If Muslim and Christian holidays became public holidays in Israel

As Israeli Jews, we are remarkably ignorant about the lives, faith and traditions of our fellow citizens.

August 16, 2019 00:57
3 minute read.
If Muslim and Christian holidays became public holidays in Israel

A Christian pilgrim carrying a cross to reenact the way of the cross along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. (photo credit: EITAN SIMANOR)

 During election season, politicians usually seize on every opportunity to speak. On Monday, however, no one spoke when Muslim and Druze communities – more than 17% of the country – celebrated their most important holiday. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his leading contender, MK Benny Gantz, did not even bother to make a statement on the occasion of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).

An angry reaction came from the mayor of the popular Druze town Daliat el Carmel, Rafik Halabi, who pledged on Twitter that he would no longer wish happy holidays to anyone but to the five Jews who remembered to write to him for the Eid.
It might seem petty, but coming from a minority that does everything in its power to integrate into the Israeli Army and the labor market, and still suffers from systemic disadvantages, it’s understandable. Wishing happy holidays is the absolute minimum good neighbors can do to one another.

Nevertheless, the silence doesn’t come as a surprise. As Israeli Jews, we are remarkably ignorant about the lives, faith and traditions of our fellow citizens. We hardly learn Arabic in school and we mostly hear our leaders speak about Islam in the context of our conflict with the Palestinians or Iran.

In the past year, I have lived in two African countries. The Israeli embassies do a lot to support Kenya and Senegal, but I found many things we can learn from the Kenyans and Senegalese, too. 

Making minorities feel part of the country is one of them. Though Kenya is a Christian-majority country (85%), both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are public holidays there. In Senegal, a Muslim-majority country (95%), Christmas, Easter Monday and Ascension Day are all public holidays.

This offers President Uhuru Kenyatta the opportunity to visit a mosque and join the iftar meal and prayers, and for President Macky Sall to post Merry Christmas wishes on his Facebook page. 

It also offers an opportunity for schoolchildren to ask their teachers why are they going on holiday and learn the myths that guide their fellow students in life. 

IN THE same spirit, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr official days off for the city’s one million schoolchildren, adding to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in an effort to “respect the diversity” of the city.

Public holidays are an opportunity for society at large to share some of the joys of their communities – their stories, their cuisine, their songs and more. It is a good alternative to common ignorance about minorities and the hostility toward them which it often breeds.

Why not make Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr public holidays for everyone in Israel, too? It can benefit majority-minority relations, as well as address some of the issues of the Israeli labor market. 

In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published its Employment Outlook, where Israel’s average of 1,910 annual hours worked ranks higher than most other countries (including leading economies such as the US, Japan, the UK, France and Germany, with only 1,363 hours worked annually on average).

While Israelis lead in working hours, they are far behind in the charts of paid vacations and paid holidays. Israeli law allows 12 paid leave days and nine-11 days off for public holidays, depending on one’s religion and so long as they don’t fall on a Friday or Saturday. According to the OECD, Israelis are only better off than the United States, Japan, Mexico and Canada, but trail behind 31 other developed countries. 

American employees get paid leave only through their employers, instead of being guaranteed by law. That’s why in practice they often don’t use them, explaining they are afraid of accumulating workloads or making their boss upset. Even worse trends in Japan brought its government last April to set a five-day mandatory paid leave. 

Ultimately, a light sunburn on the beach is deemed far better than getting a severe burnout at work. Days off allow workers to relax, develop hobbies and spend quality time with their families. They also support the development of sectors like local tourism.

In summary, making the four key Christian and Muslim holidays public holidays for the general population would help address two of Israel’s socio-economic problems: fostering better neighborly relations between its majority and minorities, and giving a longer break to Israeli workers.

The writer lives and works in Senegal, where he is writing his PhD in sociology.

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