Israel Railways Accused of Racism over Sacked Arab Guards

"Hebrew Labour" Principle Lives on

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, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of 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). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Alicia said on April 26th, 2009 at 10:42pm #

    Arabist racist Jonatahan Cook aught to be ashamded describing Israeli Jews / Hebrews’ fear of racist-arab terror as “racist”.

    This anti Jewish racism of categorizing each Arab bigoted attack on Jews as “freedom fighting” and each defensive action by Israeli Jews as “racist”, has got to stop.

  2. Andres Kargar said on April 27th, 2009 at 12:23am #

    The Israeli Zionazis are not just racists, but outright fascists. That, you don’t have to ask Palestinians or Arabs, in general that the Zionizis are trying to blame for the Holocaust.

    Go around the world to Latin America. Ask the people of Nicaragua who suffered Israeli collaboration with the Somoza dictatorship and subsequently with the terrorist Contras.

    Ask the Argentine Jews, victims of the dirty war. Israel delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to the Argentine dictatorship despite the knowledge that activist Jews were being tortured and murdered in that South American country.

    What about Israel’s cooperation with the regime of Apartheid in South Africa? Is there any shame? Is there any decency?

  3. Federico Gaon said on April 27th, 2009 at 3:54am #

    I think that history records will always point out that minorities have been usually segregated from the major core of societies one way or another over time. This is a granted fact.

    Now some would argue that such unfair treatment the minorities are exposed to, is rooted in the very “universal” fashioned human nature.
    This means peoples are prompt to assemble between pairs who would share the same beliefs, culture, religion, nationality and traditions.

    The question of identity.

    We often find easier to know who we are by knowing who we are not.
    Therefore, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to suggest that human kind is used in interpreting differences as hostilities. Every society has its own popular scape goat where to deposit despairs and hate. Naturally we are talking about immigrants, gypsies, homosexuals, and the list would be customizable depending on what country we decide to stand on. However, Jews can be nominated to fit the common denominator of denominators.

    Sadly, hate towards the Jew is the only thing that would rally a Nazi an a communist together. Some proud Muslims and orthodox Christians could perhaps abide one another out of fear to the International Jew Satan.

    If this is the case….then I believe the previous assumption that same peoples will group, is not necessarily 100% factual in this modern world.

    We live in a real world which habits trends to repeat over and over again.

    The State of Israel is the direct consequence of the nazi holocaust. National defense policies are the product of 2000 years of hatred and persecution against the Jewish people everywhere they would go.

    Being realistic, Israel is the only Jewish ruled country in the world. Period. Experience is the most valuable asset Israel has for defending its people: “do it yourself, because nobody will do it for you”.

    Israel is not an Apartheid. The controversial security policies carried out by Israel are not to separate two peoples upon the “different” criteria we mention before. Nor racism, or prejudices. Fact is national security is threated by the action of sustained Islamic terrorism. In South Africa, the Apartheid regime intended to raise barriers between the same (white, black) South African people. For starters, Palestinians and Israelis are not living under the same roof.

    Persisting with facts, I would like to invite Andres to review his data.
    Myself, being an Argentinian Jew…. I clearly recognize that no human, or State, is absent of flaws and indeed… rightful critics should always be appointed. After all, recognizing our mistakes is the only way we can learn from them.

    The Cold War is a very pragmatic, uneasy time of history when its narrowed strictly to global politics I don’t intend to argue here.
    Israel is not the United States. However, I feel compelled to point out that despite Israel did not “delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to the Argentine dictatorship “… it sold many of the military equipment later used to commit unforgivable violations to human dignity and to invade the Malvinas/ Falklands. Causality was the child of context in where the world had roughly 30 democracies in the world.

    And yet…Israel, with all its flaws and problems, remains the only democracy in the Middle East. Arabs in Israel at least rest knowing that their voices will be represent in the Knesset. Jews in Arab countries, if existed today , would not have such representation rights.
    This is not to say the situation is “forgivable”. During 60 years of existence Israel has done nothing but to achieve excellence in human growth and I am sure that along a sustained peace process, relations between Arabs and Israelis will improve drastically.

    Judaism does not explain or distinguish itself out of making any features comparisons with other models or products from the religions shopping mall. Judaism does not knock on your door to sell you attractive subscriptions. On the contrary, the Jewish values where meant to be examples to Jews and non Jews alike (take Moses ten commandments for example). My point is Israel does not see itself as the promised land God had reserved only for the Hebrews, not it considers “superior” than its neighbors.. Hard payed concessions where made to them in the name of peace. To compare Israelis and Jewish with Nazi is either not knowing history, or ignoring it. Sad reality.

    To finish:

    Globalization made it possible to shape our world with the impact of multiculturalism. We can go to many multicultural metropolis, and personally, I have seen different nationalities working together.

    I believe (as it is my case) that differences can also be appealing. Why feel scared of another culture? Just flip the coin to learn from it. In the end you gains will far surpass your fears. If indeed we share a common nature… we also inherited the ability to understand and love.

  4. Andres Kargar said on May 6th, 2009 at 12:27am #

    Just as the fascist tendencies among the Jews identify with Zionism, many more Jews have fought on the side of the working class and taken up the ideals of socialism. As an example, the counter-revolutionary “white” Russians always accused the Bolshevik revolution of being a Jewish revolution because many of the leaders were indeed Jews.

    Also, many of the Western leaders and rank and file of socialist and communist parties were and are Jews, and the world can never be grateful enough to scientists like Albert Einstein, so to claim that communists hate Jews is pure nonsense coming from the mind of a simpleton.

    The Zionists (some of whom are not even Jewish), however, claim a monopoly on “Jewishness” and try to dispel and isolate real Jewish intellectuals, such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, etc. The ones who didn’t mind negotiating with the Nazis, ultimately turned their back on the 20 million Soviet citizens who gave their lives to save them from the scourge of fascism.

  5. bozh said on May 6th, 2009 at 6:53am #

    communists had been taken in by ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ ‘jews’.
    even the few that had been socialistic, have turned out to be land robbers.
    because nearly all euros of the judaic cult have accepted an americanism as a way of life, communists have turned against what turned out to be a fascist and vastly undemocratic/americanized entity.

    it seems that, for the ‘zionists’ to rob a people of its land, had turned socialist as a means to obtain power and other people’s land. They knew that they wld never gain much power if any in patrician rule of europe.
    it turned out that ‘zionists’ did not realize that patricans of 20th and 21st century wld be gladly supportive [for own reasons] of their claim to zion.
    and with zion obtaned nearly all ‘jews’ showed real selves: murderous land robbers. tnx