MKs decry the fact that Arabs are rarely found in civil service positions

Tempers flared and patience wore thin at the first-ever meeting of the Parliamentary Investigative Committee into the Integration of Arab Workers in the Public Service, as Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander presented, together with members of his staff, annual data on Arab and Druse workers in the public sector. In an opening session packed with representatives of minority communities and drawing the attention of MKs reaching across the political spectrum from Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) to committee chairman Ahmed Tibi (UAL) and Dov Henin (Hadash), Hollander was called upon to explain the disproportionately low number of Arab and Druse workers employed in government service. Tibi drew attention to some of the most extreme cases - such as the Bank of Israel, where none of the 870 employees represent the Arab, Druse or Circassian sectors. "There was one temporary Arab worker, but he, too, seems to be gone," Tibi said. The Electric Authority (not the Israel Electric Company) employs one Arab worker. Although non-Jewish minorities constitute around 20 percent of Israel's population, only 4.8% of Justice Ministry employees are Arabs. One of the most integrated ministries, the Health Ministry, is comprised of 8% minority employees. Most of those workers are employed in the North, where there is a high concentration of minority groups. This, said Civil Service Commission representatives, further emphasizes one of what they said were the major factors preventing more effective integration - that Arab and minority populations are concentrated in the periphery, whereas most civil service jobs are available in the center of the country. Yankele Berger, assistant civil service commissioner, said that this fact, along with minorities' frequent lack of employment experience, lack of variation in academic pursuits, difficulty in passing qualification tests, concerns that they will be rejected for employment, long security checks and feelings that the selection processes are "rigged" constituted the main factors preventing better integration. But MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) took issue with those conclusions, complaining that the findings had not been gathered through scientific methods, but rather, as Berger explained, through the anecdotal experience of the civil service commission. Hollander's team emphasized over and over that in terms of its rules, the commission did not spare any effort in its attempts to increase the number of minorities employed by the state. "We worked and accomplished a lot even before this issue became grounded in law, and more can be done," said Hollander. "The government established a target [for minorities employed in the civil service] and we will do everything in order to meet it." But Hollander's office was not the only government authority to face criticism. In future sessions, the committee is expected to call on heads of a number other government ministries and authorities to testify. The question of hiring teachers is slated be discussed at a future meeting, and Justice Ministry officials are also likely to find themselves facing the heat.