Racial discrimination rife in Israel’s labor market

Arab citizens paid less; average starting wage for university-trained Ethiopians 27 percent less than native-born Israelis.

Invisible workers 521 (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT / FLASH 90)
Invisible workers 521
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT / FLASH 90)
The gender gap in the US, in which women earn about 20 percent less than men for doing the same job, is well known. But a new study in Israel finds that native-born Israelis enjoy wages significantly higher than Ethiopian immigrants or Arab citizens of Israel. In many cases, the wage gap even widens over time.
The study, conducted by economists at the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion, looked at the average wage of 500,000 Israelis with university degrees. It found that native-born Israelis in “high-paying professions” such as law, engineering and high-tech made 41 percent more during their first year of employment, and 64 percent more after 10 years. In “low-paying professions” such as social work and education, the wage gap was less: 20 percent the first year, decreasing to 15 percent after 10 years.
One surprising finding is that Jews who immigrated from the former Soviet Union (FSU) have almost the same salaries as native-born Israelis, even though they came as immigrants.
“Russian immigrants have a lot of motivation and a lot of ambition,” Erez Siniver, one of the report’s authors, told The Media Line. “They also have a large network they can call on.”
In the 1990s one million immigrants from the FSU, many of them highly educated, came to Israel. They learned Hebrew quickly and have successfully integrated into Israeli society. Ethiopian immigrants, however, have had a much more difficult time. Many of them came from underdeveloped rural areas and did not have access to good education. Today there are about 120,000 Ethiopian immigrants in Israel, many of whom complain of discrimination.
“Every society is characterized by hidden or overt prejudices,” academic and social activist Prof. Yossi Yonah of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Education told The Media Line. “There are racial stereotypes and exclusionary practices in the Israeli job market.”
Yonah, who is also running as a candidate for parliament with the Labor Party in next month’s election, says that the wage gap is harming Israel and its productivity, as well as those who are discriminated against.
The situation is even worse among Arab citizens of Israel. An estimated 40 percent of university graduates are unable to find work in their fields, leaving them either unemployed or overqualified.
“I wasn’t surprised by the results, but rather by the extent of the wage gap,” Siniver said. “We have to make people understand that Arabs and Ethiopians can be promoted.”
He said that discrimination on the basis of gender or ethnicity is illegal – as it is in the US – but is difficult to prove.
The study also found that more than half of native-born Israelis and immigrants from the FSU study to enter the higher paying professions, while just 29 percent of Arab citizens and 27 percent of Ethiopians choose to do so. That choice also affects average wage. The average starting wage for university-trained Ethiopians is $1,430, 27 percent less than native-born Israelis and immigrants from the FSU. After 10 years, the gap grows to 36 percent.
Yonah says it is especially egregious that these gaps exist in Israel, since Jews have often been victims of discrimination.
“We are bogged down with our own perception of being a perennial victim of such practices,” he said. “It is time for us to reckon with it. We are plagued by the same scourge of racism and discrimination, and we must do more not to let it become entrenched in our society.”
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org