FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Israel Railways Accused of Racism in Firing of Arab Workers

in Qalansuwa.

A decision by Israel’s state-owned railway company to sack 150 Arab workers because they have not served in the army has been denounced as “unlawful” and “racist” this week by Arab legal and workers’ rights groups.

The new policy, which applies to guards at train crossing points, is being implemented even though the country’s Arab citizens — numbering 1.2 million and nearly one-fifth of the total population — have been exempt from serving in the military since Israel’s establishment.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, complained to Israel Railways and the attorney general last week, arguing that the move was meant “to cleanse the railways of Arab employees”.

“It is an especially grave matter as this is a public company whose operations are meant to benefit all citizens,” he said.

The Laborers’ Voice, a workers’ rights group based in Nazareth, said the new condition of employment was designed to reserve rail jobs for Jews, most of whom are conscripted for three years after finishing school.

It added that Israel Railways was following dozens of other major Israeli firms and thousands of small businesses that keep jobs off limits to Arab workers by defining the roles as security related.

Israel Railways announced last month that all crossing guards would be required to produce a discharge certificate from the army or face dismissal. The first 40 Arab workers received their notices last week, taking effect almost immediately.

Taher Jayousi, 32, from the Arab village of Qalansuwa in central Israel, where 20 of the fired guards live, said they had been told their job would now require them to carry a gun and could therefore be performed only by former soldiers.

One commentator in Haaretz, a liberal daily newspaper, ridiculed the attempt to characterise the guards’ role as security related. “A dreamed-up security demand is one of the oldest tricks to reject Arab candidates in job interviews,” wrote Avirama Golan.

That assessment is shared by Adalah, an Arab legal group, which has threatened legal action against the transport ministry for violating the sacked workers’ constitutional rights.

Adalah said it was relying on a ruling three years ago in which the courts rejected Haifa University’s decision to reserve student accommodation for those who had served in the army.

The position of crossing guard was created in 2006 to increase rail safety after five people were killed and more than 80 injured when a train collided with a stranded car at a crossing point. Nearly two-thirds of the 260 guards are reported to be Arabs.

Such other railway jobs as engineer and station staff are already reserved for Jewish workers, said Wahbe Badarne, director of the Laborers’ Voice.

Assad Salami, 35, another of the sacked guards from Qalansuwa, said: “Until now, the company could find few Jews who wanted to do guard work for the low wages we’re paid.

“But with an economic crisis looming it has the chance to get rid of us and offer our jobs to Jews.”

In a statement defending the new policy, Israel Railways said it was intended to provide job opportunities for army veterans, a social benefit the company described as “significant”.

Another of the former guards, Ibrahim Nasrallah, 25, said: “What does that say to us if the company is only concerned about reducing the unemployment rate among the Jewish public?”

He said the use of security as a pretext to avoid hiring Arab workers was one he and his family were familiar with.

“My brother is a chef and has been unemployed for the past eight months. Every time he goes to a restaurant and they see he’s an Arab they tell him they are only hiring workers who have served in the army. It’s crazy — you need to be a former soldier to cook food in Israel!”

Mr Badarne of the Laborers’ Voice said he has heard similar stories from other Arab workers.

“Laws against discrimination exist in Israel. The problem is that there appears to be no interest in enforcing them.

“If I go to the shopping mall, even the notices in the windows asking for sales assistants require army service from applicants.

“At least in these cases we can prove that it is racism we are dealing with.

“More sinister, however, is the more recent practice of employers telling Arab applicants that a position is already filled to avoid the threat of legal action. There the racism is veiled.”

Large sections of the economy are officially off limits to Arab workers because they fall within what Israel defines as its security industries, especially weapons manufacturers, the airports and national airline, ports and refineries, and the various security agencies.

But he said many large state-owned corporations that are not involved in security fields were also reluctant to employ Arabs, sending a message to smaller firms that discrimination was legitimate.

According to figures provided in 2004 by Nachman Tal, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, the domestic security service, only six of the 13,000 employees of the Israeli Electricity Corp were Arabs.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former prime minister, admitted racial discrimination was rife in a speech to the parliament in December. “It is terrible that there is not even one Arab employee [out of 900] at the Bank of Israel.”

Of the civil service, he added: “There is no arguing that some government ministries did not hire Arabs for years.”

Government statistics show that 12.5 per cent of all Arab college graduates are unemployed, nearly four times the figure for Jewish graduates.

Even those who do work are often forced into low-paying and menial jobs, Mr Badarne said.

Mr Salami, who trained as a schoolteacher, said that, among the 20 guards from his village, four were lawyers.

Mr Badarne pointed out that the long-standing Zionist principle of “Hebrew labour”, or Jews employing only other Jews, still had great influence in Israeli society.

He was especially critical of the country’s trade union federation, the Histadrut, which has traditionally also been one of the country’s largest employers.

It did not allow any admission of Arab workers until a decade after Israel’s creation and even then it set up a separate, and marginal, Arab section within the organisation, he said.

“Unusually for a trade union, poor workers, and that means, overwhelmingly, Arab workers, are simply not on the Histadrut’s agenda. It is there to protect the jobs and good salaries of workers in the large state corporations and government offices.”

He added that his organisation, which offers Arab workers support services and legal advice, was currently seeking redress for many Arab workers who had been sacked after attending demonstrations in January against the Israeli army’s attack on Palestinians in Gaza.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

 

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail