Law Denying Benefits to Parents Over Minor’s Security Offenses Ruled Unconstitutional

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Supreme Court President Esther Hayut at a conference in Rishon Letziyon, in June.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut at a conference in Rishon Letziyon, in June.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The High Court of Justice ruled Thursday that the section in the law that allows withholding government benefits from the parents of a minor imprisoned for security offenses is unconstitutional and violates their right of equality. The court gave the Knesset a year to address the problematic clauses in the 2015 National Insurance Law.

The amendment to the law stipulates that in the event a minor is convicted of a serious security offense, including stone-throwing, that was committed out of nationalistic motives or in connection with terrorist activity, any benefits his or her parents receive on the minor’s behalf are suspended while their child is in prison.

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In response to a lawsuit by Adalah, the human rights organization, in the name of the parents of seven minors who had been denied benefits, the state argued that the law “is designed to incentivize parents to prevent their children from committing such offenses.” Government attorneys said “the offense of stone-throwing, in particular, is unique insofar as it does not require any equipment or preparation to be carried out, thus is more ‘accessible’ to young people seeking to do something; and that they do.”

The state further stated that “a harsh and targeted treatment of nationalistic delinquency is not unique to the law before us, and is found in many provisions of the law.”

The petition was heard by an expanded panel of nine judges, with the majority opinion ruling that while the deterrent aspect is important, “amending the law disproportionately infringes on the constitutional right to equality.” Initially, the majority, which counted Court President Esther Hayut, her deputy Hanan Meltzer, and Justices Uzi Vogelman, Dafna Barak-Erez and Anat Baron, had ruled that the amendment should be repealed immediately. But Hayut urged that it be suspended for one year to allow the Knesset to revise the amendments, if it so desires. The rest of the majority then said they supported the grace period.

In her verdict, Justice Hayut wrote, “I believe that the core violation of the constitutional right to equality in this case lies in the fact that the arrangement denies parents of minors who have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for security offenses a range of benefits, without examining the parent’s conduct and connection to the offense.”

Justice Barak-Erez said there was no dispute that security offenses that harmed innocent civilians were serious offenses, but noted that the Knesset had not considered alternatives for deterring minors from committing such offenses.

Justice Hayut held that holding parents responsible for a child’s crimes was highly unusual and unacceptable. She noted that it was the parents, not the perpetrator, who were entitled to the benefits. “A sweeping and automatic distinction between parents of children who committed security offenses and parents of children who committed other offenses, regardless of the parent’s connection to the offense, raises great difficulties,” she concluded.

Justice Hayut stressed that “such a provision completely ignores the parent’s autonomous choices, and labels them as conspirators in an act committed by the child, without at all examining the circumstances of the case and the extent of their responsibility for the offense.” She added that all this was done without giving the parent any right of reply. “This characteristic of the arrangement is highly unusual in the landscape of the existing legislation in Israeli law regulating the responsibility of parents for the actions of their children,” Hayut stated.

Justices Hayut and Vogelman proposed amending the law to require that in every case, an investigation be undertaken into the parent’s role in their child’s offenses. “Not only will this not undermine the purpose of incentivizing the parents to prevent the offenses by their children, but it can also help achieve this purpose more effectively,” they wrote. “Thus, parents will know that their actions have meaning and were they to exercise their parental authority and act to prevent their child from being involved in security offenses, the benefits to which they are entitled will not be automatically withheld.”

Speaking for the minority, Justice Noam Solberg noted that the law does not distinguish between Jews and Arabs, neither explicitly nor implicitly, and therefore there is no violation of the right to equality. Justice David Mintz agreed and added that even if there was such a violation, it was “done for the right purpose and is proportionate, and hence there is no justification for the court to intervene in this matter.”

Justice Yitzhak Amit noted that the parents’ financial savings due to their child’s imprisonment are greater than the benefits withheld. Therefore, the harm is negligible and does not justify repealing the amendment.

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