Terra Incognita: Stop demanding integration in Israel

Rather than demand integration, the state should adapt.

Employment fair in Jerusalem for  men and women from the haredi sector, (photo credit: KIVUN JERUSALEM)
Employment fair in Jerusalem for men and women from the haredi sector,
(photo credit: KIVUN JERUSALEM)
In recent years the Israeli government has been attempting to increase the number of Arabs employed in the civil service. This includes various ministries, such as education, finance and interior. Arabs are dismally represented throughout government. According to recent studies only eight percent of those employed in the civil service are Arab and those Arab employees are concentrated in portions of the service that deal with the Arab population, such as local administrative offices in Arab towns, or offices that service Arabic speakers. In short, there is little integration.
Sometimes the statistics don’t even tell the whole story. A report in late May noted that of 1,700 advisers to local planning committees, only 65 were Arab. Planning authorities often lack any Arab representatives, which unsurprisingly has the long-term effect of a lack of planning for Arab villages and towns and a lack of respect by the locals for the plans that do exist, since they have so little input.
In recent years the buzzword has been “integration.”
Wherever one looks one finds articles about how Israeli, Jewish-run NGOs are helping “integrate” Arabs into high tech, or into education. A lot of it smells of paternalism.
Why, in 2015, are Arabs in need of integration into the economy? Why, after 67 years of independence, are people talking “economic integration” when this should have been discussed in the 1950s? The ironic other side of the integration story is the warnings issued every year that the Arab community’s “demographics” are a threat to the Israeli economy. A report in The Marker noted that the Finance Ministry has concluded that the government must “bring more haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and Arabs into the workforce, and improve their productivity and educational achievements” otherwise the “lower labor-force participation rates” of these groups will have economic consequences. A report in 2013 also claimed that the economy would face disaster unless Arabs and haredim were “integrated” into the workforce.
Commentator David Rosenberg made a similar claim in 2014 arguing that “failing Arab schools will cost our economy big.”
You’d almost think from reading all this that the only reason to “integrate” these minority communities was to help other Israelis, not actually for the sake of the Arabs or haredim themselves. We need their taxes, so the logic goes.
One report even admits, “It is a problem for all Israelis.”
So, if it weren’t a problem for all Israelis, Arabs could be allowed to wallow in second-class economic status forever?
WHAT HAPPENS when Arabs do “integrate”? Two people I spoke with who work in civil service positions in Jerusalem related incredibly similar stories. Both are Arabs from northern Israel. Both got good jobs in government service in Jerusalem. Initially they rented homes in Beit Safafa, an Arab neighborhood. But their neighbors, who disliked them for being too “liberal,” harassed them until they left. When they sought to move to Jewish areas of Jerusalem they met with incessant hostility from homeowners who refused to rent to them when they found out they were Arab. So these two people, perfect examples of “successful integration,” tried to integrate – but many Jewish communities didn’t want them.
That’s the other side of the integration lie. The Jewish People Policy Institute published an article in 2013 termed “the haredi challenge.” A graph explaining the pros and cons of integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews had such conclusions as, if they are not economically integrated, “The state would lose the benefits brought by the addition of a human resource to the circle of productivity.” If they were economically integrated then “the haredim continue to gain numerical and political power, in addition to economic autonomy.”
It reminds us that the way Israel’s mass media discusses minorities is often in terms of a threat. Their “human resource” is needed, but they must not be permitted to have too much “power.” It sounds like something from the film The Matrix: The human resources are needed, but we don’t want too many humans lest they challenge our authority. The “state” is always paramount, the citizens are some kind of enemy whose demographics must be controlled, but whose economic output must be increased.
ISRAELI SOCIETY needs to stop seeing the plethora of minorities as some kind of threat and start addressing their various needs. It is not a surprise that recent months have seen an uptick in protests by groups in Israeli society. On March 26 the Joint List supported a march for Beduin land rights in the Negev. Since late April Ethiopian Jews have been protesting police brutality and racism. On May 29 Christian Israeli leaders protested a lack of support for private Christian schools. On June 7 Druse and Circassian leaders announced a strike over lack of funding for education in their sectors.
Some of those involved in these protests repeat the mantra that their communities benefit the state and therefore deserve funding – i.e., more of us go to the army, so we deserve more educational funding. But it shouldn’t be a trade-off. No one counts how many kibbutz residents go to the army to decide how much money to give their high schools. No one asks how much they economically benefit the state to decide how much land they should get in the planning process.
In fact many kibbutzim have been a massive economic burden on the state.
Integration cannot be a buzzword for using various groups to prop up the state. Israel’s minorities don’t exist to fill the state’s coffers or provide more doughboys for the trenches. The concept of integration without desegregation will ultimately fail. That means that bringing more haredim into the workplace must also mean that haredim have a right to live in “secular” neighborhoods like Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem. It means that if an Ethiopian Jew serves in the Israeli army he should have a right to live wherever he wants in Israel and not be kept out of every rural community by a racist “acceptance committee.” It means when an Arab from Nazareth chooses to take a government job in Jerusalem she should not find that she cannot rent an apartment anywhere because she is an Arab.
This Israeli society cannot demand “duties” and not provide equal rights. Kibbutz schools should not receive more funding per capita than schools in Taiba or schools in Kiryat Malachi. It’s time to level the playing field. Don’t complain about integration when generation after generation groups in society are told that their labor is only good enough for construction, or that they are only good enough to serve in the Border Police but not in the Air Force. If you want to see Arabs and ultra-Orthodox as a demographic threat then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more you see them as a threat and the more you isolate and segregate them, the more they will have contempt for the state and see no reason to pay taxes or be “productive.”
The economic motto “a rising tide lifts all boats” is reflected in a bizarre form in Israel, where it is turned around to imagine that “rising boats lift the tide,” whereby the various groups in society are all asked to give more and more, in exchange for unclear benefit.
Citizens don’t want to be responsible for lifting the tide. They would prefer equal rights, and with them the free market of opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
Rather than demand they all integrate, the state should adapt to them. Provide them with the right tools and they will do fine, without viewing them all as round pegs in need of hammering into square holes.
Follow the author on Twitter @Sfrantzman