Photo CC by gnuckx
Below is a letter sent by ACRI and Adalah on 12 May 2011 to individuals who are likely to suffer harm from the newly enacted “Nakba Law” – such as heads of public and cultural institutions, local councils in mixed cities, teachers and various organizations.
A few weeks ago, Amendment 40 of the Budget Principles Law came into effect in Israel. More popularly known as the “Nakba Law,” the amendment calls for the “reduction of state budgets or support for activities that stand in opposition to the principles of the State.” According to the amendment, the Minister of Finance can employ various grounds to impose monetary sanctions on any organization or body receiving funding or support from the state. Among the actionable grounds are if the body “makes an expense which, in essence [...] marks Israel Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the State as a day of mourning.”
Today, academic bodies, educational and cultural institutions, local councils, and other entities supported by the government find themselves considering whether or not to include any reference to the Nakba in their events, as even mentioning its occurrence could possibly expose them to reduced budgetary support under the provisions of the “Nakba Law.” These doubts are likely to lead to self-censorship, causing damage to freedom of speech and to the shrinking of democratic discourse in Israel. Known as the “chilling effect,” this phenomenon has already begun to take effect with the enactment of the law, even before a mechanism for enforcing the law has been established.
It is not for us to try and imagine the quandary of a University Department Head deliberating whether or not to hold a particular academic conference, or to put ourselves in the place of the Programming Director at a cultural institution debating whether or not to produce a cultural event. We can not presume to replace the careful consideration of a Local Council Head considering whether or not to fund a particular activity, or the discretion of a school principal in deciding whether to stage a particular play or host a particular author.
However, we at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and at Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, do feel it is our obligation to bring to your attention our position concerning the “Nakba Law.” It is our hope that in the context of all the relevant considerations that decision makers will need to weigh, you will also be aware of our current work on this matter.
It is our opinion that the law in question represents a gross and outrageous violation of the right to equality in Israel, as well as the right to freedom of political expression and artistic expression; that the law significantly harms personal dignity and collective group dignity as well as other constitutional rights. It sets a new record in the restriction of basic civil liberties, utilizing unprecedented grounds as its justification. Throughout the legislative process we repeatedly expressed this position, which received broad support from many groups, but to our deep dismay the Knesset ultimately chose to pass this amendment into law, albeit with a different version from that which was originally proposed. It is impossible to view the law in isolation from its context – a rising tide of anti-democratic legislation introduced in the Knesset often aimed at harming the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens.
ACRI and Adalah jointly petitioned the High Court on behalf of groups and individuals who are likely to suffer harm from the “Nakba Law,” and demanded its abolition. Reports and updates about the petition will appear on the websites of both Adalah and ACRI.
If you have any questions regarding the “Nakba Law” or this letter, we would be glad to answer them. It is our hope that this letter, together with our organizations’ ongoing work and the joint petition, will serve the defense of equality, freedom of speech, and individual and collective rights of every citizen and each and every community in Israel. These rights are neither theoretical, nor may they be taken for granted. Their true test is in the daily decisions we make: Whether or not we demand the protection and realization of these rights, especially in light of the threats they currently face from the governing authorities.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel