Under the plan, which began over a year ago, Mifal Hapayis is to award 3,000 scholarships, over a period of three years, or 1,000 per year. As a condition of eligibility for the scholarships, Mifal Hapayis stipulated that a candidate should be a soldier who completed the regular military service term, within the past five years. Other eligibility criteria include financial need and acceptance to a bachelor’s degree program within the past academic year.
Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued, in the first letter sent regarding this matter on 5 October 2006, that the use of the military service criterion in the plan amounts to discrimination against Arab students in relation to Jewish students, solely on the basis of national belonging. Attorney Zaher emphasized that offering such a benefit to discharged soldiers is illegal, as it is not listed in the list of benefits to which discharged soldiers are entitled under the “The Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law – 1994,” which provides them, inter alia, with housing and educational grants.
Mifal Hapayis responded to Adalah’s first letter stating that the condition of military service does not discriminate in a racist manner, since the scholarships are designated for students who have served in military fighting units and their back-up units. Therefore, Jewish students who served in the military but did not serve in these units are also not entitled to scholarships. In addition, Mifal Hapayis stated that in light of the many applications it received which did not meet the criterion in question, the company’s management council decided to appoint a secondary committee to investigate all aspects of these applications.
Responding to Mifal Hapayis, Adalah argued that the issue still concerns criteria which discriminate against Arab students. In addition, the eligibility conditions published on the Mifal Hapayis website clearly state that a person who wishes to apply for a scholarship should be a soldier discharged from regular and comprehensive military service in the Israeli army, the police force, or the Border Police, and not specifically those who served in military fighting units and their back-up units. Adalah also requested information regarding the basis for the authority of the appointed investigatory committee, the date by which it is to give its results to the management council of Mifal Hapayis, and to receive a copy of these results. Mifal Hapayis is a “dual-status” institution under Israeli law, similar to Israeli universities, and functions as a private or public body, depending upon the particular activity it is undertaking.
Significantly, the Haifa District Court recently decided that including military service among the criteria for allocating student accommodation at Haifa University discriminates against Arab students on the basis of national belonging and is illegal.(Lawsuit 217/05, Haneen Na’amneh, et. al. v. Haifa University, decision delivered 21 August 2006).