More Civil Service Jobs for Arabs

Article in Issue 21, February 2, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. After decades of underrepresentation in the civil service, 2009 may finally see Israel's Arab minority beginning to stand on equal ground. Proposals to facilitate employment of Arabs in government jobs will be laid on the government's table within the coming weeks, Justice Ministry Director General Moshe Shilo tells The Report. Shilo is the chairman of an interministerial committee established according to a November 2007 government decision in order to clear obstacles to Arab employment. The proposals were due to be submitted to the Prime Minister's Office by mid-January, but events in Gaza have delayed the schedule, Shilo explains, adding that he still hopes the proposal would be tabled prior to the elections so that a binding government decision could be passed before any changing of the guard. "Among the steps we are talking about are the allocation of a significant number of posts for Arabs, rent allocations for Arabs from the North so that they can work in government offices in Jerusalem, employing human resources companies to locate Arab candidates for the civil service, and monitoring government ministries to make sure they are implementing any decision taken … Directors general of ministries who fail to meet targets will have to give explanations," Shilo says. "This is not only a declaration of intent, but a plan for practical steps, backed up by budgets, that will be binding not only now, but also after the elections. That is the importance of a government decision," he adds. While Arabs make up some 20 percent of the total population of Israel, the number of Arabs employed in the civil service hovers around the 6 percent mark, according to Yasser Awad, director of fair representation and employment equity at Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel. The number of Arab women employed in the civil service is even lower, just 3.1 percent, he says. And even these figures are misleadingly positive, Awad contends, since Arabs are severely underrepresented at senior levels in the civil service and in government companies, where a mere 250 Arabs are employed, out of a total of 67,000. Shilo and the Justice Ministry are not waiting for government decisions and legislation on the matter. Shilo says that he believes the Justice Ministry should be the government address on the issue of equal rights and it must lead the way on Arab representation in the civil service - a sentiment that has also been expressed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. In its new legal-aid unit in Nazareth, 50 percent of the staff recently hired by the ministry is Arab and the ministry has also increased the number of Arab law interns to 10 percent of all interns taken on by the ministry. Legislation promoting equality for Arabs in the civil service is not new. The problem, Awad says, is that there has always been a gap between the target goals for the numbers of Arabs hired and the numbers of people who were actually hired. In the past, plans have achieved 35 percent or less of their target numbers. In addition to the interministerial committee headed by Shilo, a parliamentary committee on the issue of Arab employment in the civil service was established in March 2008. Awad hopes that the parliamentary committee will help address the gap between legislation and facts on the ground. He explains that what has hampered legislation in the past is an absence of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. "What the parliamentary committee has done," Awad says, "is to spell out the facts and set out working plans on how to achieve the government's target - that 8 percent of all civil service jobs be manned by Arabs in 2010 and 10 percent by 2012." Deputy speaker of the Knesset and Committee Chairman MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al, the Arab Movement for Renewal) tells The Report that the founding of the commission and the fact that it is headed by an Arab - and one from the opposition, at that - are a "significant parliamentary achievement." Tibi further notes that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged to the committee that "for years there was a policy of deliberate discrimination" and added that "the gap between the proportion of Arabs in the population and their representation in the civil service arouses concern and unrest." These comments, he says, are a "declaration of the utmost importance against discrimination against Arabs." Speaking with The Report, former Civil Service Commissioner Prof. Yitzhak Galnor warns that good intentions can fall prey to political changes. Galnor headed the civil service commission in 1994. At the time, only some 2.5 percent of civil service employees were Arabs and not a single Arab held one of the top three civil service rankings. The Rabin Administration initiated an affirmative action program and published tenders in Arabic. The proportion of Arabs in the civil service rose sharply. "Had we continued at that pace we would have easily breached the 10 percent mark and there would no longer be a need for affirmative action," says Galnor. But this did not happen because "it would seem that the policy didn't suit the governments that followed," he concludes.