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2011 Justice Prize

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

Founded in Jerusalem in 1972 to combat human rights infringements following the Six-Day War, ACRI today faces a changing political climate in its advocacy efforts involving the whole range of human rights. According to ACRI chief legal counsel Dan Yakir, the atmosphere has worsened in the last two years with the passage of several anti-liberty laws and the current Knesset’s being much less likely to respond to attacks on human rights by right-wing politicians and attacks challenging the patriotism of NGOs and human rights organizations. ACRI has petitioned against a law legitimizing applicants to live in kibbutzim in settlements within Israel, an offshoot of the Ka'adan ruling in 2000. It has also petitioned against the Nakba law, which allows the minister of finance to sanction and fine any state-funded institution that commemorates Israel Independence Day as a day of mourning. The organization seeks to ensure that the Interior Ministry enforces its policies and practices regarding citizenship and residency in a non-discriminatory manner. Mr. Yakir observes a rise in racial incidents against Israeli Arabs, including the yelling of racial slogans at football games, with the fear of potential security risks having an influence on public reaction. He also sees racial profiling in airports as increasingly problematic, with many Arab citizens forced to undergo humiliating searches when they travel abroad.

The treatment of Israeli Arabs, Mr. Yakir says, has become entangled with the prolonged difficulties stemming from the Palestinian situation in the West Bank and Gaza and, unless a political agreement can be reached with the Palestinians, significant improvements will not be achieved. ACRI has been very active in defending the rights of demonstrators in the face of efforts by police to restrict those demonstrations. ACRI has also challenged restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank. In 2009, Israel's Supreme Court accepted a petition submitted by ACRI in 2007 against the military order forbidding Palestinian movement along the route connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem via the West Bank.

In the area of social and economic rights, ACRI focuses primarily on access to health services, the right to adequate housing, migrant workers’ rights and the right to education. In 2001 ACRI won a decision in which the Supreme Court articulated the need to implement affirmative action to ensure the presence of Arab citizens on official decision-making bodies. And, in 2010, following an ACRI petition, the Beer Sheba District Court ordered the Ministry of Education and the Yeruham Local Council to establish a kindergarten in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Rahme in recognition of the right to education of the village children. In the area of criminal justice, ACRI and Physicians for Human Rights successfully petitioned the Supreme Court in 2007 to prohibit the practice of forcing prisoners to sleep on the floor and to ensure that every prisoner and detainee be provided with a bed.

ACRI is also actively involved in defending the right of privacy and advocating for women’s rights and LGBT rights, and has played an important role in achieving significant reforms in these areas. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the Ministry of Interior must register same-sex marriages contracted by its citizens abroad. Gay marriages, as well as any civil marriage, cannot be performed in Israel for religious reasons, but the minister of interior was ordered by the Court to recognize those entered into in foreign jurisdictions that allow them, such as Canada. ACRI has challenged a law denying citizenship status in Israel to Palestinian spouses of Israelis. The first petition was dismissed in a 6-5 decision in 2006 and the law was extended. A second petition should be decided in the summer of 2011. In 2000, ACRI succeeded in its petition to the Supreme Court for recognition, for the first time, of the legal adoption in a foreign jurisdiction of a child by his biological mother’s lesbian partner. In 2005, ACRI was successful in ensuring the granting of pension rights by the National Insurance Institute to surviving same-sex partners. In all areas, ACRI’s work has helped to raise awareness and stimulate public debate, promoting its message through public campaigns and events, a public hotline, and advocacy before decision-makers. The organization is nonpartisan, defending the rights of those on both sides of the political spectrum.