In 2004, when I qualified as a lawyer in Israel, the judges who administered my oral exam – the last hurdle in the process – focused their questions almost entirely on Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. I was thrilled and pleased.
In the 1980s, I had worked for a variety of human rights group in South Africa. These were the waning, bitter days of apartheid where I witnessed some of the very worst abuses of human rights. When I came to Israel, I worked at the Ministry of Justice, focusing on Israel’s participation in Hague Conventions on the rights of children as well as helping uphold the IDF’s human rights record.
I say this only to highlight that I have seen the worst and the best. We are not perfect, but I have always been proud of this country’s emphasis on human rights and respect for human dignity.
Given this background, I find the vitriol against certain groups of Israeli citizens that is infecting our public discourse of late very disturbing. The discourse is reflected in specific provisions of the Finance Ministry’s proposed Budget Arrangements Law for 2013-2014 that are frankly discriminatory.
Buried in the details of the Budget Arrangements Law is this provision: National Religious and secular schools that teach 100% of the curriculum will receive 100% funding. The Independent Education system of United Torah Judaism and the Shas party’s Maayan Hachinuch educational stream that teach 100% of the core curriculum will be funded at only 75%.
One could argue about the propriety of a government financing anything other than a purely secular education. However, once the government makes a decision to fund even religious schools – providing they teach the core curriculum – then that decision should be applied to all children who meet the criteria, without discrimination.
The provision is contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel ratified in 1991. As a signatory of the Convention, Israel has undertaken to provide for the rights of children “without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”
By choosing to fund National Religious schools that teach 100% of the core curriculum at the same rate as secular schools, but not funding haredi schools that teach 100% of the core curriculum, the government is violating its international legal obligation not to discriminate against children based on their religious practice.
Provisions like these expose our Finance Minister as someone so interested in socially re-engineering one particularly group of society with whom he disagrees that he is willing to discriminate against Israeli children.
So far, the only non-haredi politician to point this out has been Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, who emphasized that while she is not religious in any way and does not share much with the haredim, even she found the anti-haredi ranting in the law distasteful and that it “has nothing to do with economics; it is all electioneering.”
I am a fiscal conservative and I do not share Ms. Yachimovich’s labor ideology, but I do salute her for being the only one thus far to stand up against this assault on children’s rights. If we do not denounce blatant discrimination against Israeli children it will not be long before the civil and human rights of all Israeli citizens who do not toe the majority party line are in danger.
This provision is so openly discriminatory against specific Israeli children that I find it incomprehensible that such a provision should ever find its way into a proposed law. Moreover, few people seem to blink at it.
That alone says much about our present Israeli society and it is shameful.