The government's test of principle
Netanyahu and his ministers will need to clarify the reasons for their preference of yeshiva students over students who will soon come to represent the pillars of Israel's economy and academia.
Jenny Baruchi, the college student who is on the verge of completing a master's degree in social work from the Hebrew University, the same institution in which her mother worked her entire life as a janitor, is deserving of a permanent place in the public consciousness as a symbol of unyielding civic struggle.
Ten years ago, Baruchi petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding the reinstatement of state stipends that were stripped from her - the same stipends that ultra-Orthodox students in yeshivas and kollels continued to receive. She is a paragon of the values which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu champions constantly: a single mother with limited financial means who worked two jobs while pursuing a university degree, thus enabling her to enter a profession whose very essence is to contribute to society.
The High Court ruling on Monday, which came in response to the petition filed by Baruchi and the late Jerusalem city councilman Ornan Yekutieli, is an important milestone in the campaign against religious coercion. It delivers justice to university students who have been discriminated against on account of those enrolled in yeshiva.
A panel of six justices headed by Court President Dorit Beinisch decreed that the discriminatory policy should be abolished in the name of equality, a principle that is anchored in the laws governing the formulation of the state budget. Justice Edmond Levy offered the lone dissenting opinion, arguing for rejecting the petition on the grounds that it is the government and the Knesset - not the court - that should wield power over issues relating to the budget.
Now the court decision will be put to the political test. Shas and United Torah Judaism, for whose benefit and narrow interests the government and Knesset violated the equal distribution of unemployment benefits, have already stated their intention to draft a bill to bypass the court and nullify "the evil verdict." Interior Minister Eli Yishai assailed the court for "harming the spiritual status quo of the people of Israel."
Thus the High Court ruling places the prime minister and his cabinet before an important test. If Yishai and his friends succeed in pulling the rug from under the court decision, the premier, his finance minister, justice minister, education minister and welfare minister will not only need to explain to the public why they failed to prevent the erosion of the court's standing, but they will also need to clarify the reasons for their preference of yeshiva students over students who will soon come to represent the pillars of Israel's economy and academia.
In other words, they will have to explain why they are turning their backs on citizen Jenny Baruchi for the second time.