Relying on Nation-state Law in Ruling on Arab Students Was Wrong, Israeli Appeals Court Says

Judge invalidates lower court's ruling that relied on the controversial law in dismissing a suit by Arab parents for the expense of sending their children to an Arabic-language school outside the city, but still denies the parents' appeal

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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A protest against the nation-state law in Tel Aviv, two and a half years ago.
A protest against the nation-state law in Tel Aviv, two and a half years ago.
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The Haifa District Court on Wednesday ruled that a lower court was mistaken in relying on the controversial nation-state law in deciding that the Carmiel municipality is not obligated to reimburse the transportation expenses incurred by Arab residents of the city who send their children to an Arabic-language school outside of the city.

There are no Arabic-language schools in Carmiel, where 6 percent of the population is Arab.

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In November, the Krayot Magistrate’s Court ruled against the family of the children, who are 6 and 10. The family then appealed to the Haifa District Court.

In his ruling Wednesday, the president of the Haifa District Court, Judge Ron Shapiro, denied the appeal but nevertheless ruled that the lower court’s ruling was “fundamentally wrong.”

The chief registrar of the Krayot Magistrate’s Court, Yaniv Luzon, who issued the lower court ruling, based his dismissal of the case in part on the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, which was by the Knesset in 2018 and which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

“Carmiel, a Jewish city, was meant to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Galilee. The establishment of an Arabic-language school ... [as well as] funding school transportation for Arab students, for anyone needing it and at any location, is liable to change the demographic balance and damage the city’s character,” Luzon wrote at the time.

Shapiro ruled that Luzon had erred in relying at all to the nation-state law and in his interpretation of the law. In December, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also said that the dismissal of the lawsuit based on the nation-state law was a misinterpretation of the law.

Nevertheless, based on other legal grounds, Shapiro ruled that the children were still not entitled to a reimbursement of their expenses.

The nation-state law includes a declaration of the importance to Jewish settlement of the land as a national value and declares Hebrew as the country’s official language, although it accords special status to Arabic and states that nothing in the law should detract from Arabic’s prior status in Israel. It also reserves the right of national self-determination to the Jewish people and it alone. A challenge to the law is currently pending in the High Court of Justice.

In denying the appeal, Shapiro noted the lower court’s finding that the case did not meet any of the exceptions established by previous court rulings requiring special treatment or accessibility to schools. At the same time, Shapiro wrote that reference to the “stumbling block” of the nation-state law should be removed from the case and noted that neither side in the case had relied on the law and no reference to the law had been necessary.

The reference to the law by Luzon might prompt a sense among the public that it was not referred to for purposes of deciding the case, Shapiro stated, and “is also liable to damage to the public’s trust in the courts.”

Shapiro added that the nation-state law did not repeal other basic laws such as the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty or the fundamental principles included in the Declaration of Independence. He quoted from portions of the Declaration of Independence guaranteeing equal rights to all of Israel’s citizens.

The children’s lawyer – and uncle – Nezar Bakri, told Haaretz that the family was “partly satisfied and partly disappointed by the overall result” of Shapiro’s decision.

“The court may have unequivocally ruled that the registrar of the Krayot Magistrate’s Court made a mistake in the use of the nation-state law and its connection to this case, but this ruling should not satisfy the opponents and victims of the nation-state law,” he said.

“The ruling in and of itself does not do a favor to the members of minorities because it is not enough to provide lenient interpretations. Instead, this shameful law has to be removed from the statute books,” Bakri said, and also insisted that Shapiro reached the wrong conclusion on the children’s right to reimbursement.

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said Shapiro’s approach to what he viewed as a misinterpretation of the nation-state law does not make the law legitimate. “This basic law enshrines a regime of Jewish supremacy … and is fundamentally unacceptable. The law establishes as a constitutional principle that the definition of a community as having a Jewish character is not only acceptable, but also desirable and it encourages the establishment of communities defined as such.”

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