High Court of Justice: Heritage Ministry is for Jewish Heritage Only

Emek Shaveh: High Court Decision is a Slippery Slope

The Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage claimed that it is responsible for the preservation of Zionist heritage exclusively.  Emek Shaveh and The Arab Culture Association petitioned the High Court of Justice arguing that the Ministry is meant to preserve the heritage of the entire country * The High Court of Justice accepted the government’s position ruling that the State is entitled to delineate the boundaries of each ministry’s jurisdiction even if these are defined by religious or national criteria.

One year ago, Arab historians petitioned the High Court of Justice together with Emek Shaveh and The Arab Culture Association in response to a call for proposals published by the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage which used discriminatory criteria to determine which sites would be eligible for consideration for funding. A previous call for proposals for 2016-2020 had allocated a total of about 400 million ILS to which hundreds of millions of ILS were added through matching.

After the call for 2021-2026 was published, Emek Shaveh wrote to the Ministry requesting to change the criteria.  The Ministry’s general counsel responded that “the Ministry was established with the objective of preserving the national and Zionist heritage of the country” and that it does not deal with heritage sites or history which is not Jewish.  The petition was filed in the wake of this response.

The High Court heard the petition and accepted the State’s position based on the fact that in the government’s decision to establish the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage in 2015 had stipulated that the Ministry will “highlight the national heritage of the people of Israel in its land”.  Additionally, the Court determined that the State is entitled to delineate the boundaries of a ministry’s area of jurisdiction even if these are determined by religion or national identity.

The significance of this decision is that if to date the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption was the only government ministry that served Jews exclusively, there are now two ministries that publicly declare that they render services only to Jews.  Should this trend continue, the government could, by decision, establish additional ministries for Jews only.  The Court accepted the explanation given by the State Attorney’s office according to which other government ministries invest in heritage sites and, therefore, one cannot make the case for inequality on this issue. The State Attorney’s assertion that the State invests in non-Jewish heritage sites was largely  baseless and included examples which have no bearing on heritage sites

Emek Shaveh’s response:  The decision by the High Court of Justice is a slippery slope with ramifications far beyond heritage sites. According to the logic of the High Court of Justice’s decision, the government may establish new ministries or change the mission of existing ministries so as to serve Jews only.

For example, the State may establish a ministry to strengthen the values of community through which it could allocate funding for programs for the inculcation of Jewish identity.  In such a scenario, the State could argue that the decision does not detrimentally impact non-Jewish youth because these receive their education in accordance with their cultural and religious identity and that it conforms with the High Court’s position.

With respect to the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the High Court decision will seal the fate of hundreds of sites and monuments that embody the multicultural story of this land that stand abandoned and neglected with no ministry appointed to protect them. There are already hundreds of sites that are in a serious state of disrepair and in need of ongoing preservation and maintenance. If the State of Israel does not act, they will soon disappear from the landscape forever.

We all have the right to learn about the rich history of this country and the peoples who have lived here over time. The neglect of these heritage sites does harm to the country and to all its residents.