Education Ministry must end discrimination against Arab "returning resident" students taking high school matriculation exams

Adalah: Ministry directive accommodates students speaking Hebrew, other foreign languages while excluding Arabic-speaking students.

On 22 May, 2016, Adalah sent a letter to the Education Ministry demanding that Arab students who are also considered "returning residents" to Israel be permitted to take their high school matriculation exams in Arabic. The letter, written by Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher on behalf of two Arab high school students from the north of Israel, also demanded that the Education Ministry accommodate Arab students facing linguistic difficulties upon their return to Israel after extended periods of time abroad.


According to the Education Ministry directive, students who have studied four or more years overseas and face linguistic challenges are entitled to significant benefits when taking the matriculation exam that varies according to the student's age and the number of years spent out of the country. These benefits include: lenience of spelling errors, permission to use a dictionary, verbal dictation of exam questions, as well as an added 10 – 15 points to their final exam results.


However, the ministry directive indicates these benefits are de facto granted only to students who take the matriculation exam in Hebrew.


Attorney Zaher wrote in her letter that, "the directive benefits Hebrew-speaking students and those who speak other foreign languages while excluding Arabic-speaking students and failing to take their needs into account. This is so despite the fact they are members of a national minority and Arabic is an official language in Israel. This disregard and exclusion harms the dignity of Arab students who are eligible for benefits in the matriculation exams as are students from any other national group, and who face the same difficulties, albeit in their Arabic mother tongue."


According to the directive, Arab "returning resident" students will not receive the same benefits and considerations in the matriculation exam granted to Israeli Jewish students tested in Hebrew, and the Arab students' test scores are thus likely to be lower than their Israeli Jewish counterparts.


Additionally, Adalah wrote that the ministry directive violates the Student Rights Law as well as a Supreme Court ruling: "Discrimination resulting from a ministry directive is contradictory to Section 5 of the Student Rights Law barring discrimination in educational institutions, the purpose of which is to determine principles that safeguard the rights of the student in the spirit of human dignity, and according to the principles of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is also a violation of a [SCT] ruling that determines that discrimination on the basis of nationality is both unacceptable and illegal."


The two students represented by Adalah are the children of Saher and Ihab Farah – George, who was born in 1999, and Samma, who was born in 2003 – residents of the village of Yassif in the northern Galilee region of Israel. Between the years 2006 and 2013, the family lived in the United States while Mr. Farah studied for a doctoral degree in commercial law. In 2013, with their return to Israel after more than five years overseas, all family members were recognized as "returning residents." "It's not enough that the children need to deal with two languages that are new to them," Ihab Farah said, "but they are also being told that they will be tested in Hebrew, which is not their mother tongue. This is too much."


Read: The Letter (Hebrew)