Banning Arab Workers: A Hypocritical Condemnation

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The mayor of Ashkelon's announcement following the massacre in a Har Nof synagogue that Arab workers would not be employed in his city was roundly condemned by members of the Knesset. Dr. Amir Fuchs points to the hypocrisy of these condemnations.

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 Published in: Maariv

  The Knesset's nearly across-the-board condemnation of the mayor of Ashkelon’s announcement that he would stop employing Arab workers in his city—a condemnation that ran from Zehava Galon and Tzipi Livni to Naftali Bennett and Miri Regev—is admirable. It is clear that the mayor’s remarks severely harm the entire Arab population, send a message of exclusion, and are, in fact, illegal, as they violate the Equal Opportunities in Employment Law. There is no place in a democracy for harming citizens or treating them differently only because of their national affiliation or membership in any other group. It should also be noted that the mayor’s remarks are only one example of a growing phenomenon of employers firing Arab workers and of a racist “civil protests” against businesses that employ Arabs in Israel.

In some cases, however, the condemnation is coming from people who are actively fanning the flames of hatred and promoting the exclusion of Arabs in Israel. And when the condemnation comes from people who have been vigorously promoting a long list of populist laws in the Knesset, it has a certain amount of hypocrisy.

In the previous Knesset, many laws were promoted that were designed to harm the Arab citizens of Israel. These included a series of “loyalty laws” that sought to demand expressions of loyalty to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as a requirement for citizenship and that implied that Arabs are not loyal to the state. In addition, there was the Acceptance Committees Law, which enables small communities to select new members in accordance with their compatibility with “the social-cultural fabric of the community”—a law with the clear aim of trying to keep Arabs from joining communities in the Negev and Galilee. This was also the message found in the legislative initiatives that were intended to shut down NGOs that do not accept Israel’s definition as a “Jewish and democratic” state.

In the current Knesset, some legislative initiatives with a similar message are also being considered. First and foremost among them is Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People, which has been put forward in several versions. The wording of this bill, in all of its versions, alienates the Arab citizens of Israel and conveys the message that they are second-class citizens in the Jewish nation state. This runs completely contrary to the message of Israel's Declaration of Independence, according to which Israel is indeed the nation state of the Jewish people, but will also ensure complete equality of rights for all of its inhabitants.
Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, also portrays Israel's Arab citizens as citizens on probation, who can be summarily stripped of their citizenship and transferred to the Palestinian state when it is established. This is also the message that emerged from MK Miri Regev's umbrage at the “provocative” wearing of a keffiyeh by MK Basel Ghattas, who had one draped over his shoulders when he spoke in the Knesset—as if a keffiyeh is always a symbol of terrorism.

Why, then, is anyone surprised when these kinds of messages are internalized by the citizenry of Israel and, in this case, by the mayor of an important Israeli city? Clearly, when such messages emanate from the government and the Knesset (as well as from top rabbis, who issued a halakhic ruling prohibiting the renting of apartments to Arabs in Safed), it should be no surprise that they cultivate extremism, discriminatory practices, and racism.

The Knesset is supposed to serve as a paragon of values and democracy. It is not enough to condemn extreme cases of racism. The Knesset must desist from its daily actions that exacerbate alienation, racism, and institutionalized discrimination against Arabs.

Dr. Amir Fuchs is the head of IDI's Defending Democratic Values project.


This article was published in Hebrew in Maariv on November 21, 2014.