Israeli Government Proposes Funding Civil Claims Against Racist Businesses

New state-sponsored bill based on recommendations from interministerial committee on how to help Israelis of Ethiopian origin

Israelis of Ethiopian origin protesting about their treatment by the state, in Tel Aviv, May 2015.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Justice Ministry is proposing to finance claims by people who cannot afford to sue businesses that have allegedly discriminated against them because of their origin.

The bill is based on the recommendations of an interministerial team, headed by Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor, on how to help Israelis of Ethiopian descent overcome any racism they encounter. The team recommends the state provide legal counsel to anybody who fits the economic criteria and who wants to file a civil claim based on the law prohibiting discrimination.

However, the Justice Ministry suggests tweaking the bill to confine legal aid to cases that have a chance of winning. The amendment will probably be made as a temporary order, to examine its efficacy and implications for the legal aid budget.

The ministry sent its government-sponsored bill to other ministries for comment on Sunday.

After the ministries give their feedback, the bill should be brought for a Knesset vote after the summer recess (i.e., after the Jewish holy days).

Currently, citizens can get free legal aid from the state to sue in a number of areas, some of which bypass means testing. For instance, in cases of forced psychiatric incarceration, a person receives state aid in representation before the psychiatric committee, irrespective of his/her own economic condition. Claims in respect to human trafficking also receive free legal aid, as do Holocaust survivors seeking compensation.

The bill would expand free state-paid legal aid to sue for compensation based on the law prohibiting discrimination.

The Knesset has been showing more sensitivity to the plight of Israelis of Ethiopian origin recently, with a day devoted to discussing various issues in May.

However, MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said that the 11 discussions held by the Knesset that day showed that members of the Ethiopian community still suffer from discrimination in “all areas of life – housing, education, health care and employment.”