Terra Incognita: A question of equality

Why the Knesset should pass the civil service bill giving job preference to those who have completed either military or national service.

There is a mentality in Israel among certain sectors on the Left and among those who lead the various human and civil rights lobbies that any benefit given to former soldiers is a form of hidden discrimination against Arab citizens. As such, the proposed civil service bill being considered by the Knesset, which would provide discharged soldiers priority for civil service jobs, is already under attack. The bill stipulates that when there are two equal candidates and one completed national or military service, he or she would get preference for the job opening.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the largest human rights lobbies, claimed “the bill discriminates against ethnic minorities and other individuals who are legally exempt from military service (e.g., religious women, Arab citizens of Israel, disabled people) and stands in contradiction to the value of equal access to employment.”
Furthermore, ACRI claims that “the Ministry of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, and even the legal advisers of the Knesset Constitution Committee – have all voiced their opposition to this bill.”
Avirama Golan wrote in a recent oped that “the MKs will have to examine the extent to which the proposal undermines the constitutional right to equality.” Golan also claims that Ethiopian and haredi women in particular will be discriminated against.
It is interesting that these voices consider it unequal to give people benefits for serving in the army, but consider it equal to ask only certain citizens to serve. Why does the right to equality in Israel vanish the day Druse men and non-haredi Jewish men and women reach the age of 18 and then suddenly reappear when they are 22? While these Druse and Jews are conscripted, their peers who do not serve may go to college or get jobs and learn skills that that make them more qualified in access to employment. This fact in itself constitutes a violation of right to “equal access to employment.”
Every time one condemns a law that grants benefits to those who do military and national service, one implicitly supports inequality.
Another tactic human rights organizations use is to cling to the claim that Ethiopians are being discriminated against. The reason groups like ACRI mention Ethiopians is that they know that most of the Israeli public doesn’t have much sympathy for the Arab or haredi sectors. But they are either misinformed or misleading when they place Ethiopian Jews in the mix.
According to an anonymous, well-informed government source, 52 percent of Ethiopian Jewish women go to the army, and many of those who do not go choose national service as an alternative (Ethiopian Jewish women make up 6% of women in national service, while they are only 2% of the female Jewish population). Since the bill treats national service and military service in the same manner, Ethiopian Jewish women receive its benefits. Furthermore, there is already affirmative action at play in the civil service, which means rather than being harmed, they are benefiting even more.
BUT THERE is a hidden reality to the opposition to this bill. Very few Arabs are in the civil service. Despite recruitment drives, few apply – perhaps because the pay is low and they feel awkward working for the Israeli government.
According to the Civil Service Administration, Arabs and Druse make up only about 7% (4,200 employees) of the civil service sector, and they are mostly employed in jobs that deal with the Arab community.
Is it logical that providing points to Jewish veterans puts this 7% in jeopardy? Rather, it is the Druse who compete for these jobs, and they are the ones who have given three years to the country while their peers worked or went to college, so it is they who most need the points in order to equalize their opportunity.
It is precisely for this reason that Druse MK Hamad Amar is one of the major supporters of the bill.
Perhaps it is the 93% of jobs in the civil service that are currently held by Jews that we should be looking at. The number of secular Jewish draft-dodgers is the same as the number of haredi Jews who don’t serve. In 2009, the IDF’s human resources department revealed that only 74.6% of Jewish men and 56% of Jewish women enlisted. Many secular women feign being “religious” to avoid military and national service. It is precisely these Jewish draft-dodgers who today receive unequal access to employment in the civil service. They skip army service, and while their brethren serve, they learn skills that make them more qualified for civil service jobs.
Haredi Jewish women, who are supposedly discriminated against by the bill, all could choose national service, just as Arabs can, but most do not.
Equality? If we want equality we need to level the playing field for those who sacrifice three years of their life for this country. We need to put them at the front of the line, or at least at an equal starting position with those who are choosing not to serve.
As it stands currently, we are putting the burden of a fake equality on those who serve by demanding they forsake equality when the country demands it and then become equal when the country no longer needs them. Ethiopian Jews and Arabs aren’t harmed by this bill: Because of affirmative action, and in the case of Ethiopians their zealous service record (88% of Ethiopian men join the army) they are being increasingly recruited to the civil service.
Only the 34% of Israeli Jews who find a way out of the army and national service are being affected, and it is they who deserve least to work in the civil service.
The Knesset must not allow a distortion of the truth to continue to harm those who, with little choice in the matter, give to their country.
The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.