Yes to dialogue with the EU, no to singling out Israel

Beyond the Prism: Israel cannot be singled out for criticism as Europe’s record is far from untarnished.

Roma resident of Slovakia_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Roma resident of Slovakia_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Dialogue and cooperation on the issue of treatment of minority populations is well within the scope of EU-Israel dialogue. Nonetheless, Israel cannot be singled out for criticism as Europe’s record is far from untarnished.
Two weeks ago Haaretz leaked parts of a classified European Union working paper produced by European embassies in Israel, according to which the EU should consider Israel’s treatment of its Arab population a “core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The newspaper claimed that “this is an unprecedented document in that it deals with internal Israeli issues.”
Far from being unprecedented, the discussion of domestic issues is part of the EU-Israel dialogue as agreed between the two sides.
The legal framework for EU-Israel relations is provided by the EU-Israel “Association Agreement” signed in Brussels on November 20, 1995. Following ratification by the member states, the European Parliament and the Knesset, the agreement entered into force on June 1, 2000. The agreement aims “to provide an appropriate framework for political dialogue, allowing the development of close political relations between the Parties.”
The document further states that “the political dialogue shall cover all subjects of common interest, and shall aim to open the way to new forms of cooperation with a view to common goals, in particular peace, security and democracy.”
Within the scope of the Association Agreement, the EU and Israel concluded an Action Plan in 2005, which declared mutual objectives and commitments with the objective to gradually integrate Israel into European policies and programs. Regarding political dialogue and cooperation, the document called to “promote and protect rights of minorities, including enhancing political, economic, social and cultural opportunities for all citizens and lawful residents.” The latest meeting of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation subcommittee was held December 5.
Nonetheless, the discussion on the treatment of national minorities has to be placed in proportion since minorities in both Europe and Israel face many of the same challenges. In fact, the situation of minorities in Europe is not necessarily better. Sharing best practices and cooperating can benefit both sides, but Israel should neither be singled out nor condemned in this regard.
European diplomats do not have to look hard to find data on discrimination within the EU. In 2009, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published its first ever EU-wide survey of immigrant and ethnic minority groups’ experiences of discrimination and victimization in everyday life, examining discriminatory treatment, racially motivated crime, awareness of rights and reporting of complaints.
Every second Roma respondent said they had been discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity at least once in the previous 12 months. The second highest rate of overall discrimination (41 percent) was identified as being against sub-Saharan Africans, followed by North Africans (36%). In fourth place were Turkish and Central and East European respondents (23%).
Experimental data are also available regarding discrimination in the work force. The International Labor Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, conducted a nationwide study in France a few years ago titled “Discrimination in access to employment on grounds of foreign origin in France.” In order to test the practice followed by recruiters two test applicants with similar characteristics except for national origin applied for each vacancy.
The study found that in the course of the three recruitment stages, the decisions taken by the employers were very much in favor of employing the majority applicant – 70% of employers were in favor of the majority applicant as opposed to 19% in favor of the minority applicant. The remaining 11% corresponded to instances where equality of treatment was respected throughout the recruitment process. Nearly nine-tenths of the overall discrimination took place before the employers even met the two testers for an interview, meaning the difference in treatment could only have been based on the testers’ names.
A similar study by the same organization commissioned in Sweden showed that there are inequalities in the Swedish labor market as well regarding access to employment for Swedish job seekers with an immigrant background and a foreign sounding name.
For example, in Gothenburg the female majority applicant was chosen once every fourth time, whereas the minority applicant had to apply to over 26 job openings before being offered employment. In Malmö the minority men applied to some 18 jobs before being preferred, whereas the majority needed to apply to around five. The lowest difference, for women in Stockholm, still revealed that minority testers had to apply to approximately double the number of openings compared to majority women.
The situation for the Roma minority in Central and Eastern Europe is even worse as members of the community are not even in a position to apply for certain jobs due to poverty, segregation and lack of education. Council of Europe reports point out that Roma pupils who are not mentally disabled are often channeled into special education designed for children with mental disabilities.
In the Czech Republic 28% of Roma children studied in specialized primary schools, compared with 8% for other pupils. In Slovakia as well, Roma pupils continue to be over-represented in special elementary schools. Reports indicate that they are 28 times more likely to be placed in such schools than their non- Roma counterparts, that up to 50% of Roma children are erroneously placed in special elementary schools or classes, and that approximately 10% could be immediately reassigned to mainstream education.
In ordinary primary schools there is continuing de facto segregation of Roma children, both through the segregation of schools themselves and through the creation of separate classes in integrated schools. Based on this, it is not surprising that data from 2008 published by George Soros’s Open Society Institute shows very low figures for Roma participation in secondary and higher education.
On average, less than half a percent of Roma students graduated from higher educational institutions in central and eastern Europe and less than 10% from secondary educational institutions.
The integration of minority groups poses a significant challenge for every democratic country, and Israel and members of the European Union are in a similar position in this regard. Discussing the situation of minorities is well within the scope of EU-Israel dialogue and exchanging best practices can prove beneficial for both sides. And while it certainly is in Israel’s interest to do more to improve the situation of its Arab minority, singling out Israel in this regard is underserved.
The writer is project coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.