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Balad Party Chairman, Azmi Bishara attacked the government's decision Sunday to implement affirmative action guidelines for government hiring, saying the plan "borders on racism."
"There is a law in the Knesset under my name that stipulates the government's obligation to appoint Arabs and to assure proper representation of Arab citizens in the public services sphere. This is an existing law that the government must implement, and the government's decision today calls for much less than the law already calls for, said Bishara.
The cabinet's move was designed to improve the position of Arabs and other minority groups in Israel.
MK Ahmad Tibi from the UAL-Ta'al joint list, responded to the governments decision, saying, "This is a mockery ahead of the elections, that won't close the huge gap between the Arab and Jewish sectors.
"We need to make a fundamental change in the government's policy towards Arab citizens, and not merely make cosmetic decisions," said Tibi.
The ministers decided to reserve 37.5 government positions per year for the next three years for Arab, Druse, and Circassian applicants, and said that it would do its best to hire "only qualified candidates."
In addition, any government office that hires an Arab to fill a vacant position would receive funds to hire an additional minority employee.
Kadima MK Ze'ev Boim called the decision a chance to "right wrongs that have been committed."
The cabinet also determined that 10 percent of legal internships in the state prosecutor's office would be reserved for Arab, Ethiopian, and disabled law school graduates.
Avraham Nagosa, head of the One Future Party, which is the new Ethiopian party running for Knesset, harshly criticized the government's decision.
According to Nagosa, the Ethiopian community has been in Israel for over 30 years and only now the state was remembering discrimination - just ahead of elections.
"It is very grave that the state chose to include the members of the Ethiopian community together with the Arab sector and other minorities, and didn't internalize that Ethiopians are Jews and Israelis with equal rights," said Nagosa.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Muslim population in Israel stands at 1.142 million, or 16 percent of the overall population.
Arabs, including Druse, make up 20% of the population. However, even as their numbers rise, their representation in government positions does not reflect it - despite government resolutions for affirmative action.
In May 2000, the Knesset passed a law promising fair representation of the Arab population on the boards of directors of government companies. But by 2003, that law was far from being implemented.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as head of the Ministerial Committee on Arab Affairs, tried to push it further that year by passing a 2003 cabinet decision which stated that by August 2004 there must be at least one Arab member on each of the 105 boards of directors. He added that until a corporation had at least one Arab it could not appoint a Jew.
At the time of that decision there were 38 Arabs holding such seats. But by November 2005, only 50 of the 551 directorate seats were filled by Arabs.
'The government is not implementing the laws of the Knesset, nor is it implementing the decisions it made itself,' said Ali Haider, co-executive director of Sikkuy, an organization working for equality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.
'This indicates a real lack of desire to change the reality of discrimination in regard to Arab citizens,' said Haider.
Also in 2000, the Knesset passed a law that required fair representation of Arab citizens of Israel in the civil service. That, too, was not implemented. According to a report published in 2005 by the Civil Service Commission, 3,154 - or 5.5% - of all government employees (some 56,000 workers) are Arabs.
'There are thousands of talented Arabs with many university degrees who are interested in joining the civil service,' said Haider.
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