Thursday, November 19, 2009

Discrimination against Arabs, Ethiopians and Haredis in Israel

Ynet and the JPost report on an upsetting study that demonstrates that even when highly educated and well qualified, Arabs, Haredi (orthodox) Jews and Ethiopians (in order of the most difficult to the least difficult challenges faced) have a very difficult time finding jobs in Israel. The report's findings demonstrate that banks, law firms and media are amongst some of the sectors where this discrimination is occurring.

The study was conducted by professors working at Ono College who presented their findings on November 10, 2009.

Certainly, deeply entrenched societal racism and prejudices are major factors in this discrepancy. It may be possible to imagine how the political climate sees Arabs ranked as the most discriminated against, there is no excuse for this type of prejudice. In one of the more revealing comments made to the researchers an advertising agency employee said (as reported in Ynet): "The haredi, Arab and Ethiopian needs many more things in order to be like a normal Ashkenazi." It's difficult to imagine how anyone can interpret this as a reasonable, liberal (as opposed to racist) view. What this respondent was saying was that everyone should just be mainstream, just like the majority and that this majority is itself incapable of tolerating or understanding why minorities would want to be different.

Another quote highlighting just how marginalized some of these groups have become and how unwilling the majority is to accept those who continue to make Israel a diverse country appears in the JPost: "There is a real concern about the awkwardness of shaking hands with a haredi Jew, telling army stories in front of an Arab and the 'coarse' Israeli mentality in front of the Ethiopian." If these groups were better integrated into society perhaps Israelis would learn that a diverse society must adapt to include minorities and weave them into the fabric of what the whole society is. Otherwise, what is being demanded is assimilation and a refusal to recognize real differences.

Aside from racism, another, and perhaps even larger, obstacle to the unemployed is that Israeli society has firmly entrenched networks of personal and family connections that many Israelis rely on to find work. While there's nothing wrong with a cultural practice of relying heavily on personal networks to help find work, it becomes problematic when qualified individuals from outside these networks cannot break into the system. If one needs a contact to secure a job, and these contacts may be based on anything from having served in the army together or grown up in the same neighborhood, and Arabs and Haredim rarely serve in the army while Ethiopians do, but may live in different neighborhoods, how can these groups expect to break into the job market without their own contacts. They key for these communities is to have their own champions, their own visible communities inside industry which can help see other members of the same group promoted.

The author of the study, speaking at a conference contradicted the optimistic works of the Minister of the Treasury, Dr. Yuval Steinitz, with the ominous warning that things were deteriorating, not improving, and that without major attitude shifts, things may go very awry. There may already be signs of this taking place. For example, recent Haredi riots in parts of Jerusalem and repeated complaints by Israeli Arabs of discriminatory treatment as well as sympathetic attitudes towards the last intifada are important warnings of what can happen should Israel fail to bring these disadvantaged groups into the mainstream and allow their communities to be full members of Israeli society.


Sara said...

This is amongst the most troubling phenomena occuring in Israel today, coming from a society who survived a despicable racism in Europe and now are imposing a similar segregation to the groups mentioned. As Israel and the Jewish people have been continuously sectioned off, Jews refused from certain schools and professions in the not so distant past, civil rights denied, targeted for religious practice and racial divide, how is it that they can turn around and refuse to acknowledge and accept Israeli citizens into the society, to create an atmosphere of equity? It dismays me immensely. What is this arrogance that leaves the ashkenaz feeling so haughty? I am an ashkenaz Jew myself, born and reside in Canada, yet my ethics don't allow me to pursue this attitude, nor my loyalty to equality to segregate people based on ethnic origin.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...


Thanks for your comment and welcome to the site. I hope to see you around here more!

I agree with you, this is a disgusting practice and it's racism. While there are other, perhaps non-racist, considerations at play, it's hard to escape the ugly reality just below the surface.

I think that what we're seeing in Israel is really no different that what we see in many multicultural societies with multiple minorities. African-Americans are still not treated as equals in the US and even here in Canada First Nations and other minority groups face discrimination. Africans have a tough go of things in Europe and even whites claim discrimination in parts of Africa.

My point is not to excuse any of this, it's just to point out that it's not a uniquely Israeli thing. I don't think it's fair to hold Ashkenazi Jews to a higher standard in Israel because their ancestors were persecuted in Europe. Certainly, this is something that one would think would make Ashkenazis more sensitive, but Ashkenazis have become the majority in Israel and act as the majority in every other multicultural society does.

Certainly, nobody ever claimed Israel was a perfect society and this is one of its uglier elements. Just as in other parts of the world, equal rights can take a long time to come about and require a change of hardened attitudes. These sorts of things don't take place overnight. Lets hope though, that the Israeli case moves along speedily though. This reality is hurting not only the minorities, but the majorities as well.

Batya said...

Actually, compared to the anti-Revisionist and Sefardi (and dati of all stripes) discrimination in the early days/years of the state, there is enormous improvement today. In those days, nobody dared complain.

Lirun said...

i think its a very one-sided approach..

and the reality is much more multi-faceted..

the discrimination between each of these segements - if at all - is much stronger the other way..

arabs who intergrate are berrated by arab society for being "good arabs" ie submissive to jews..

haredi people who "integrate" do so by insisting on separate offices for the women.. who then ignore you in the workplace and avoid any eye contact whatsoever and insist on additional kitchen facilities because you're not pure enough..

and i believe ethiopeans are making enormous strides - as did the yemenites (like my grandads family) a few generations ago..

i see this post as a random attempt to mine the for irony where it does not belong..

i dont like it