The High Court of Justice ruled in February 2006 on a petition against discrimination in education against Arab citizens in the periphery. The petition, filed by the Adalah organization, required an egalitarian allocation of education funds that had only been given to Jewish locales in the national preference program. The Education Ministry has not implemented the ruling.
Prior to deliberations at the High Court last month, the Union of Local Authorities carried out the fictitious firing of 1,500 teachers, in order to warn the court against obligating the Education Ministry to act in an egalitarian way in immediately allocating resources. And indeed, the High Court approved a year's postponement of the implementation of the decision from February 2006.
It is good that the High Court has stood by its previous ruling in the matter of just allocation, but there is a danger that it has, in practice, acceded to the pleas of those enjoying preferential treatment on a national-ethnic basis. This is dangerous both on the practical level - the year's postponement based on the assumption that there will be a "gradual implementation" of the equal distribution over at least five years, meaning a dragging out of the implementation, or even the danger of partial implementation - and also on the normative level.
"Discrimination is not to be corrected by means of creating new discrimination," said Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. But what did she mean by this? Did she mean that the transfer of funds to Arab students will be conditioned on them not being taken away from the Jewish students? Where will the funds due to the Arab students come from if not the existing budget?
It must be said openly that the essence of equality is a fair distribution of what there actually is. In other words, re-allocation of the budget has to be carried out in a way that will decrease the allocations to the Jewish locales in the periphery, which for many years received this funding only for themselves, in an unjustified way. This is not "new discrimination" against the Jewish locales nor is it reverse discrimination in favor of the Arab students, but rather the elimination of the existing discrimination against Arabs in one provision of the education budget.
Last month the Education Ministry received an extension until December, and it must submit a real plan for the egalitarian distribution of this budget. In its ruling, the High Court has backed the implementation of this difficult task, but now there is a need for an amendment in the statement, which determines the spirit of the ruling.
It is to be expected that the High Court will find a way to retreat from its president's statement, and make clear to the executive authority that a normative, as well as a legal, obligation is incumbent upon it, that it must act in an egalitarian way toward citizens within the framework of the existing budget, without waiting for it to be increased.
This is a test case for the judiciary authority and for the executive authority. Therefore it must be acknowledged that the introduction of equality into the patterns of budget allocation will in the future by necessity also entail decreasing on the one hand and increasing on the other. Until now the Education Ministry has dragged its feet and has acted as though it is in a trance imposed by the High Court. However, it is preferable that despite the difficulty it do so of its own free will, both because equality among students is an educational value and contains a lesson in civics for both the Jewish and the Arab students, and in order to serve the state's strategic interest in equality among its Jewish and Arab citizens in general.
The author is co-director of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.