fund such transportation themselves, however.

Arab Israelis carry banners during a demonstration to protest against the ‘nation-state law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI)

Luzon, the presiding judge, 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.

The High Court of Justice is set 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 justify its position in the coming days.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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