Inside out: Equality in the Arab sector

Campaign was designed in response to data showing generally lower levels of employment among Arab university graduates.

Arab women (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Arab women
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian Sectors in the Prime Minister’s Office launched a large-scale ad campaign on Sunday geared to encourage companies to hire Arab university graduates.
The campaign, which urges prospective employers not to discriminate against non-Jewish applicants for jobs, was designed in response to data showing generally lower levels of employment among Arab university graduates relative to their Jewish counterparts, and a number of glaring disparities in certain fields, such as high-tech jobs.
According to data reported by Yediot Aharonot, 22 percent of Jewish employers openly said that they discriminated against Arab job applicants, while 25% echoed prejudices about employees from Israel’s non-Jewish sectors. Many Arab university graduates are unable to find employment in their fields of expertise and, for want of a better choice, are forced to take jobs as teachers.
The government should be commended for its campaign to overcome racial discrimination and promote heightened employment of Arab citizens in their fields of expertise.
According to a recent study by the Jewish Arab Center of Haifa University, an overwhelming majority of the Arab citizens of Israel say they would prefer to live in Israel over any other country in the world, and a smaller majority, which might prefer a state of all its citizens, accepts Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state. That said, 73% said they feel they are treated as either second- class citizens or citizens who do not enjoy full rights.
Reining in discrimination and increasing hiring of Arab university graduates will certainly go a long way to alleviating disgruntlement felt by the non-Jewish citizens, which is exacerbated by a pervasive inability to find work in their fields merely because of their ethnicity. It should go without saying that anyone proud of Israel’s democratic nature must oppose and decry the existence of such barriers in society.
The government’s campaign is a step in the right direction toward helping alleviate some the non-Jewish sector’s sense of being sidelined and marginalized. More can and should be done to achieve that goal.
The first and most self-evident step that should be taken is to make the study of Arabic mandatory in all Jewish schools, just like English and math. Arabic is one of the two official languages of the state, and is the mother tongue of one-fifth of the population.
It is simply inconceivable that so few Israeli Jews have even a rudimentary grasp of their fellow citizens’ language and are unable to meet their Arab counterparts halfway, so to speak. The more Israeli Jews understand Arabic, the less threatened they will feel hearing the language being spoken around them and the more they will realize that their Arab neighbors spend most of their time discussing mundane matters, just like they do, and not, let’s say, plotting to overthrow the Zionist regime.
Beyond that, the mandatory study of Arabic will contribute to Israel’s ability to understand and be integrated into the larger Middle East and, by the bye, meet the security establishment’s need for Arabic speakers to work in intelligence.
Another step that can and should be taken is to introduce mandatory civilian service for the Arab sector in Israel, which will empower young Israeli men and women from the Arab community. Civilian service will provide them with an opportunity to do important work on behalf of both their community and broader Israeli society, while shielding them from the allure of crime, drugs and alcohol.
The graduates of those programs will then have meaningful experience to list on their CVs when they apply for jobs, increasing their appeal to prospective employers.
Lastly, the government must prioritize fighting crime in the Arab sector. This can be done either by allocating more existing police troops to the Arab cities, towns and villages or by creating a large-scale program of community police in the Arab sector as an alternative to civilian service.
According to data presented to the Knesset in February, 40% of murder suspects are Arabs, as are 30% of convicts serving time for criminal offenses and 45% of road accident fatalities. The enormous quantity of illegal weapons on the streets of Arab communities is a scourge that produced more than 1,100 reported incidents of gunfire in 2011.
On Sunday a demonstration was held in Ramle by a group of women following the murder two weeks ago of Nasrin Musrati, a 26-year-old mother of two who had spent the last two years of her life in a shelter for battered Arab women.
The victim’s sister, Huda, who had lost another sister to a similar “family honor” killing in 2006, pleaded for increased police protection and involvement, demanding that the police investigation of the murders be pursued the “same seriousness with which they investigate the murder of a Jewish woman.”
By launching its advertising campaign to promote the employment of Arab, Druse and Circassian university graduates, the government has taken an important first step toward reducing discrimination against them and increasing their sense of equality in society and before the law. More can and should be done, to the benefit of Israeli society as a whole.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.