The Attorney General’s Office Stops Knesset Deliberation on the Religious Budget for 2000, Directly Referencing Adalah’s Legal Work


On November 4, 1999, a representative from the Attorney General’s office abruptly stopped the Knesset’s deliberations on the 2000 budget for the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  According to the Attorney General’s office, this sudden and surprising move resulted from the fact that the budget’s unequal allocations once again made it an easy target for a legal challenge before the Supreme Court of Israel.  Specifically, the official pointed out that “an Arab NGO” currently had a petition pending before the Supreme Court involving this budget, a direct reference to Adalah’s work on this issue. 


Adalah’s legal efforts to end the discriminatory allocations of the Ministry of Religious Affairs began in earnest in 1997, when Adalah filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel.  Adalah’s petition emphasized that the Muslim, Christian and Druze communities received only 2% of the total religious budget in 1997 and only 1.86% in 1998, despite the fact that they account for 20% of Israel’s population.  Adalah’s petition asked the Supreme Court to declare four provisions of the Knesset Budget Law (1998) unconstitutional based on the principle of equality.  It argued that Israel’s Muslim, Christian and Druze communities should receive funding proportional to their percentage of the population.  In a decision delivered in December 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that while the budget did constitute prima facie discrimination, the petition had to be dismissed because it failed to provide sufficient information for an examination of the religious needs of each particular community.”  In addition, the Court ruled that it was unable to declare four articles of the Budget Law (1998) unconstitutional, as this would require the Court to assume legislative power. 


Following this decision, Adalah filed a new petition in February 1999 specifically targeting funding for religious cemeteries.  This petition attempts to narrow the scope of Adalah’s legal challenge to the budget for the Ministry for Religious Affairs.  Each year, a portion of Israel’s religious budget is allocated for the upkeep and development of the state’s Jewish cemeteries.  No similar funding exists for Muslim or Christian cemeteries.  Adalah’s petition asked the Court to either declare unconstitutional the articles of the 1999 Budget Law which allocate funding for Jewish cemeteries exclusively, or to provide equal funding for Muslim and Christian cemeteries.  It also asked the Court to compel the Ministry of Religious Affairs to set clear and non-discriminatory criteria for the distribution of resources to all cemeteries.  At a hearing in April 1999, the Court issued an order nisi requiring the Ministry to respond to Adalah’s arguments within 30 days.  The case is still pending before the Court.