Government offices will have to implement affirmative action for recent immigrants and the ultra-Orthodox in their hiring practices if a bill authorized Tuesday for a first reading in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee becomes law.
The amendment to the Civil Service Law, proposed by United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev, originally only required “appropriate representation” for haredim in the civil service and on the boards of government companies, but new immigrants were added at Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin’s insistence.
Currently, the law requires the representation of women, Arabs, Druse, Circassians, disabled people and people who have at least one parent born in Ethiopia.
Elkin called the addition a “historic victory,” saying new immigrants are underrepresented in the civil service.
“For over a decade, many MKs tried to pass laws in this matter and were blocked over and over again by government bureaucracy,” he stated.
“Immigrants now have affirmative action like other minorities. The moment this law passes, doors will be opened to new immigrants and allow them to integrate in the civil service and the boards of government companies.”
Representatives of the Government Companies Authority and the Civil Service Authority said at the committee meeting that adding more criteria for choosing board members or hiring workers creates too many difficulties.
Gafni responded that the GCA is “racist” because not one of the 500 board members is haredi.
“I suggest that you erase the requirement to hire women and Arabs so there is less bureaucracy. When I hear your arguments, I feel like it’s Purim all year long,” Gafni remarked.
An Immigration Absorption Ministry representative pointed out that new immigrants have to start their lives over and have trouble passing the tests to join the civil service, as they are different from others around the world.
The Knesset Research and Information Center found that in June 2014, 11,599 immigrants were employed by the state, making up 16 percent of civil servants. The rate of immigrants not from Ethiopia who are employed in the Civil Service is 14.7%, whereas their percentage of the population is 12%.
The research also found that health services is the most popular area of government employment for immigrants, and more may be on the way, after the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved the final regulations to exempt immigrant dentists with at least five years of experience abroad from taking certification exams after making aliya.
The exemption includes written and practical exams. Immigrant dentists who already failed the tests will only have to repeat the practical exam.
The regulations follow a law passed in January to exempt experienced dentists from exams, and provide the details of the exemption.
Committee chairman Eli Alalouf said the measure will bring home Jews and Israelis who learned abroad, and will benefit Israelis’ health.
Elkin said “there is no logical reason that a dentist that learned in the best schools in France or in the US, and worked and gained experienced, will have to go through exhausting and difficult bureaucracy in order to be licensed to work.
“I have no doubt that the move, for which we fought for years, will allow many Jewish dentists in the world to decide to make aliya,” Elkin added, vowing to fight bureaucracy that makes immigration difficult.
Health Ministry Deputy Director- General Arnon Afek said the bill creates “a great opportunity to promote the world of medicine in Israel, achieve excellence and absorb immigrants. For years, the Health Ministry was conservative and uncompromising, but the time has come to find a solution.”
Nearly 16,000 doctors moved to Israel in the last three years and, like most immigrants, they face language barriers, which make it very difficult for them to pass certification tests that are available only in Hebrew.
As a result, 68 percent of immigrant doctors do not pass the test the first time. Until this year, there was no legal way to exempt any dentists who make aliya from the exam, which even dentists with decades of experience often fail.
In recent months, the problem gained attention via immigrants from France – the country with the highest aliya rate in the past two years, with 7,900 immigrating in 2015.
After making aliya and failing the practical exam twice, Dr. David Tibi, a successful dentist and expert in transplants with 25 years of experience wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which went viral, calling for his certification to be recognized or he will have to move back to France to make a living.
Tibi attended the meeting, and vowed that the level of dentistry in France is very high and that Israeli dentists often go to France to take courses.
Doron Dinai, representing the Dentists’ Union, argued that most immigrant dentists come from third-world countries.
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said the law will make things difficult for dentists and dentistry students already living in Israel.
“I will fight to make sure there are equal benefits for Israeli students who study here,” he stated.