Coalition chairman Yariv Levin’s proposal to legally differentiate between Christian and Muslim Arabs passed its second and third readings in the Knesset Labor, Health, and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.
Levin’s proposals would identify Christians as a minority group separate from Arabs, most of whom are Muslim, and give them their own, unique representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in Employment Commission.
The bill calls for more representatives on the commission for Christians, Druse and Circassians, as well as for haredim, new immigrants, reserve soldiers, senior citizens, and women.
Committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud Beytenu) commended the bill and moved to advance it to the Knesset as soon as possible.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej told the hearing, “This sectarian division only deepens inequalities in employment opportunities.
Divide-and-rule in the labor market is unacceptable and not appropriate.”
Aya Ben-Amos, the director of public policy and communications for The Abraham Fund, told the The Jerusalem Post that the bill is the first time in formal legislation that Christian and Muslim Arabs would be separated, as under the proposal Christian Arabs are no longer identified as Arabs.
She said that people discriminate against Arabs in the job market based on their name or accent, not because they are Christians or Muslims.
“I don’t think that the change in reality should be that employers differentiate between Christians and Muslims and prefer one over the other, but rather that it should be change toward nondiscrimination toward all Arabs,” said Ben-Amos.
“The motivation is about preferring Arab Christians over Muslims,” she said, adding that trying to isolate Muslim Arabs would lead to more discrimination.
“We believe that the government should immediately desist from a policy of divide and rule toward the Arab minority in Israel and from the attempt to create divisions between groups within the minority in order to dismantle its collective identity,” said The Abraham Fund in a letter to the Knesset committee.
“Profound issues regarding the relations between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel cannot be solved by means of the legislative definition of identity categories convenient for the majority,” it said.
MK Levin responded to critics, telling the Post: “I don’t try to change the reality; the reality is there. There is a big difference between Christians and Muslims, and they deserve recognition and separate representation.”
He said that he heard the same kinds of arguments in the last Knesset, when he promoted separate representation for the Druse.
“They do not see themselves as Arabs. They say, ‘We are not Arabs – we are separate.’ “For 60 years the state treated all minorities as one homogeneous group, and it was a mistake.
“Look at Lebanon, there is no Levin there, and their law stipulates that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite, and the prime minister a Sunni.
“In Israel, suddenly there is no difference between Arabs and everything is perfect,” he added.
“In Nazareth many Christians are not treated well by Muslims, and many of them want to serve in the army and be an integral part of building the country. Christians see that this is the most secure place in the region for them, and they want to work together to stop extremist Muslims,” Levin said.
Asked about Christians who vote for Arab political parties, he responded that in the Middle East there has always been a tendency for them to support communism or Pan-Arabism in order to downplay their religious identity.
However, these ideologies were not able to overcome real divisions in the Arab world, he explained.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.