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The Supreme Court yesterday sharply criticized the Education Ministry for delaying implementation of a High Court of Justice ruling to stop tailoring the education system's budget allocations to the map of "national priority" areas.

In the statement, supported by all seven judges, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote: "The matter before us is a grave expression of the freedom the respondent [Education Ministry] has granted itself by not applying the court's ruling."

In contrast to the ministry's plan to carry out the decision in a gradual manner over four to five years, the judges ordered it to be fully implemented within nine months, before the start of next year's academic year.

In February 2006, following eight years of hearings, the High Court of Justice accepted the appeal by attorney Hassan Jabareen on behalf of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, against the use of the priorities map. The map pinpointed 500 Jewish communities - but only four Arab locales - which the ministry defined as being in need of bolstered educational infrastructure.

Then Supreme Court president Aharon Barak wrote in the ruling that the government's decision "does not conform to the principle of equality, as it results in discrimination of members of the Arab sector."

Since the High Court's decision, the Education Ministry has requested and received a number of deferrals concerning its implementation.

Beinisch wrote that the NIS 65 million budget necessary for implementing the ruling "is not large relative to the Education Ministry's overall budget."

"In contrast to prior Education Ministry claims that an enormous sum is needed to implement the High Court's ruling, is appears now that it is only NIS 65 million," Jabareen said yesterday. "Our concern is that in another few months, the Education Ministry will ask for another delay in putting the decision into practice."

The Education Ministry responded that it would "operate in accordance with the High Court decision and prepare to apply the ruling on time."