Israel Cites Nation-State Law to Block Educators From Refuting Its Jewish Nature

Outside school program operators in Israel will have to sign 12 conditions in the bidding process, including vowing to not treat Independence Day as a 'day of mourning'

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A school in Israel's Arab sector.
A school in Israel's Arab sector.Credit: Rami Shlush

Israel's Education Ministry defended its requirement of external educational organizations to pledge not to negate Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state by citing the 2018 Nation-State Law, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Outside school program operators are being invited to bid for work in schools as part of a ministry plan that as of the next school year will give principals greater flexibility to select outside programs, as long as they meet the ministry’s criteria.

The bidding process was initially justified by a 2011 law that strips organizations of government funding if they contravene Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, its democratic character or that mark Independence Day as "a day of mourning."

The day of mourning is a reference to Nakba Day, which Palestinians observe to mark the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people with the establishment of Israel in the War of Independence.

However, two weeks ago, the Education Ministry legal adviser’s office referred to the controversial quasi-constitutional law in support for its requirement for the school program operators, in a response to a petition by Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

The bidders must sign on to 12 provisions, including a pledge that programming doesn’t include the observance of Israeli Independence Day as a “day of mourning,” or encourage violence, incitement, racism, or support terrorism against Israelis. It also forbids any denial of the Holocaust.

In its rejection of Arab NGO's request for an interim injunction against the process, Jerusalem District Court Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach ordered the ministry to respond to the Arab civil rights organization’s objections.

The letter from the office of the legal adviser to the Education Ministry acknowledged that the ministry’s conditions for participating in the bidding process “limit freedom of expression and criticism,” but added that the step was in accordance with the law.

“A refusal by entities interested in providing services to the education system to declare that they will not negate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will not mark the day on which the country was established as a day of mourning runs directly and clear counter to the spirit of [the Nation-State Law], including the provision in the basic law stating that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and that Independence Day is the country’s official national day,” the response stated.

The Nation-State Law was passed in 2018 to enshrine the concept that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” but faced a fierce backlash for purportedly relegating the country’s Arab community to second-class citizens.

The law was challenged before the High Court of Justice, which last year upheld it but added that its provisions must be interpreted in light of Israel’s other basic laws, which have constitutional status. In particular, the basic laws on the Knesset, on human dignity and liberty and on freedom of occupation, which specifically address the dual character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

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