Thursday, May 05, 2011

Adalah, ACRI, Parents and School Alumni Petition Supreme Court: Nakba Law is Unconstitutional, Allow Freedom of Speech

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5 May 2011

Adalah, ACRI, Parents and School Alumni Petition Supreme Court:
Nakba Law is Unconstitutional, Allow Freedom of Speech

Schools, universities, local councils and cultural institutions may suffer budget cuts if they commemorate the day of the establishment of Israel as a day of Nakba; Court asked to issue order suspending implementation of law, which was passed in March 2011

(Haifa and Tel Aviv, Israel) In a petition submitted to Israel's Supreme Court yesterday (May 4) by human rights groups, activists and parents, the petitioners asked the court to rule that the “Nakba Law” is unconstitutional and should be annulled, as it violates the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and equality, and severely infringes on the rights of Israel's Arab citizens to preserve their history and culture concerning the Nakba.

The petitioners demanded that the court issue an interim order suspending the implementation of the law until a decision is delivered. An immediate order would prevent the possible self-censorship of institutions and harm to the minority as Israel’s Independence Day and the Nakba Day are marked in the coming days (May 10 and May 15 respectively).

The petition was submitted jointly by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI); five parents of children who study at “Galil”, a joint Jewish-Arab bilingual school in the Misgav region of the Galilee; an NGO of alumni from the Arab Orthodox school in Haifa; and Prof. Oren Yiftachel, a leading researcher from Ben Gurion University whose theories challenge Israel's definition as a Jewish and democratic state.

The "Nakba Law", which was added as an amendment to the Budget Foundation Law in March 2011, authorizes the Ministry of Finance to cut budgets to any body or institution receiving monetary support from the state that engages in any action in which the “existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” is negated, or that marks the date of Israel's establishment “as a day of mourning”. In a debate held in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, chairperson MK David Rotem stated that marking a day of mourning does not need to coincide with Israel's official Independence Day.

Adalah Attorneys Sawsan Zaher and Hassan Jabareen and Attorney Dan Yakir of ACRI argue in the petition that the law infringes on the rights of freedom of speech, political and artistic expression; equality; education; academic freedom; and freedom of occupation. The law carries particular harm to the rights of the Arab minority. The vague wording of the law, and the fact that it gives the Finance Minister the power to decide on its implementation, raises concern that the law will be enforced in a discriminatory manner, which will enhance the already existing political oppression of Arab citizens in Israel.

Attorney Sawsan Zaher of Adalah: “This is an ideological law aimed against the national identity of Arab citizens in Israel and against their collective memory. It harms their legitimate status as equal citizens and punishes them for having a different identity and being the 'other'. The incitement and racism against Arab citizens, and the alienation in Israeli society, stand to increase as a result of this law.”

Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI's Chief Legal Counsel: “A law that seeks to limit the public debate over principled questions concerning the character of the state not only violates freedom of speech of all Israeli citizens, but also harms the public interest of the society as a whole. For a democratic and open society to flourish, free speech must be upheld particularly when sensitive and political issues are at hand. Silencing the minority stands in clear contrast to basic democratic principles.”

Arik Kirshenboim, whose daughter attends the Arab-Jewish school “Galil” in Misgav: “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. All we are asking is to allow our daughter and her school mates to hear the point of view of the other side. 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?"

See ACRI’s position paper on the law:

See Adalah’s new “Discriminatory Laws Update”:

Case Citation:  HCJ 3429/11, The Alumni Association of the Arab Orthodox School in Haifa et al. v. The Knesset, et al.<>

For further details and interviews with the petitioners: