Hebrew test for security guards raises charges of discrimination

Israel Beiteinu MK Shemtov: Until now, no one cared as long as they could do the job.

security checks 224.88 (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
security checks 224.88
(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
With an estimated 70% of security guards expected to lose their jobs after failing a newly instated Hebrew language test, MKs cried foul Monday in the Immigration and Absorption Committee, arguing that the new protocols for guards constituted at best discrimination and at worst a cynical attempt to create jobs for native Israelis. Committee Chairwoman MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu) said that she was shocked to hear from a senior Interior Ministry representative that former interior minister Meir Sheetrit did not instruct the ministry - as he had promised - to cancel the demand for security guards to pass Hebrew language exams as a condition for renewing their weapons licenses. The committee gathered to discuss the Interior Ministry's new policy of requiring guards to pass these Hebrew tests. In some cases, MKs said, security guards had worked in the profession for almost 20 years before being told this year that they were not fit to work after failing the test. "Carrying out the current policy is a serious violation of the Law of Equal Employment Opportunities and constitutes serious discrimination in violation of the Basic Law: Freedom of Employment," said Shemtov during the hearing. "Until recently nobody minded, as long as the immigrants were good at their jobs." She blasted the answer given by Yaakov Amit, the head of the Interior Ministry's Firearms Division, who said that he had never received any instructions from Sheetrit to cancel the demand for a language exam. Amit added that the examination had been required "to prevent tragedies." But Tziona Koenig Yair, the attorney who heads up the Equal Opportunity Department at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry said that from her initial impression, it appeared that the Interior Ministry's policy violated equal opportunity laws. Currently, the same test is used to assess both the guards' competency in Hebrew and their understanding of proper security protocol. Koenig Yair emphasized that the test should differentiate between the level of Hebrew necessary to work as a security guard, and the professional knowledge necessary to perform the task. Testing regarding the latter, she argued, could be carried out in the security guards' mother tongue or through oral Hebrew examinations. "There are thousands of security guards in Israel who are older and who understand Hebrew, but cannot pass the written language examination. The decision to require such an examination will result in their immediate firing," said MK Robert Tibayev (Kadima), who was disturbed by allegations that an ulterior motive lay behind the test. Tibayev suggested "grandfathering" current security guards, but requiring language exams - and providing necessary language instruction - to new ones. Ultimately, the committee called upon the Interior Ministry to reconsider the test requirement in the context of the equal opportunities law. Committee members asked the ministry to consider creating tests in other language for guards to take, and regarding Hebrew proficiency, to create a second test that would be "reflective of the relevant and likely demands of the position." In the meantime, the committee called upon the Interior Ministry to delay the further enforcement of the rule "that was unilaterally determined by the ministry without any coordination with the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry." The committee also called on the Prime Minister's Office to allow all immigrants - including those who have lived in Israel for over a decade and are no longer considered "new immigrants" - to take government-sponsored Hebrew improvement courses. Similarly, they called upon the Interior Ministry to cease requiring immigrant guards to pay for their own triennial recertification to the tune of NIS 600 per person.