Time to Include Arabs among the Decision-Makers

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The state and its Arab leadership, not only the political leadership, must work together to bring as many Arab citizens as possible into the decision-making echelons.

Recently, an advertising campaign was launched in the Arab media that calls upon Israel’s Arab citizens to learn about their rights as employees and avoid being exploited in the workplace. But, wonder of wonders and as opposed to most other campaigns, the employees who appear on the screen are not only the stereotypical construction workers or cleaners. The characters depicted in the ads are mostly young people, women and men wearing button-down shirts who work in blue collar, not white collar, jobs. Because of this seemingly small shift, this campaign is actually most unusual and should not be overlooked.

Why did the creators of this campaign, whose target audience is primarily lower level employees who may well be unaware of their rights, depict Arab employees this way? In order to get to the root of the matter, we should bear in mind that the employment rate in the Arab sector is roughly 70 percent among men and 33 percent among women. Among the unemployed, 28 percent of men and 54 percent of women are interested in gaining employment.

In July 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Social Equality published a report titled “A System-Wide Plan for the Economic Integration of Arab Society.” According to this report, the gap between similarly educated Arab and Jewish workers takes the form of lower income levels. The average hourly wage for an Arab employee with sixteen years of education is NIS 54 as compared with NIS 82 for a Jewish worker with a similar educational background. Accordingly, the average gross monthly income of employees from the Arab population was NIS 6,571 — roughly two-thirds the average wage of Jewish workers.

A quick check shows that the campaign was conceived by two agencies: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Minorities Sector Economic Development Authority. This seems to be no coincidence, as the heads of both agencies are members of Israel's Arab minority.

The campaign's subliminal message is twofold. First, it is aimed at young members of the Arab community, who are attending college in growing numbers, and in particular young Arab women, among whom the rate of college graduates (the percentage of women aged 25 to 34 who have 16 years of education) tripled from 10 to 30 percent between 2000 and 2014. Second, the campaign signals the non-college-educated population, addressing them as equals. As a result, the ad doesn't play off stereotypes by paying lip-service to society's most vulnerable citizens. In this way, of course, the campaign can also be effective in terms of its original intent: to raise awareness of employment rights among all employees, from construction workers to physicians.

However, this is but one example of the path that Israel needs to take. What we should learn from this campaign is that the state and its Arab leadership, not only the political leadership, must work together to bring as many Arab citizens as possible into the decision-making echelons. Doing so will thus create an infrastructure for a more egalitarian and tolerant society, strengthen the Israeli economy, and enable the implementation of a policy to narrow gaps and enhance equal opportunity.

In addition to improving the economy, Arab representation in the public administration's decision-making process, as shown by the unusual decision made in the recent campaign, plays a vital role in promoting substantive equality in Israel.

The writer is director of the Arab-Jewish Relations Program at the Israel Democracy Institute.