Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke out on Tuesday against a bill proposed by Israel Beiteinu MKs that would give preference in the civil service-hiring process to those who served in the IDF or National Service.

Speaking at a conference called by the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on the Integration of Arab Employees in the Public Sector, Rivlin said that “turning the civil service into a political weapon will undermine it.”

“Those who finish army and national service can be rewarded with housing, scholarships and grants – but they should not receive benefits that harm other populations and the civil service,” Rivlin said. “The civil service should represent all the groups that make up Israeli society, even if the state exempted them from serving in the army.”

Rivlin said that legislation is not enough, and the norms of Israeli society need to be changed for Arabs to have proportional representation in the civil service.

“There is silence in the public discourse on this matter,” Rivlin added, saying that, in his opinion, there should be more debate on affirmative action for minorities.

Rivlin also said that he is personally committed to hiring more Israeli-Arabs, and their ranks on the Knesset’s staff swelled by 25 percent during his time as speaker.

A number of MKs spoke out against Rivlin’s statements later Tuesday, with MK Yariv Levine (Likud) saying that Rivlin is “ignoring the moral necessity to ensure that whoever contributes to the state will get the rights he or she deserves.”

“Affirmative action and the idea of absolute equality have gone bankrupt,” Levine added. “Giving preference to the Arab population, which does not contribute to the state, while neglecting those that give their best years – and even sacrifice their lives without being paid – is a major injustice.”

Speaking in the plenum on Tuesday afternoon, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), one of those who introduced the bill, said: “In Israel Beiteinu, we think that it is not enough to give money. When there are two candidates for a civil-service job, the one that served the country should be preferred.”

Rotem also pointed out that there is no law that exempts haredim and Arabs from IDF service.

In response, Rivlin said that growing up, “my biggest dream was to serve the country and defend my home.”

Serving in the IDF “is a privilege that does not require an additional reward,” Rivlin added. “How did we manage to build a state without all these benefits for soldiers?”

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), chairman of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on the Integration of Arab Employees in the Public Sector, said in response to Rotem that “Israel Beiteinu is so constipated that they’re beginning to have diarrhea of the mouth.”

Earlier, during the committee’s conference, Tibi said the proposed bill is “meant to block Arabs from the civil service,” and that it will harm “Christians, Muslims, Druse women and haredim.”

Tibi explained that only 7% of civil-service employees are Arabs, a fact that he called “embarrassing” in light of the fact that 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs.

In order to reach the government’s goal of 10% Arab employees by the end of 2012, the state will have to hire 1,300 more, according to Tibi.

“There are no Arabs at the top ranks of government offices – no director-generals, deputies or legal advisers,” Tibi said. “In a democracy, minorities that need affirmative action should be defended. Here, the government promotes the stronger population at minorities’ expense.”

Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin advocated affirmative action in both the committee meeting and the plenum.

“Weaker groups in society should get preference,” he said.

Begin added that that the proposed bill is unlikely to pass.

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